2009 Honda CivicEnlarge Photo
The basics: 1.8-liter four-cylinder, 140 horsepower
Price: $15,505 and up
Fuel economy: 26/34 mpg to 25/36 mpg (base to EX-L sedans, manual and automatic transmissions)
Rating: 8.6 out of 10
The perennial class leader among compact four-doors, the Honda Civic took some tiny baby steps back in its current edition. With less usable space and a more enthusiast-aimed shape, the Civic nonetheless delivers on all kinds of front, from driving feel to fuel economy and quality.
The Honda Civic's strengths are the stuff of car lore. Even the base DX versions feel energetic, though the 1.8-liter four is slightly smaller than those fours in the Forte and Focus. Power's on par, though, and the Civic's manual transmission is a joyful piece to move around, in perfect concert with the engine. The automatic's sweet too--and actually tops the manual shifter in fuel economy. Honda's reputation for reliability was built on the Civic name and it's still true today, too, according to those powerful names that study and consume reliability reports. Safety gear is almost comprehensive--stability control is an option on base models--but crash test scores are strong. For the greens in the audience, hybrid and natural-gas versions are offered; performance fans will go directly to the Civic Si and will pass go, repeatedly, with its stratospheric redline and six-speed shifter.
If the latest Civic has stepped wrong in any way, it's related to styling. You might not care for the fast, wedgy shape--and you're sure to dislike what it does for rear-seat space. The interior has an unusual design that might remind you of a starship that Grace Jones or Bill Shatner would pilot. The ride isn't plush like the Forte's; it's firm and direct, and can get a little busy.
Our Bottom Line? The Honda Civic lineup rates well for safety, handling, and overall frugality, though those who plan to carry cargo or frequent backseat passengers should look elsewhere.