For years, many have called the Honda Civic
the gold standard when it comes to compact cars.
The polished front-wheel-drive Civic
continues to be above-average. But it comes in such a confusing array of models and trim levels that it can make your head spin. And several new models have been added for 2008.
Redesigned for 2006, the Civic
is sold as a racy looking coupe or slick looking four-door sedan, including a gasoline/electric hybrid sedan.
So far, so good. But wait -- sedans and coupes are offered in DX, LX, EX, Si, Hybrid, GX NGV and new EX-L trim levels. Added is the oddly named Civic
Mugen Si sedan, which is for hard-core auto buffs and has such items as a sport suspension and higher-performance tires.
The GX NGV has a 1.8-liter, 113-horsepower four-cylinder that runs on compressed natural gas, but it is only for sale in a few "ultra-green" states such as California, and also to fleets. Honda
offers the entire country 1.3-, 1.8- and 2-liter four-cylinder engines, with the 1.3 being a hybrid gas-electric. The 1.8-liter develops 140 horsepower, while the hybrid provides 110 horsepower. The 2-liter engine has 197 horsepower and is in hot rod Si models.
Five- and six-speed manual gearboxes are available, as are extra-cost five-speed and CVT automatic transmissions.
But, here again, things aren't a simple as they may seem. For instance, the DX, LX, EX and EX-L use a five-speed manual gearbox or a five-speed automatic transmission. The GX models come only with an automatic, while the car-buff-oriented Si is sold with just a six-speed manual. Hybrids are equipped with the CVT automatic.
List prices range from $14,810 for a DX coupe with a manual gearbox to $24,350 for the Hybrid with a navigation system and satellite radio. (The GX NGV not sold in Illinois costs $24,590 with an automatic transmission and navigation system.)
An automatic transmission is packaged with some regular Civic
models, which thus cost more. Some models also are packaged with a navigation system with voice activation and satellite radio, and also consequently cost more.
I tested a Civic
EX-L sedan with an automatic transmission and navigation system. It lists at $22,460. The EX-L is an uptown number because it adds leather upholstery, heated front seats and a leather-wrapped steering wheel with radio controls to the EX trim level.
Budget-minded folks might be just as happy with the $19,510 EX automatic transmission sedan, although it might be hard to pass up the EX-L if a car buyer has a few more bucks to throw around or doesn't mind a lower-term loan. Nobody knows that better than Honda
Even the base DX Civic
is only moderately well equipped, with such items as power windows, tilt/telescopic wheel, height-adjustable driver seat, folding rear seat, intermittent wipers and rear defogger.
Move up to the LX and you get considerably more equipment: air conditioning, cruise control, console, AM/FM/CD/MP3 player, power mirrors and power door locks with remote keyless entry.
The EX and EX-L add even more items, and the Si adds traction control, anti-skid system, uprated brakes, sport suspension, rear spoiler and wider tires on larger wheels.
Safety items for all include anti-lock brakes and front-side and curtain-side air bags.
My test 140-horsepower EX-L had lively performance in town but average 65-75 mph passing ability. The Hybrid is slower, but the Si has lots of punch. All engines are small and thus require high revs for the best acceleration -- especially in the Si. But they hum with sewing-machine smoothness.
The manual transmission shifts smoothly, and the five-speed automatic is very responsive.
Estimated fuel economy with the 140-horsepower engine is 24-26 mpg in the city and 34-36 on highways. The Si provides 21 and 29, with the Hybrid naturally delivering the best estimated economy: 40 city, 45 highway. (Figures with the natural gas engine are 24 city, 38 highway.) The Si calls for premium fuel, but other gasoline engines can use regular-grade fuel.
is fun to drive. Its light power steering is quick, although straight-ahead driving occasionally calls for small steering movements. The ride is supple and handling is adroit, especially for a front-drive car. The brakes provide effective stopping power, with a pedal that has a soft-but-linear action.
The video-game dashboard has a two-tier instrument panel with a digital speedometer above an analog tachometer, with both directly in front of the driver. They're easy to read quickly, but why the "Lost In Space" design?
The interior is quiet and all sedan doors, which have decent storage pockets, open wide for easy entry and exit. However, tall drivers with long legs will wish that their supportive front-seat moved back at least a few more inches. Legroom is acceptable in the sedan's rear seat area, which has a fold-down armrest with dual cupholders. But the coupe's back seat is rather small and hard to reach.
The EX-L's dual front console cupholders are nicely positioned and can be hidden with a sliding cover. Climate system controls are large, but radio controls are small and the navigation system screen absorbs too many audio system functions. Some lighting conditions cause the screen to be hard to read.
The sedan has a large trunk, with a low, wide opening. Seatback releases in the trunk allow rear seatbacks to flip forward and sit fairly flat to significantly enlarge the cargo area. However, lid hinges eat cargo area, and the lid has no interior pull-down assist to help close it without getting hands dirty on outside lid metal, which is usually filthy at this time of year.
The hood is held open with an old-fashioned prop rod, but engine compartment fluid-filler areas can be easily reached. The dipstick to check engine oil level has a bright orange color to make it easy to quickly find.
costs more than some Korean rivals but has higher resale value. Those who feel it's no longer the best compact car would have to agree it's certainly among the very best ones. 2008 HONDA CIVIC PRICES:
Smooth. Comfortable. Fairly roomy. Good ride. Adroit handling. DISLIKES:
Confusing array of models/trim levels. Average highway performance. Small radio controls.