How the Honda Civic Hybrid Works

The Honda Civic Hybrid System

The Honda Civic Hybrid's 1.3-liter i-VTEC engine and electric motor
The Honda Civic Hybrid features a 1.3-liter i-VTEC gasoline engine and a 20 horsepower electric motor.

If ever two automotive concepts were made to come together, the Honda Civic and hybrid technology are it -- a perfect match. Honda built the first Civic in 1972 to compete with the growing number of American subcompact cars that were designed and built in response to the growing concern of increasing gas prices. The first generation Civic managed between 40 and 45 miles per gallon (17 and 19.1 kilometers per liter) depending on driving conditions.

Over the next 20 years, Honda built a reputation as a fuel-efficient auto manufacturer. Every vehicle featured small, high-revving engines that were extremely efficient and reliable. It's a reputation that continues to hold true today.


To date, Honda has maintained its commitment to small engines. No production vehicle including those built domestically or in Japan feature an engine with more than six cylinders and a displacement over 4.0 liters. When Honda decided to merge its hybrid technology into an existing passenger car, the obvious choice was the Civic. In 2004, Honda made the leap. By taking a standard Civic and mating it with its IMA system, Honda created an even more fuel-efficient vehicle.

If you were to pull the engines out of both a standard Civic and a Honda Civic Hybrid and place them next to each other, you would likely notice the similarities end with the flywheel assemblies. Instead of a flywheel, the hybrid Civic has an electric motor mounted on the end of the crankshaft. It's this motor that makes up the electric component of the hybrid system. The motor is constructed of high-density coil windings and high-performance magnets. The electric motor doubles as a starter motor and is used to provided propulsion and assist under several driving conditions.

The trick to how the IMA and similar hybrid systems work is the relationship between the electric motor and the engine. Honda's IMA system substitutes the engine's internal combustion power for electric power under certain circumstances. We'll let you know what those specific driving conditions are on an upcoming page. But for now, it's good to know that the energy for the electric motor comes from a nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) battery. The battery is charged under deceleration, particularly braking. The Civic Hybrid has a regenerative braking system that works to transform the electric motor into an electric generator under braking. This energy is then stored in the battery for future use.

Up next, we'll get to the nuts and bolts of the Civic's hybrid engine.