It ain’t bad, people. It ain’t bad at all.
I expected the worst! I expected an abject failure!
OK, maybe I didn’t expect something quite that bad, but judging by the press I HAVE seen on this latest generation Civic, bashing everything from its brakes, its handling and even the materials and the overall build quality, I wasn’t expecting greatness from this car. Mind you, I think I’ve seen less actual press on this car, and more discussion about the Consumer Reports opinion of this generation Civic. Perhaps everyone is so shocked that Consumer Reports took the Civic’s perennial “Recommended Buy” status away, that they chose to talk about that, rather than form their own opinion about the car. Personally, I think Consumer Reports is overrated, and I don’t really consider them normal drivers. They come across as robots who have hair and opinions. But that’s just me.
Whatever – let me start by saying this – this car isn’t bad at all. This is a good car.
I drove the Civic Coupe EX, which is one level above the base model. Civics start at CDN $17,990, and the EX has an MSRP of CDN $19,990. I didn’t get an invoice for this car, but from what I could price out online, there wasn’t anything in this car above the standard trim level – so the car I’m talking about here wouldn’t be costing much, if anything, more than that base EX price. Obviously there’s tax, destination, yadda yadda, but roughly, they’re about 20 grand.
So – what’s lugging this thing around? Well, a familiar inline-4 – nothing high-tech, nothing bad either. It’s a 1.8 Litre these days, and it makes 140 HP @ 6500 RPM, and 128 lb.ft of torque at 4300 RPM. Those numbers aren’t exciting, but there isn’t anything wrong with them either. This model came with a 5-speed manual transmission, which was a decent box. Again, nothing special, but nothing bad. The curb weight for this car is 1220 kg (2689 lbs). That’s pretty good – when’s the last time you saw any car come in under 3000 lbs? Even small cars are busting at the weight seams, and it’s why we need so much more power these days – if we started figuring out how to put these portly rides on a diet, we’d be saving fuel, having more fun and building better cars. But hey, I’m not building cars, so it’s easy for me to be a critic.
By the way, opening the engine bay to see what’s under the hood is standard fare, but what took me by surprise is that the prop rod will actually make the hood almost vertical – it’s completely out of the way.
Fuel economy on this vehicle is very good. It’s rated at 7.2 L/100 km (33 mpg) in the city, 5.4 L/100 km (44 mpg) on the highway and 6.4 L/100 km (37 mpg) for the combined cycle. I observed 7.8 L/100 km (30 mpg) with occasionally spirited driving, attempts at being economical, one sprint down the freeway, and almost exclusively city commuting. Considering I normally get about 16 mpg with my own vehicle, that kind of mileage excites me. The Civic is happy with regular fuel – no need to slide over to the premium nozzle.
The exterior – well, to be honest, this was one of my least favorite parts of the car. Of course, styling is completely subjective, and most people who checked out this car said it looked great and fast. Alrighty then. It definitely is a slick shape, and I’m guessing the aerodynamics are very good. I thought it looks like it’s dragging a long rear-end along, but again, it’s a coupe and this is one way to do that. It’s hard to hide a coupe’s trunk. Overall, it’s a slick shape, and looks fluid from a lot of angles. The windshield, as well as the back glass have extreme angles and are very raked back. The back side windows are small, triangular affairs that hold little promise, but I’ll get back to them.
I liked the slight aggressiveness of the front end, and the attitude it exudes. It’s unfortunate that it doesn’t continue at the back of the car.
The car sits on 16″ wheels, shod with 205/55-sized rubber. The wheels look small on this car, and the Si trim level fills those wheel wells out nicely.
I noticed the side-view mirrors right away. They look chunky and stubby somehow, not nice and elongated. But they work very well, and I might be the only person in the world that notices their interesting shape.
Getting into this car is easy, and the biggest issue I found was having to reach quite a ways back to grab the seatbelt. Of course, if I wasn’t a Hobbit, that might be easier too. I wouldn’t say the car looks cheap inside, but it certainly doesn’t come across as expensive either. The plastics are hard throughout. The plastics look decent, but you never get the feeling this car is more expensive than it is. That’s not the case in some of its competitors.
Sinking into the seats, I found them to be comfortable, firmly cushioned and well-bolstered – more so for typical driving, and not enough for aggressive driving. Which is just fine in this car. I never felt uncomfortable in the front seats – they are manually adjustable and worked well. Reach in front of you, and grip one of my favorite steering wheels. I love the small diameter, fat-rimmed, leather-wrapped wheel in this car. The wheel has media, cruise and info screen controls, as well as hands-free controls. The wheel is adjustable for height and telescopically – that happens manually.
In front of you is the bi-level dash that Honda has put in the Civic for a while now. It’s a weird looking thing,and took me a bit of time to get used to. But it definitely works. I never had to look for the information I was seeking. Above the steering wheel is a big tach, surrounded by the car’s warning lights. Above that, you’ll find a cool blue “horizon” and then above that, a digital speedo flanked by digital dot matrix gas gauge on the left and an instant fuel economy gauge on the right. Over to the right is a separate information screen.
There isn’t really a center stack – it’s more a center area on the dash – it holds the media center, which I’ll get into under tech and convenience. The center console has a simple shift lever, cheapish faux-leather boot, and a traditional parking brake lever.
The fabrics are a greyish pattern with a funky design – I guess they’re neutral enough not to offend anyone. It looked a little rental-car to me, but it’s not ugly. Speaking of colors, the backlighting throughout the car is mostly blue of one shade or another, and it works well and looks handsome.
Space in the front is excellent – for a smaller car, there is plenty of it, including width-wise and legroom. Nothing funky like a push-button ignition – just a traditional key, which is just fine with me. The key has remote controls for door locking/unlocking and a trunk release.
On the floor, next to the driver’s side door sill, you’ll find an interesting rocker lever – push it down to open the fuel door, and pull it up to unlock the trunk. There is a true lock behind the lever, allowing you to lock out the trunk release function.
As noted, that steering wheel is one of my faves, and controls a bunch of stuff – your cruise control, your media selection and volume, your phone’s handsfree goodies, and toggles through the different information screens on the dash.
The media system sits high up in the center of the dash. Big, easy-to-read and press buttons control all the major functions, including the phone part – they surround a big rotary dial set around a push-button which allows you to make your way through the menus quite easily. The set-up for the Bluetooth pairing and connectivity was simple and I found the Bluetooth functions to work well – although you do have to reach over there and use the rotary dial/button to use your phone book unless you’ve attached voice tags to your contacts.
The system feeds off of AM, FM, CD, USB or auxiliary audio-in sources. The auxiliary plug is at the bottom of the center stack, along with a 12V plug. You’ll find the USB plug in the center console bin. It’s a basic system, running 160 watts through 6 speakers – nothing to write home about, but nothing shoddy either. For a base system, it’s just fine.
Below the stereo, you’ll find a manual climate control system. Very basic, not automatic, but brings A/C to the table, and works well. The rear defrost button also turns on the mirror heaters – pretty smart.
That information screen I mentioned, although small, is quite useful – it’s controlled by the steering wheel, and can rotate through different screens offering you details about your media selection, the outside temperature, the time, average fuel economy, fuel range and trip meters. As a matter of fact, it’s not just useful, it’s a necessity. There isn’t a read-out of any sort near the media controls – no little LED or LCD screen anywhere – the only place you’ll find this stuff is on this information screen higher up on the dash. It seems strange at first, but works very well for me. Apparently you can choose your wallpaper for the screen, which I didn’t try. And wouldn’t, even if I owned this car.
The speedometer is also flanked by what Honda calls an “ambient meter”. Ambience isn’t what you’ll find here – you’ll find a constant monitoring of your hatred for the planet. If you drive aggressively – that goes for acceleration AND deceleration, the bars glow blue at you. As soon as you let up a bit and simmer down, they’ll switch to blue-green. And finally, when you realize you’ve killed the last panda with your driving, and ease off the gas pedal, these bars will reward you with a soothing green glow. I thought it was funny that it’s not a binary process. There’s that weird no-man’s land in the middle. “You’re driving moderately, and we will concede blue-green. But NO GREEN FOR YOU!” But don’t fear this eco-Nazi – you can beat him. I’d often end up seeing green along the way, and I sure felt warm and fuzzy about myself during those times.
To the left on the driver’s door, you’ll find controls for the power windows, power mirrors and THANK YOU VERY MUCH, I HOPE YOU’RE LISTENING ALL OTHER MANUFACTURERS the power door lock switch. I’ve ranted about this at length before, but this is where I prefer that switch.
One of the more interesting features in this vehicle is the “ECON” button. It sits on the dash, and the literature indicates that, when depressed, it adjusts performance of the engine, transmission, cooling and heating systems and the cruise control. It doesn’t get into more detail. I’m not sure how big of an impact it has on the car’s fuel economy, but I felt that the car was grumpier when it was on. Things didn’t seem as refined, things didn’t seem as sharp, and things seemed less “Honda”. In my opinion, whoever buys a Civic has a pretty economical ride as it is – just drive it efficiently and use common sense, and you’ll see some pretty fantastic numbers in terms of mileage. No need to rely on the ECON button.
All things considered, this car provides decent storage for a small coupe. Inside, the glove compartment is reasonable, and there is a nice, 2″ deep open bin at the front of the center console. You’ll find two inline cupholders there too, and a lidded bin at the back of the console. It’s small but useful. A weird open bin on the left underside dash made me wonder what I’d put there. The door bins are tiny and goofy.
Head to the back, and you’ll find a trunk that’s a nice size, and accessible. Unlock the rear seats down (they split 60/40) using the trunk-mounted release levers, and flip them down to create more cargo space – take note: the load floor won’t be flat. The opening from the trunk to the rear compartment isn’t the same width as the trunk – there are angular panels on the bottom sides which cut into the cargo space if you’re putting longer items into the expanded space.
As always, I check it out, even if it’s a coupe and probably not designed to please in this department. You’ll find three seats back there, along with three seat belts and three headrests. Width-wise, I’d say two adults would be comfortable. I had two kids back there, and they were happy as pigs in poop.
The legroom isn’t great, but that shouldn’t be a deal-breaker in a small coupe – foot room, on the other hand, was great. This is subjective, but I found the rear seat cushions to be less comfortable than the front ones – they seemed a tad too firm. Again, this shouldn’t be a surprise, but the headroom stinks back there. The roofline is very rakish, and you can’t have a design like this without paying for it somewhere – the headroom in the back is as bad as you’d expect it to be. I’m not tall, and my carefully-coiffed look was disturbed greatly after I got out of the back seats.
There are a few conveniences back there, I suppose. You’ll find one measly map pocket, but the side walls have useful storage capacity – each side has two cupholders and a vertical slot-style space – that’s more than I’ve seen in most coupes. You’ll find little coat hanger holders that flip out of the top of the upper window sill. There’s not power-outlet or climate-control vent back there. Visibility, should you be stuck in the back for a road trip, is actually not bad. You’d expect to see nothing or less out of that small triangular rear window, but once you’re back there, you get a decent view out the side.
Buying this to transport your kids? You haven’t thought this one through, have you? But let’s say you are. You’ll find two LATCH connectors, and three top-mounted anchors.
I thought this car drove well. It’s a Honda, and that competence hasn’t went away. I don’t have a lot of experience in previous Civics, but I’m not sure what all the negative press is about. This is a great little car. I thought most things were smooth and refined, considering this is a CDN $20,000 car. The engine was nice, although I’m less of a fan of the revvy nature of most of Honda’s powertrains. They don’t do low-end torque. Not nearly as well as they do revving that baby up to stratospheric heights and seeing things happen then. This Civic is no different. The power comes on late (maximum horsepower is found within a scant 200 RPMs of the redline), and so you’ll be much happier in the higher rev range if you’re an aggressive driver. This car won’t be in a hurry to get anywhere, but once you step on it, the acceleration is just fine.
The ride is firm, well-dampened and again, competent. You’ll find body roll here, but nothing horrible. The handling is good, and I thought it was very difficult to ruffle this car’s feathers in terms of getting it out of sorts around corners, etc. For typical urban and highway driving, the suspension is tuned well. I felt that the car got floaty around long sweeping curves, such as cloverleafs around overpasses. Hit a little dip on something like that, and the car doesn’t like it.
I did think that the engine got quite loud and boomy over about 3500 RPM. Keep the revs up there, and it’s like a different car – things get buzzy and the noise is quite intrusive.
I felt the clutch and transmission interacted well. It’s a relatively slick combination, but it did seem, as mentioned, grumpier when the ECON mode was engaged.
Cruising at 100-105 km/h on the freeway saw the revs sitting at 2700-2800 RPM. The car is quiet, mechanically speaking, at those speeds. I did, however, catch some wind noise and quite a bit of road noise.
The outward vision is great in this car, with the exception of shoulder checking. Again, that sloping roofline will kill you in this department, but looking forward, sideways and out the rear is just fine.
I felt that low-speed driving and particularly maneuvring around town was a joy with this car. Parking it, doing tight u-turns, etc – no problem whatsoever. It’s a narrow vehicle that will happily fit into almost any space. I found the steering boost at standstill to be amazing – the steering effort is almost nil when the car isn’t moving – this makes parking it in tight spots a dream.
Being a current Honda owner, I felt that the driving experience in this Civic was typical Honda. Relatively refined, competent and controlled, if not particularly inspiring.
The biggest problem I found was the loud ride. It felt that this car could have been damped for sound isolation better than it was, and especially at high RPMs or at highway speeds, I felt the ride could have been quieter.
I did hear a buzzing sound coming from the back of the car over certain frequencies of vibration. Some people, like say my wife, never notice little buzzing and squeaking sounds. I honestly wish I had the ability to tune them out, because I’d be far less stressed.
A other issues I had were more or less details. I’m a big dead-pedal critic – I need mine to be perfect. The placement and angle on this one are just fine, except there is something lumpy sticking out above the dead pedal and with my size 13 feet, I kept stepping on that, instead of the dead pedal. Not cool.
Folding down the rear seats requires pulling on release levers in the trunk. All that does is unlocks them. Then you’re left with the daunting task of actually flipping those seats down. Because it’s not a hatchback, they’re far away if you’re behind the car, and you’ll need a hockey stick or something long to push them forward from the back of the car. Alternatively, you’ll be forced to reach into the back seat (not the easiest thing in a coupe – you’ll need to fold the front seat forward, scramble in there, and reaaaacccchhhhh) – once you’re in there, there’s no handle, so you have to reach high and grab the headrests to flip them down. It’s not practical, and I was surprised at how much work and how impractical flipping down back seats can be.
Oh, and once you flip those seats down, the middle seat belt comes with for the party. It feeds from the back upper ledge, but stays affixed to the seat via a closed loop, meaning it stretches across the cargo space, defying you to make the most use of that space. I’ve never seen anything like that, and it’s weird and it sucks.
Finally, there is no latch or handle inside the trunk to close it with, meaning you’ll either grab one of the sharp edges inside the trunk lid, or you’ll get fingerprints on the trunk.
I enjoyed driving the Civic. It’s a car that feels well-built, well-designed and mostly well-executed. It did everything I asked it to do. For the money, I’d be looking at the 4-door because I have a family, and those back seats matter to me. But if you’re in the market for a coupe, and you’re looking to drop somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 grand, the Civic EX is a valid competitor. It feels competent, and it feels mostly unflappable. For typical everyday driving, you’ll find everything you need here. With that said, I think Honda does have their work cut out for them. They aren’t the only players here, and marques that previously seemed laughable, especially the competition from Korea, suddenly loom large and probably are cause for sleepless nights at Honda.
If you’re a leadfoot, and the noises get a bit irritating, and you might be happier with something that’s either quieter or something that rewards you with a higher level of performance for those levels of noise, such as the pricier but much sportier Civic Si.
I rate the Civic Coupe EX at 7 out of 10, considering its mission, its price and its competition. I do wish I’d driven the last couple of generations of Civic to compare this one to. WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor) was middling – she wasn’t fond of the shape, and she shops every day. So she prefers more space. Oh right, that’s why I bought her a Honda Odyssey. Which she loves.
In the end, the Civic remains a solid choice for a car in this price range. It always has been. The biggest difference is that the competition has caught up, and the Civic has to fight it off with more vigor than it used to. The ball is in your court, Honda.
Disclosure: Vehicle was provided by Honda.
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