The 2009 Honda Civic gets a freshened look. The Civic continues holds its position at the top of the highly competitive compact class, thanks to innovative styling, refinement, Honda reliability, and a broad model line that ranges from the eco-friendly Civic Hybrid to the racy Civic Si.
All 2009 Civics present a fresh face to the world, with a new bumper and grille up front, and new headlight and taillight color combinations. Uplevel models feature new alloy wheel designs as well.
Inside, all 2009 Civic models come with a sporty three-spoke steering wheel. Interior fabrics have been upgraded and the 2009 Civic Hybrid model is available with leather. New technology includes Bluetooth HandsFreeLink on Navigation-equipped models, and a USB audio interface on Civic EX, EX-L, Hybrid, and Si. We've found the Civic comfortable and affords the driver outstanding outward visibility.
The Civic comes standard with side-impact airbags and other safety features that are optional on competitive models. Vehicle Stability Assist, which is Honda's name for electronic stability control, is now standard on the Civic EX-L and Civic Hybrid, in addition to the Civic Si.
The sporty Civic Si coupe and sedan share a 197-horsepower engine, six-speed manual transmission, four-wheel-disc brakes, and supportive sport seats.
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 48/45 mpg of the Toyota Prius.
The Civic GX sedan uses natural gas for fuel. Natural gas is available to residents of California and New York and is used by fleets elsewhere.
The Honda Civic sedans and coupes don't share any body panels. Details and markings distinguish each trim level.
The 2009 Honda Civic sedan presents a bolder face to the world, thanks mainly to a new front bumper cover. Where the previous bumper looked solid and heavy, with a single, subtle horizontal opening at the center, the new design incorporates a taller, more trapezoidal center opening with secondary scoop-like openings on either side. A grid-like insert in the center opening contrasts with a kind of cyclone-fence theme in the side scoops. These changes break up some of the visual mass of the bumper. The upper grille opening is also more angular than before, which goes well with the changes below. As before, a bright horizontal bar, with a prominent Honda H in the middle, dominates the upper grille. Slender headlamp assemblies still angle upwards as they curve around the fenders. Revisions to the headlights are more subtle, consisting only of where and how the color seems to show through the existing lenses. Around back, a bright chrome bar now connects the taillights just above the indentation for the license plate.
The coupe sports a new look for 2009, also. Gone is the delicate, two-tiered upper grille insert, leaving just the Honda logo centered in a oval-themed black mesh. The trapezoidal opening below has been flipped, so it's now wider at the top than the bottom, and the scoops to either side are drawn out wider and more horizontal, divided midway by a horizontal strut.
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.
On the 2009 Si sedan, the grille bar is black instead of chrome. On both coupes and sedans an Si badge tucks into the grille's lower left side, and oval fog lights are set into the bumper's outboard openings. An i-VTEC label appears just forward of the rear wheel well; on the Si sedan it's placed low on the rear door. An interestingly shaped rear spoiler wraps over the outboard edges of the sedan's trunk lid; on the coupe, the spoiler is free-standing. Both sedan and coupe roll on their own unique alloy wheels.
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.
We find the Civic LX sedan the most comfortable model. 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.
Many of the fabrics in the Civic's interior are new for 2009, including those on the inner doors and armrests. The sport seats in the new LX-S are particularly handsome.
Seats are comfortable, not plush. 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 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 models.
Sedans share the coupe's three-spoke steering wheel (with spokes at the 3, 6, and 9 o'clock positions), which matches the spacey interior theme just as well, while promising a functional improvement over the previous design (with its two downward-swept spokes at 4 and 8 o'clock).
For 2009, Civic navigation systems include Bluetooth HandsFreeLink, a wireless telephone interface that works with Bluetooth-enabled mobile telephones for hands-free operation via steering wheel-mounted controls.
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 competitive with other cars in their classes. Almost oversize rear doors provide easy rear seat access. But the bench seats in the rear are flat and do little to keep passengers in place in twists and turns.
Cargo space, at 12.0 cubic feet, trails the class leaders by a couple of cubic feet. The Hybrid gives up an additional 1.6 cubic feet to battery and such, while the GX loses fully half its trunk to fuel storage.
We like driving Honda Civics. 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.
The five-speed automatic is just that, a select-it-and-leave-it transmission, and it does the job admirably. 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 1.8-liter engine that comes standard 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 2.0-liter Si models feature 197 horsepower and 139 pound-feet, thanks partly to a high-compression cylinder head that demands premium fuel.
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. The Hybrid earns a 40/45 mpg rating, the GX a gasoline-equivalent of 24/36.
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 EX-L, Hybrid, and Si models come with electronic stability control, and the Si features larger front brake discs.
The Si engine is powerful. Hard acceleration is often accompanied by torque steer, a tug on the steering wheel. 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 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 59 pounds). So, it's a tick slower in acceleration, although it takes a stopwatch to notice. Steering response isn't quite as sharp, either.
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 compact (just 70mm wide) electric motor in certain low-speed situations. Its 1.3-liter gasoline engine features the same i-VTEC technology as the other Civics, albeit with eight valves instead of 16. By itself it produces 93 horsepower at 6000 rpm, and 89 pound-feet of torque at 4500. Because the electric motor develops its peak 20 horsepower and 76 pound-feet at different speeds (2000 and 1160 rpm, respectively), Honda rates the combined power more conservatively than simply adding the peak numbers together.
The Civic GX is powered by a dedicated natural gas version of the Civic's 1.8-liter i-VTEC engine. Because it produces close to zero regulated emissions, buyers are eligible for a $4000 federal tax credit. Refueling is simplified when you opt for Phil, an optional home refueling appliance sold through select Honda dealers in California. Currently, natural gas is approximately thirty-five percent less expensive than gasoline when purchased at a refueling station, and can be more than 50 percent cheaper than gasoline when supplied by a Phil. The Civic GX is the only vehicle certified by the EPA to meet both Federal Tier 2-Bin 2 and Inherently Low Emission Vehicle (ILEV) zero evaporative emission certification standards. But consumers can only buy the GX through certain qualified dealers in New York and California, although it is available to fleets nationwide.
Civic Hybrid and Civic GX are classified as Advanced Technology Partial Zero Emissions Vehicles (AT-PZEV) by the California Air Resources Board CARB.
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.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Tom Lankard filed this report from Detroit. With John F. Katz reporting on the Hybrid and GX from South Central Pennsylvania.