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I wonder if someone could explain the differences between the Prius and the Civic regarding which is better for what driving conditions. I understand that one is better--based on the motor/engine configuration-- for city driving and the other is more suited for highway travel, but I'm not clear on which is which and why.

Forget anything you've read. Test drive them both. Buy the one that you are most comfortable with and/or has the features you like best and/or handles the best for you on the road. There are significant engineering differences, both arriving with a similar result.

I've owned a Prius for 1.5+ years. It's great. I haven't driven a Civic yet. The inverted Prius mileage numbers (51 city/45 highway) are an anomaly of how the tests are done and don't reflect real driving. Except for ideal conditions you'll get better mpg on the highway. I get anywhere from 35 mpg to 55 mpg in the city and 48-57 mpg on the highway. Overall I get ~45 in winter and ~50 in summer and I do mostly (60-70%) city driving.

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