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 included hatchback and wagon styles as well as the sedan and coupe now offered.
With its 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.
Throughout the years, it has competed with the Toyota Corolla, Ford Focus, Nissan Sentra, Mazda 3, and Hyundai Elantra, among 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 line back in 1992 and allowed the model to be both faster and more fuel-efficient than many other small-car models in that era. It was also one of the few inexpensive small cars to have an independent rear suspension, giving it uncompromised ride and handling traits.
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 reconceived 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 got even more lux, with leather upholstery, heated seats, and even a navigation system.
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 much-improved.
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).
Currently, the Honda Civic comes in a wide range of models; the sedan is more practical, the coupe is sportier--especially in its hot-rod Civic Si variation, with a larger engine and performance-tuned suspension. There's the frugal Civic Hybrid, rated at 44 mpg; and there's even the Civic Natural Gas version, with cylinders in the trunk for the compressed fuel--the only passenger car sold in the States that runs exclusively on natural gas.
This generation of the Civic looks and drives much like the previous-generation model, but with a toned-down, more conservative look inside and out. Its driving experience is also far from youthful and eager, though a somewhat softer suspension brought more comfort and refinement (and the improvements for 2013 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 were the exclusive domain of the top-of-the-line EX and EX-L.