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2008 Honda Civic Expert Reviews

Expert Reviews

2008 Honda Civic

New Car Test Drive
© 2008

The Honda Civic holds its position at the top of this highly competitive class, with innovative styling, segment-leading refinement, and a broad model line that ranges from eco-friendly to sport-compact racy.

The Civic is comfortable and affords the driver outstanding outward visibility. It comes standard with side-impact airbags and other safety features that are optional on competitive models.

The 2008 lineup includes a new leather-upholstered EX-L model and a hot Mugen Si sedan, with high-performance suspension, forged aluminum wheels, aerodynamic body styling, and a sport-tuned exhaust.

Civic was last restyled and reengineered for 2006, and the sporty Si coupe was reintroduced at the same time. An Si sedan joined the lineup for 2007, sharing the 197-horsepower engine, six-speed manual transmission, four-wheel-disc brakes, and supportive sport seats. Both Si models come with an electronic stability program for added control in emergency maneuvers.

The Honda Civic Hybrid sedan is powered by a 1.3-liter four-cylinder engine coupled with a permanent magnet electric motor and a continuously variable transmission. The Hybrid features dramatically reduced emissions, and it delivers an EPA-rated 40/45 mpg City/Highway, second only to the Toyota Prius.

A natural gas-powered Civic, the GX sedan, is available to residents of California and New York, but can also be found in fleets there and elsewhere.

Model Lineup

Honda Civic DX Coupe ($14,810); Civic LX Coupe ($16,760); Civic EX Coupe ($18,710); Civic EX-L Coupe ($19,910); Civic Si Coupe ($21,110); Civic DX Sedan ($15,010); Civic LX Sedan ($16,960); Civic EX Sedan ($18,710); Civic EX-L Sedan ($19,910); Civic Si Sedan ($21,310); Civic Mugen Si Sedan ($29,500); Civic Hybrid Sedan ($22,600); Civic GX Sedan ($24,590)

Walk Around

The Honda Civic sedans and coupes don't share any body panels. Details and markings distinguish each trim level.

A bright horizontal bar, with a prominent Honda H in the middle, dominates the sedan's grille. 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 is more delicate, with the Honda logo suspended in a two-tier frame. The central lower air intake opens between two geometric side recesses that feed cooling air to the front disc brakes and house the optional fog lamps. Even more so than with the sedan, the coupe front end pushes 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 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 cab-forward design concept 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 panel (the body panel aft of the rear side window) is unique to each model. The coupe's forms an acute angle with the horizontal deck surface, 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 high, chunky tail end add perceived mass to a tightly proportioned, smallish sedan.

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.

The Si sedan and coupe have another grille variation with a body-color bar on top and a black bar underneath; an understated Si badge is tucked away to the far right. An i-VTEC label appears just forward of the rear wheel well; on the Si sedan it's placed low on the rear door. Both feature subtle body cladding.

The Mugen Si is more extroverted, distinguished immediately by its bi-plane rear spoiler and aggressive aero extensions all around the lower body and a diffuser in the rear bumper. Up front is an all-black version of the Si grille that looks weirdly like parted lips wearing Goth-black lipstick; a Mugen badge beckons from the upper right lip. Businesslike 18-inch, seven-spoke wheels, open in design to show off the brake calipers, complete the Mugen ensemble. Honda promises to limit production to a maximum of 1000 for the model year, all painted Fiji Blue Pearl.

The Hybrid, in contrast, is understated, with just a small Hybrid badge under the right rear taillight. Our least favorite feature is its pseudo-aero wheels, which look as if they were cut from pizza pans.

A blue CNG diamond on the right side of the rear deck lid, and NGV lettering on the rear doors identify the natural gas-powered GX.


The 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 bottom bolsters in restraining occupants during spirited motoring. 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 Si and Mugen models get sport front seats with synthetic suede upholstery and more aggressive bolsters both bottom and side for improved support.

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 otherwise 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 of the two-tier instrument display, we still haven't adjusted to the resulting weird pod draped over the top of the dash.

The dash itself seems endlessly deep; splayed across its top, 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 instruments, a large, round, analog tachometer dominates the view through the top half of the steering wheel, with warning lights to either side. Outboard of this display are large, irregular vent registers. Instrument lighting is blue on most models but red on the Si's.

Centered in the dash above the climate control panel is a stereo control head with the pertinent accoutrements; unless you order navigation, in which case this space is shared by an LCD window combining the navigation display with audio settings. In the Hybrid, a selection of graphic depictions of the power system's functions and status occupies the same location.

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, which otherwise might tie together the dash and the floor-mounted controls. Instead, 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, EX-L, 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's seatback; on the Hybrid, there's one on the driver's 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.

When it comes to interior room, the Civic coupe and sedan are comp

Driving Impressions

We found ride quality in the Honda Civic 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. The brake feel is solid as well. Thoroughly modern front and rear suspension designs deliver impressive stability and certain steering response. The long wheelbase smoothes the ride. We like driving Honda Civics.

The five-speed automatic is just that, a select-it-and-leave-it transmission, 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 sometimes shifted past it when shifting out of Park or Reverse and ended up in the D3 notch.

The five-speed manual gearbox is a bit rubbery, and hitting the desired gear requires careful aim.

The base-level 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine is rated at 140 horsepower and 128 pound-feet of torque. Honda rates the combined output of the Hybrid's electric motor and 1.3-liter gasoline engine at 110 horsepower and 123 pound-feet of torque, on regular unleaded. The LNG-powered GX rates 113 horsepower and 109 pound-feet. The Si and Si Mugen models feature 197 hp and 139 lb-ft, thanks partly to a high-compression cylinder head that demands premium fuel.

The 2008 EPA fuel economy estimates are 26/34 mpg City/Highway for the five-speed manual, 25/36 mpg for the five-speed automatic, and 21/29 mpg for the Si six-speed manual. We haven't seen numbers for the Mugen, but they should be about the same as for the Si. The Hybrid earns a 40/45 mpg rating, the GX a gasoline-equivalent of 24/36. These numbers are lower than last year solely because of new test procedures at the EPA designed to produce results more like the mileage you'll get out in the real world.

The Si engine is powerful. Hard acceleration is often accompanied by torque steer, a tug on the steering wheel that calls for some driving. Around 6000 rpm the engine delivers a power surge as the i-VTEC's variable valve mechanicals shift emphasis from torque to horsepower. A helical-type, limited-slip differential enhances traction in angry driving situations.

The Civic's 60/40 front/rear weight bias means that understeer (where the car wants to go straight when the driver wants it to turn) is the dominant directional dynamic. The Si models come with electronic stability control and larger front disc brakes.

The Si Sedan is almost as much fun as the Si Coupe. The sedan rides on a wheelbase that's two inches longer and is a tick heavier (by 60 pounds). So, it's a tick slower in acceleration, although it takes a stopwatch to notice. Steering response isn't quite as sharp, despite the sedan's thicker front stabilizer bar and different shock tuning from the coupe's.

The Mugen Si starts with the Si sedan and adds a stiffer suspension (which also lowers the vehicle 0.6 inches), 18-inch forged alloy wheels, a full aerodynamic body kit with adjustable rear wing spoiler, a rear diffuser, and a sport-tuned exhaust system claimed to reduce back pressure downstream from the catalytic converter. Honda says the suspension was tested at the Twin Ring Motegi racing circuit in Japan. Damping rates are increased between 8 and 24 percent (depending on whether we're talking front or rear, jounce or rebound), and the wheels are actually 27 percent lighter than the 17-inchers on the garden-variety Si. Grippy B.F.Goodrich g-Force KDW 215/40ZR18 summer tires keep the Mugen stuck to the pavement.

The Hybrid's CVT automatic 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 Hybrid can deactivate up to all four of its cylinders and operate using only its

The Honda Civic is the benchmark for compact cars. The Civic LX sedan is a superb choice for someone who wants a practical compact that is smooth, comfortable and quick. The EX models add all the conveniences, including heated leather seats in the EX-L. The GX offers basic transportation with the potential economy and real emissions reduction of natural gas. The Hybrid makes a good commuter car with its fuel-saving electric motor. The Si Coupe and Si Sedan deliver sporty performance for driving enthusiasts. The new Mugen Si is a quick ticket into the Fast and Furious. correspondent Tom Lankard filed this report from Detroit. With John F. Katz reporting on the Hybrid, GX, and Mugen Si from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

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