New & Used Honda Civic: In Depth
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The Honda Civic is one of the best-selling, most widely recognized car lines in the world. Across almost a dozen generations, the Civic has come in many shapes, sizes, and models, including hatchback and wagon bodies as well as the sedan and coupe now offered. The Civic is Honda's compact car, a smaller companion to the similarly well-known Accord and a size up from the Fit hatchback.
While known for enviable reputation for longevity and durability, the Civic also has had another trump card in its hand for most of its history--efficiency. The wide-ranging Civic lineup has, at times, included green variants such as hybrid and natural-gas-powered models, both of which are offered today. Even the standard models manage high fuel economy without much effort on the part of the driver, making them good choices for commuters.
Throughout the years, the Civic has competed with the Toyota Corolla, Ford Focus, Nissan Sentra, Mazda 3, and Hyundai Elantra, among many others.
MORE: Read our 2015 Honda Civic review
The Civic first came to the U.S. in the early 1970s. And while in non-Rust Belt states there are no doubt many running examples of Honda Civic models dating back to the '70s and '80s, the 1990s-era Civics are currently the most common older Civic models still widely in circulation. These Civics mostly have 1.5- and 1.6-liter engines of various outputs; Honda's VTEC system was phased into the Civic's engine line in 1992 and allowed the model to be both faster and more fuel-efficient than many other small cars of that era. The Civic was also one of the few inexpensive small cars to have an independent rear suspension, giving it ride and handling traits that easily beat the norm.
The Civic that was sold from 2001 through 2005 was only sold as a rather drab sedan in the U.S.—except for the sporty Si model—but what it didn't win in style it did in all-around performance, with good fuel economy as well, and a roomy interior. Some enthusiasts weren't thrilled with the change to a strut front suspension. This generation did mark the debut of a Civic Hybrid model, borrowing the Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) system that had made its debut in the earlier Insight coupe.
With radically different, aerodynamically optimized exterior styling and a completely reimagined twin-level instrument-panel design, the Civic that was offered from 2006 to 2011 came in sleek coupe or sedan variants, with a 140-horsepower, 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine on most (DX, LX, EX, and EX-L models). The Civic Hybrid model returned, with a CVT transmission and 110-hp mild-hybrid system good for an EPA 40 mpg city, 45 highway, and a natural-gas-fueled GX model is also on offer. This time around, the Civic Si model had an excellent 197-horsepower, 2.0-liter four and six-speed manual gearbox. Other versions had a five-speed manual or five-speed automatic. Again, the Civic was praised for its fuel economy and peppy driving feel with nearly any of its variants, but backseat headroom was limited because of the sloping roofline.
While many think of the Civic as solely a basic, no-frills vehicle, in recent years top-of-the-line Civic EX models have gotten even more lux, with leather upholstery, heated seats, and even a navigation system. And then there's the sporty Si model, which offers a very satisfying driving experience with the reliability and practicality of a Civic.
The Civic was last redesigned for the 2012 model year, but in a rare error of judgment, Honda's designers erred too far on the side of austerity, using grim, cheap, hard plastics for the interior and stinting on things like sound insulation. While the 2012 Civic sold fine, reviewers savaged the car as not up to Honda's usual standards. Just 16 months later, the 2013 models arrived with new front and rear styling, and a redesigned and more upscale interior. We drove the improved 2013 Civic and indeed found it to be better in many respects.
More than a typical mid-cycle refresh, the 2013 Honda Civic received a somewhat different look modeled after the new Accord, plus a much-expanded feature set, including standard Bluetooth, text-message functionality, Pandora integration, and a rearview camera—all standard—while optional navigation systems were upgraded with subscription-free FM-based traffic info. Most importantly, the cabin was given new materials, as well as extra noise insulation. Civic Hybrids also got new standard active safety, with Forward Collision Warning (FCW) and Lane Departure Warning (LDW).
There were also some significant updates for 2014. The Civic coupe got a completely redesigned front end that's more aggressive and in line with the latest Accord two-door. The automatic transmission was replaced with a continuously variable transmission, which improved fuel economy, while redesigned exhaust systems on most models bumped up horsepower and torque figures. There were also feature and technology updates, chief among them a new 7.0-inch touch-screen radio.
The Civic lineup is about as wide-ranging as it has ever been, offering a variant for almost any compact-car shopper. Base models use a simple four-cylinder gas engine, while the hot Si coupe and sedan offer sportier handling and more power with equally tuned looks. Enviro-conscious shoppers can opt for the Civic Hybrid sedan, which hits 44 mpg using its single-motor IMA hybrid system, and there's also the Natural Gas model, which is fueled by compressed fuel that's stored in an in-trunk tank. The Civic Hybrid, by the way, is now Honda's smallest gas-electric four-door, as the hybrid-only Insight has been discontinued.
This generation of the Civic looks and drives much like the previous model, but with a toned-down, more conservative look inside and out. Its driving experience in all but Si form is also far from youthful and eager, though a somewhat softer suspension brought more comfort and refinement, and the improvements for 2013 and 2014 certainly help these models feel like more than basic commuter cars. Base prices have remained very low, at around $16k for the DX, but Bluetooth and satellite radio are the exclusive domain of the top-of-the-line EX and EX-L.
In the past and again in its latest generation, the Civic is offered in higher-performance specs elsewhere that are not offered in the U.S. The latest example includes the new Civic Type R hot hatch, which uses a 306-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder and can reach a top speed of 168 mph.
Honda recently showed a Civic concept that foreshadows the look and some of the technology that will be found on the next model. It will be global once again, with three- and five-door hatchback models available in the U.S. The next Civic will also boast turbocharged four-cylinder engines, and the Type R version is likely to make it to these shores as well.