By James Wong

I’ve always held a prejudice against hybrids, grounded on the argument that the manufacturing costs involved in making one (both monetary and environmental) offsets the gains in fuel efficiency that the car has. To top it off, hybrids are also usually heavier and are equipped with dull CVT gearboxes. What made me so impressed with this one, then?

The first thing: it felt very close to a normal Civic with a petrol engine. All that transitioning between electric and petrol used to be a bugbear for being jerky and uncouth, but all that is gone: the car feels exactly like the petrol version in terms of refinement and smoothness, perhaps more so due to the quieter idling on a full stop due to the engine cut-off. Restarting is also seamless and easy. There’s also the added muscle of torque on the get-go, giving this car an immediately more effervescent character than its lesser petrol-only equivalents. It felt genuinely torquey, most of it being around 3-4,000rpm, allowing the car to make good progress. Even the gearbox felt responsive, betraying little of its ‘rubber-band’ feeling that is typical of its type. In fact, it makes use of the available torque deceptively well. All this while returning on average 19km/l during our test drive – very impressive indeed.

The second thing is the steering and brake feel. Like the current Jazz, the steering was a big surprise for me, because I remembered the quick-centering ones of the previous generation Jazz which was unsettling. On this car though, it was a lot more mature, giving a delicious feedback of the road which was a pleasant surprise. I like the confidence it gives me on the road, a big plus where it was a negative before. Even the centering is now slower and more progressive.

Brake feel is also much improved, even though the electric motor does get the car to slow down on its own which acts as additional engine braking. I hardly had to use the brake pedal at all in town driving given this engine braking, but when I had to it was also easy to modulate. I didn’t use it to its full power though.

The third is the awesome visibility. The car feels airy, easy to place and a cinch to drive. That’s how a fuel sipper should be like! That said, I do feel this Civic is a step down from the design of its predecessor. For some reason, the rear has received a questionable facelift and overall the design looks a lot less coherent to me. Interior quality is a jump up though, and I am very glad of the inclusion of a GPS, even though it is clearly just a Garmin or TomTom perched beneath the dash. Hey, brownie points for effort.

Overall, a very enticing car. If not for the high Yen and COE, it’s something I’d recommend to my sister, since she hasn’t found anything as frugal or practical to replace her now-sold Jazz with yet!