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2014 Honda Civic EX CVT: Quick Drive

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Call it Civic responsibility; Honda has been giving the current generation of its compact-car line new and meaningful improvements each of the past several years.

And this year is no different. In the 2014 Honda Civic, there are two major additions: a continuously variable automatic transmission, and a completely new in-dash interface.

We recently spent a week with a top-of-the-line 2014 Civic EX-L model with navigation (with a bottom line of $25,030), revisiting this model to sample those things, and how they affect the way the Civic fits into the market.

Getting right to the point: While we never saw any real drivability issues with the former five-speed automatic, which the CVT replaces, we can see how this new CVT will be an even better fit for most drivers, and that most drivers will see better fuel economy from it.

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Like Accord, comfortable and easygoing

Just as with Honda's CVTs offered in the Honda Accord, and most recently in the brand-new 2015 Honda Fit, the one in the Civic is, for lack of a better word, easygoing. It tends not to 'motorboat' to a constant, droning rev range; instead, in light to moderate acceleration it raises revs to a certain low- to mid-rev range, and then raises revs more in proportion with speed.

While we like the natural, more linear feel of the Honda system, it's worth noting that not even our top-of-the-line EX-L model included paddle-shifters or any way of holding individual ratios. The system that Toyota offers in the Corolla, for instance, has seven 'gears' and steering-wheel paddle-shifters.

What you do get in the Civic are 'S' and 'L' modes; in the 'S' setting we noticed that the transmission would bring revs up more easily—and into the engine's upper ranges quicker with full throttle. In either case, there's also an 'Econ' button on the dash, which brings a softer accelerator calibration and more conservative accessory use.

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Better mileage than former automatic

With the CVT, the 2014 Civic returns EPA ratings of 30 mpg city, 39 highway; that's up from the 28/39 mpg ratings of last year's five-speed automatic.

And as we found in a week of driving the CVT, this combination returns good mileage in real-world driving, too. We saw an indicated average of 30 mpg, over 115 miles of mostly city driving and short trips. To compare, we saw 33 mpg in a manual-gearbox Mazda 3i in a similar driving loop, and 27 mpg in an automatic-transmission Kia Forte EX.

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