I always get a little twinge when I clamber into our long-term Honda Civic Hybrid. It's nothing to do with the nice leather seats, in bland grey but comfy enough (and heated too). It isn't the damage I'm doing to the environment, because it isn't a bad car as far as Mother Earth is concerned (although at 39mpg this petrol/electric Honda is not as eco-friendly as I thought it'd be).

The twinge I get is one of regret that this car isn't a Rover. You see, if things had played out a little differently, this Honda Civic Hybrid might also today be available at your local MG Rover dealer as the new Rover 400 Hybrid. For that was how things used to be. Rover Group cooperated with Honda and some Rover cars were just rebadged Hondas. But once Rover Group had been snatched away by BMW in 1994, and now that MG Rover has gone bust, that particular way of making cars has come to a definitive end.

Maybe I should nip down to the scrap yard and get an old Rover grille and some Viking longship badges and stick them on the Honda. A DIY Rover 400 Hybrid. I feel like a product planner already.

In any case, this Civic Hybrid has lots of old-fashioned Rover/Honda charm, despite its dumpy looks. In the six months and 5,000 miles or so that we've been running it, it hasn't had even a trace of a fault. Everything works, nothing has fallen off and nothing shows any sign of doing so. I would have thought this car would be performing useful service in a decade's time, just as those earlier generation Civics and Accords you see on the road are bearing up so well (as well as their Rover-badged counterparts). Hondas are tougher than you think.

Honda tells me that the Civic Hybrid has a six-month waiting list. Have Britain's car buyers suddenly developed green consciences? I suspect not. I think the reason for the Civic Hybrid's high demand is the same as the reason for the Toyota Prius's popularity, the Prius being the best-known and best-selling hybrid car on the market.

The reason is the London Congestion Charge and other official assaults on the motorist's wallet. If it is going to cost you £400 a year to park your BMW in a street in Richmond, south London, you might think about changing to something greener.

The Civic Hybrid, Prius and a few other hybrids and electric cars are exempt from the charge, and therein lies the attraction. If you pay the charge every working day of the year, you're liable for an extra tax (for that is what it is) of around £2,000 per annum. Over five years that's £10,000. Set that against the price of a new Honda Civic Hybrid (£16,265) or a Prius (£17,780) and they suddenly seem a bargain.

If only I could have had the Rover version.

motoring@independent.co.uk

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