2007 Honda Civic
The compact class remains one of the most competitive in the new car market, in number of entries as well as price. Honda in 2006 re-staked its claim to the head of the class with the introduction of a completely reworked and updated Civic. And not just in the mainstream, family-car niche, but in the sporty subcompact arena, too, with the return of a hopped-up coupe, the Si, the latest reincarnation of the late, lamented CRX.
For 2007, everything pretty much remains the same, with one notable exception. Civic buyers with families may now have their cake and eat it, too. Honda has expanded the four-door sedan line to include an Si version, in almost every measure save the number of doors the equal of the Si coupe. It has the same 197-horsepower engine, the same six-speed manual transmission, and the same four-wheel disc brake setup. Honda's engineers tweaked its suspension to compensate for the sedan's longer wheelbase. Front-seat passengers get the Si coupe's sport seats. And both Si editions come standard with an electronic stability program for added control in emergency maneuvers.
Honda also continues offering a natural gas-powered sedan, the GX, which the company introduced during the 2006 model year. Availability is limited to residents of New York and California and fleets there and elsewhere.
The Civic Hybrid sedan uses a 1.3-liter four-cylinder coupled with a permanent magnet electric motor and a continuously variable transmission. This reduces emissions dramatically, while improving fuel economy.
The 2007 Honda Civic is available in coupe and sedan versions. The DX, LX, and EX models share a 140-hp, 1.8-liter four-cylinder with a standard five-speed manual transmission and an optional five-speed automatic. The base coupe with a 140-horsepower, four-cylinder engine and five-speed manual transmission starts at $14,810 MSRP. Other cars in the class may undercut the Civic on pricing, but the Civic includes important safety features, including side-impact airbags that others leave on the option list.
Honda Civic DX Coupe ($14,810); Civic LX Coupe ($16,760); Civic EX Coupe ($18,710); Civic Si Coupe ($21,090); Civic DX Sedan ($15,010); Civic LX Sedan ($16,960); Civic EX Sedan ($18,710); Civic Si Sedan ($21,290); Civic Hybrid Sedan ($22,600); Civic GX Sedan ($24,590)
Walk AroundHonda changed nothing on the outside of the Civics for 2007. The sedans and coupes don't share any body panels. Trim elements and markings distinguish each iteration. Reinforced mounting points and gussets provide a platform to the sport compact aftermarket to make suspension and certain other modifications without diminishing body integrity.
From the front, a horizontal bar dominates the sedan grille; the Si sedan gets a monochrome version of the coupe's grille, with the iconic Si badge at the far right end. Slender headlamp assemblies angle upwards as they curve around the fenders. A single, broad air intake fills the lower portion of the fascia.
The coupe grille sports the Honda logo suspended in a two-tone frame. As with the Si sedan, an understated badge tucked away in the far right reaches of the grille identifies the sporty Si version. The coupe headlights are more sharply outlined. The lower air intake opens between two, geometric recesses that feed cooling air to the front disc brakes and house the optional fog lamps. The front ends, but especially the coupes', push the leading corners down and outward, emphasizing the wide track (the distance side to side between the tires).
Save for a lower body character line, drawn slightly higher on the coupe than on the sedan, the sides of the new Civic are more slab than sensuous. Understated fender blisters, more pronounced on the coupe, break up the otherwise featureless expanse. What excitement there is in the side view is in the sleekness of what Honda calls a monoform design. A central expression of this is the windshield, the leading edge of which reaches into the hood all the way to the middle of the front wheel wells, pushing the design concept of cab forward to a new extreme. On the coupe, the windshield is raked at a radical 21.9 degrees, the sedan's at a barely more upright 23.9 degrees. The sail (the body panel aft of the rear side window) is unique to each model as well. The coupe's forms an acute angle emphasizing the two-door body style, while the sedan's curves down over the rear door's trailing edge, pulling the eye through the higher roofline. The coupe's be-spoilered, rounded rear profile suggests swiftness. The sedan's somewhat abbreviated trunk lid and chopped off tail end adds perceived mass to the tightly proportioned, smallish sedan. The Si coupe wears an i-VTEC label just forward of the rear wheel well, the Si sedan the same on the lower rear side door.
Likewise, the rear view of each body style differs markedly. The coupe's sloping trunk lid settles into a deep cut in the rear bumper, with the license plate sheltered in an equally deep recess. The sedan's trunk lid drops in an almost vertical, unrelieved sheer from a relatively high crest across the top. A blue, CNG diamond identifies the GX model.
InteriorThe Civic LX sedan remains the most comfortable Civic we've driven. The DX edges more toward spartan inside, while the EX heads toward lush. Fit and finish meet Honda standards. Plastic trim elements look high grade, although the multi-piece dash invites concern about high-mileage squeaks and buzzes.
Seats are comfortable, not plush. The fabric upholstery feels durable and its robust nap assists the modest side and seat bottom bolsters in restraining occupants during spirited motoring. The Si models get sport front seats with more aggressive bolsters both bottom and side for improved support. Seat bottoms provide better than average thigh support. The manual height adjustment on the driver's seat pivots on front hinges, forcing drivers to choose between seat height and legroom.
The view out the front, with the expansive windshield, low cowl and sloping hood, is unparalleled in the class. A commensurately low beltline would enhance side vision, but there's little about which to complain. Tiny front quarter windows on the sedan, necessary to allow the front door windows to roll all the way down, push the side view mirrors a bit too far rearward for quick and easy glances at neighboring lanes.
Controls are for the most part where they should be, but not necessarily as they should be. There's little symmetry in organization or shape of features and interfaces. It's not an unpleasant look, but one that requires some acclimation. Despite the seeming logic behind the relocation of the digital speedometer, we still haven't adjusted to that weird pod draped over the top of the dash.
Splayed across the top of the seemingly unending dash in front of the driver is a hooded opening with a digital speedometer between LCD coolant temperature and fuel level gauges. Down below, in the more common place for the instrument panel, a large, round, analog tachometer dominates the half circle formed by the top half of the steering wheel. To each side of this lower IP are large, irregular vent registers. Centered in the dash above the climate control panel is either an LCD window combining the navigation display and audio settings and, in the Hybrid, a selection of graphic depictions of the hybrid system's functions and status or a stereo control head with the pertinent accoutrements. To the right of this squished pod-like arrangement, the dash curves away from the front seat passenger and houses two, more horizontally oriented vent registers, again neither of which matches the other. A wide, but not especially deep glove box resides below a cabin-wide, clam shell-like notch dividing the upper and lower halves of the dash.
There is no center stack to speak of tying together the dash and the drive tunnel. Below the climate control panel is a shallow storage bin with a power point and an audio input jack on the left side. Forward of the metallic-trimmed block of plastic serving as a base for the hand brake and shift levers is a good-sized, rectangular storage bin. Another, shallow cubby is tucked in between the shift lever housing and a pair of seat bottom-level cup holders under a sliding cover. Aft of this on all but the DX is an abbreviated, padded armrest covering another storage bin, inside of which on the EX, Si and Hybrid is a second power point. Each door has a hard plastic map pocket. A magazine pouch is on the rear of the front passenger seatback; on the Hybrid, there's one on the driver seatback, too. Architecturally busy interior door panels could be friendlier to fingers in terms of grips and pulls, but armrests provide good support at the right level.
The Civics are easily competitive with other cars in their classes when it comes to interior room. Almost oversize rear doors provide easy rear seat access. The bench seats in the rear are flat and do little to keep passengers in place twists and turns.
Cargo space trails the class leaders by a couple cubic feet; the Hybrid gives up 1.6 c
Driving ImpressionsRide quality in the Honda Civic is solid but not overly firm, with less road noise and wind whistle than is common for the class. The exceptionally stiff chassis gives the Civic a solid and planted feel. Thoroughly modern front and rear suspension designs deliver impressive stability and certain steering response. The long wheelbase smoothes the ride.
Brake feel is solid.
The automatic transmission is just that, a select-it-and-leave-it gearbox, and it does the job admirably. Thankfully, Honda has not fallen prey to the Sport-Shift fad. We do wish, though, that Honda would insert a tab below the D setting in the gate, as we routinely passed that one right by when shifting out of Park or Reverse and ended up in the D3 notch.
The five-speed manual gearbox is less pleasant than the five-speed automatic. The shifter's a bit rubbery, and hitting the desired gear requires careful aim.
The 2.0-liter four-cylinder models have 140 horsepower, 128 pound-feet of torque. In the two Si models, these numbers jump to 197 and 139, respectively. The Hybrid makes 113 horsepower and 123 pound-feet of torque, the GX 113 horsepower and 109 pound-feet.
Fuel economy, as estimated by the U.S. EPA, is 30/38 mpg City/Highway for the five-speed manual, 30/40 mpg for the five-speed automatic, and 23/32 mpg for the Si six-speed manual. The Hybrid earns a 49/51 mpg rating, the GX a gasoline-equivalent of 28/39. As curb weights vary by a few pounds plus or minus across the line, differences to throttle inputs are miniscule at best.
The Si Sedan is almost as much fun as the Si Coupe. Tempering the fun somewhat, although not to any significant degree, is the fact the sedan weighs about 80 pounds more than the coupe, which in itself reflects no small achievement in metallurgy, and rides on a wheelbase that's two inches longer. So, it's a tick or two slower in acceleration, although not enough for anybody without a stopwatch to notice. And steering response isn't quite as sharp, despite a thicker front stabilizer bar and different shock tuning than the coupe.
The more-powerful Si engine returns more front wheel-drive syndrome, where hard acceleration excites the steering wheel demanding more driver effort to keep the car going in the desired direction. And along about 6000 revolutions per minute, the engine delivers a power surge not unlike that of a turbocharger spooling up, only here it's where the i-VTEC's variable valve mechanicals shift emphasis from torque to horsepower.
The Hybrid uses a CVT automatic, which takes some getting used to, as the shiftless transmission leaves the tachometer needle roving seemingly aimlessly around the dial while the engine management system's electronic brain works to keep the engine speed at its most efficient given road speed and load.
The 60/40, front/rear weight bias means understeer (where the car wants to go straight when the driver wants it to turn) is the dominant directional dynamic; thankfully, the electronic stability system that's standard on the two Si models (it'd be nice to see this on the other Civics, too, at least as an option) suppresses this at elevated speeds where the consequences of over-zealousness can be more dire. Both Si editions also get larger front discs than the rest, which add confidence to the stopping power of the standard, four-wheel disc system.
The Honda Civic is the benchmark for compact cars. A complete line of them is available for 2007. A Civic LX sedan is a superb choice for someone who wants a practical compact that smooth, comfortable and quick. The EX models add all the conveniences. The GX offers the allure of natural gas. The Hybrid makes a good commuter car, with its fuel-saving electric motor. And the Si Coupe and Si Sedan keep driving enthusiasts happy.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Tom Lankard filed this report from Detroit.