What It Is
A Honda Civic that's not much changed on the outside but greatly improved throughout.
Loads of technology, refined ride, outstanding fuel economy.
Engine can get buzzy, expensive with all the options.
The segment's top-seller shows why it deserves that honor.
I remember gluing an Autozone plastic cupholder to the dashboard of my dad's 1991 Honda Civic. A small gesture on my part, it was a gift nonetheless because he needed it. He'd frequently enjoy a cup of coffee in the car on a chilly Ohio morning, but he was left to his own devices when it came time to figure out where to put it.
As I pressed the keyless door opener in the 2014 Honda Civic, sat down on its leather driver's seat, pushed the starter button, turned on the seat heater, cracked the sunroof, and scrolled through the touchscreen infotainment system, it dawned on me that this car bore the same name as its predecessors, but hardly was it the same car. Most of those aforementioned features are new to the ninth-generation car, keeping up with a segment characterized by downsizing without downgrading.
The ninth-gen was originally supposed to be a backstep in amenities, however, carrying a lower price and less content to contend in a recession-stricken economy. But things got better more quickly than Honda had anticipated, with the 2013 model—the second year of the car's life—receiving a vastly upgraded interior and driving dynamics. In its third year, Honda has nary kept well enough alone. Instead, it has opted to bestow the Civic with a new continuously variable automatic transmission in place of the dated five-speed auto and upgrade the infotainment system in addition to tweaking styling. The 2013 Honda Civic already restored our faith that Honda had once again remembered how to build a compelling compact. The 2014 has impressed us even further.
What We DroveMy father's 1991 Civic was a DX-level sedan, meaning that it couldn't get any more basic. By contrast, the 2014 Honda Civic we had to test was a top-level EX coupe with leather and navigation. Honda hasn't sold anything with a DX badge on it for the better part of a half-decade.
Under the current packaging structure, the most basic Honda Civic one can get is an LX model, which still comes with power windows and power door locks, among a long list of other standard features. After that, Honda bundles its options as full-fledged trim packages: EX, EX with leather (EX-L), and EX-L with navigation. All EX-level models come with a robust 7-inch monitor in the dash, and a phone-based navigation can be installed through Honda's apps for $59, but our car came with the voice command-operated satellite-linked system. With all the toys, it totaled $24,830, including $790 for destination and handling—nearly $6,000 more than a base model.
On the safety front, Honda has heartily upgraded all of its Civics with its new ACE II body structure, which is designed to excel in the IIHS's new small front overlap test. And excel it has, earning Top Safety Pick honors for 2014 and a five-star government safety rating.
The CommuteWe've had other Civics in my family; my bother has an eighth-generation model, which largely uses the same 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine, now with 143 horsepower. The difference: Whereas his car has a five-speed manual at a time when a five-speed auto was optional, the new car comes with a continuously variable automatic transmission that's part of Honda's Earth Dreams portfolio of technologies; a direct-injected Earth Dreams four-cylinder with more power and better fuel economy is also expected sometime soon, but Honda's not rushing it.
And it's not like it needs to. The current engine with the CVT can easily exceed its EPA fuel economy numbers of 29 city/38 highway if driven gingerly. While we averaged 32.1 mpg over our week with the car, we saw as high as 42.3 mpg with little effort. Unless it's put under heavy acceleration, the engine thrums along quietly like a sewing machine. Under more force, however, the CVT does knock the engine into high revs, which gets buzzy without too much added interior vibration. Credit the noise to Honda's frugal use of sound deadening materials, which means it is louder than some direct competitors like the Chevrolet Cruze and Kia Forte. But not by much.
The Grocery RunThe Honda Civic has always been big for its breeches in terms of having the ability to engulf whatever it may need in a relatively small space. The coupe, on the other hand, has always traded off a bit of this in the name of style. While providing a 11.7 cubic-foot trunk, and 60:40 split-folding rear seat for larger items, the pass-through is a little compromised, not being as large as it could be. Likewise, while the Honda Civic sedan's rear seat provides enough leg room for adults, the coupe's isn't really meant for anything more than short trips.
Still, the Civic is comfortable, easily maneuverable, and compact enough that it's a charm to use while navigating a busy parking lot, even if its longer-than-usual doors mean you have to pay a little extra attention to keep from accidentally bumping a neighboring vehicle.
The Weekend FunKvetch as we did, Honda still hasn't tightened up the electric power steering to where it was in the eighth-generation car, which used a less-efficient hydraulic power steering rack. Still, it's class-competitive, but it's not as sporty as it used to be. For that, it's best to splurge an extra $175 for a similarly equipped, but six-speed manual only, Honda Civic Si. That is, if you don't mind the fuel economy penalty as well.
Still, the 2014 Honda Civic EX-L coupe has plenty of endearing qualities, including that seamless new continuously variable automatic transmission with paddle shifters that actually blip the engine and make the car a little more entertaining than it ought to be.
What's more, this car is chock-full of technology in its new infotainment system. On the navigation screen, the map can be pinched to zoom in or out just like a smartphone. Other menus can shift in and out of a mind-numbing number of entertainment and diagnostic readouts, and when parked, Honda's unpublished Easter Egg is that it can play full movies on-screen. There's even a menu in HondaLink that lets you bring up your cell phone screen when coupled with a high-power data cord.
Because if young shoppers like our tech toys, Honda aims to deliver. The only downsides: Honda uses a pressure-sensitive pad for the volume control on the stereo. If you're used to using the knob to adjust volume, you're out of luck, and the new flush pad isn't that easy to use in motion. Also, if you're using the navigation, you have to switch the screen into audio mode before selecting a channel that's not pre-programmed. Good ol' fashion knobs would do a world of good for this car, and this is coming from a guy who's right in the middle of Honda's Gen Y demographic.
SummaryNow in its third year on sale, the ninth-generation Honda Civic has gone from mediocre to good to excellent. Why Honda hasn't been this ambitious with its best-selling compact car until now is beyond us. But we're glad it is.
With the 2014 Honda Civic coupe, the automaker has added some aggressive haunches up front and refined the overall package. We're not huge fans of the new grille, but it serves its purpose and clearly defines the Civic coupe as the sporty model in the lineup. Coupled with new technology and one of the best CVTs out there, Honda ought to have no problem maintaining its segment dominance. A far cry from the 1991 Civic I learned how to drive a manual transmission with—or even my brother's 2008 Civic EX, which doesn't even have as many toys as today's LX model—the 2014 Honda Civic has evolved into a car for people who aspire to luxury without having to pay a premium for it. And we're big fans of what it has to offer.
For people like my dad, Honda will have plenty to keep more budget-sensitive shoppers entertained when it unleashes the fitter-for-2015 Fit subcompact hatchback on the U.S. in just a few months.
Spec BoxPrice-as-tested: $24,830
EPA City: 29 mpg
EPA Highway: 38 mpg
EPA Combined: 33 mpg
Cargo Space: 11.7 cubic feet Child Seat Fitment, Second Row: Fair
Estimated Combined Range: 435.6 miles
Intellichoice Cost of Ownership: Average