The Honda Civic continues to hold its position at the top of the compact class, thanks to innovative styling, refinement, reliability, and a broad model line that ranges from the eco-friendly Civic Hybrid to the racy Civic Si.
Inside, all Civic models are pleasant, attractive and inviting. Available technology features include Bluetooth HandsFreeLink on Navigation-equipped models, and a USB audio interface on Civic EX, EX-L, Hybrid, and Si. We've found the Civic to be comfortable in which to ride, nice to drive, and with ample windows that provide outstanding outward visibility.
The Civic comes standard with side-impact airbags and other safety features that are optional on some competitive models. Vehicle Stability Assist, which is Honda's name for electronic stability control, is standard on the Civic EX-L, Hybrid, and 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 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 model features dramatically reduced emissions, and it delivers an EPA-rated 40/45 mpg City/Highway.
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.
For 2010 the Honda Civic line is essentially unchanged from 2009 when the styling was freshened. The Civic was last redesigned for the 2006 model year.
The Honda Civic sedans and coupes don't share any body panels. Details and markings distinguish each trim level.
The Honda Civic sedan has a grille with a tall, 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. Slender headlamp assemblies angle upwards as they curve around the fenders. Around back, a bright chrome bar connects the taillights just above the indentation for the license plate.
The coupe grille has the Honda logo centered in an oval-themed black mesh, with a lower trapezoidal opening, and scoops at either side that are drawn out wide and horizontal and divided midway by a horizontal strut.
Save for a lower body character line, the sides of the Civic are more slab than sensuous. Understated fender blisters break up the otherwise featureless expanse. Honda calls it a monoform design, and 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 coupe's spoilered, rounded rear profile suggests sleek swiftness. The sedan's somewhat abbreviated trunk lid and high, chunky tail add perceived mass to a tightly proportioned, smallish sedan.
On the Si sedan, the grille bar is black instead of chrome. On both the coupe and sedan 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. A 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 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.
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 rear-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; draped 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.
The Civic navigation system includes 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 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 in the shift feel, and hitting the desired gear sometimes 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 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 slippery 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 bit heavier (by 59 pounds). So, it's a little 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 $4,000 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 buy the GX only through certain qualified dealers in New York and California, although it is available to fleets nationwide.
The 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.