In Praise of My Hybrid
When I was car shopping in 2007, my wife had already owned her Honda Insight for five years and it was still getting nearly sixty-five miles per gallon. I had been driving a 2001 Hyundai Sonata that had just had a major malfunction, quitting on the highway and coasting to a stop. I decided to unload it as soon as I could find a well thought out and reasonable replacement. At that time, our government was throwing money into the hybrid market by way of tax incentives. I liked everything that I was reading about the Honda Civic Hybrid. But, It certainly had its detractors.
The regular Civic with all the amenities of the hybrid, (read that as power-everything) was $18,500. The real price of the Civic Hybrid was 24,000 but with incentives and credits, that was lowered to $20,500. I remember doing calculations to figure out just how far I’d have to drive to start breaking even on the price difference. At that time, five dollars a gallon for gas was looking like the new norm. And even with that inflated figure, the number crunching said that it would take 80,000 miles to reach the break-even point. Gas prices have rarely been over four dollars per gallon. And I couldn’t find any of the original formulas for calculating. So I had to rediscover the formula. Here is a version you can paste into a spreadsheet.
Where A1 and B1 are the prices of the cars. A2 is the price of gas. A3 is your decimal percent of highway driving (.4 is 40%). A4 and B4 are your respective city mpg and A5 and B5 your highway mpg.
Doing the calculation at a more reasonable $3.50 a gallon for gas and 40 percent highway travel, the numbers come back with the break-even point between the 2007 Civic Hybrid and the 2007 Civic being 93,508 miles.
“You’ll never get the mileage that they promise.”
Of course all those calculations are based on a mpg figure that we were being told that we couldn’t achieve. I’m still being invited to join a lawsuit suing Honda over the supposed inflated claims that they made. But I’ve kept track of my fill-ups and mileage since mile seven on my car. The best mileage I’ve ever had was on the way back from southern Colorado to Albuquerque: 52.3. And the worst was going from Amarillo to Albuquerque; uphill, against the wind, in the rain: 35.5. Through seven years of driving my average today is at 43.1. Since the EPA fuel economy claim by Honda on the window sticker was 40/45 mpg, I’d say that their estimates were dead on.
“It’s heavy and under-powered.”
This one really is very true. Once I’m up to speed, I coast exceedingly well. But getting up to speed is another matter. There have been plenty of times that I’ve stomped on the accelerator and momentarily thought that the car was broken. It can take a full second before the computer realizes that the car’s not moving and it needs to add the electric-assist motor torque to start rolling. That can be a scary thing if you are trying to make an unprotected left turn. So, cutting in and out of traffic or weaving between lanes, no way. The offensive driving that I used to practice has given way to defensive positioning and braking. However, there is some strange satisfaction each time that I feel the rpm on the gas engine die off while the electric motor keeps accelerating. And the spasming of clutch and gear in an automatic is just jarring after you get used to the CVT.
Sure, the audio aux plug doesn’t work anymore. And it’s missing the driver-side front mud flap now. The cruise control is being kept on by a wedge of cardboard holding the button down. There’s hail damage and scratches on the finish. But coming back from Dallas on Friday, I set the cruise at 65 mph and when I got home the digital display read that I had covered the 136 miles and achieved 50.4 mpg.
It’s a great car.