- Peppy engines
- Excellent manual transmissions
- Fuel efficiency
- Long-standing reputation for reliability
- Tight headroom, especially in back
- Backseat tough to enter/exit
- Busy ride
The 2010 Honda Civic has a level of sophistication and refinement not possessed by most other small car models, with good safety and overall frugality. But if you like to carry cargo or backseat passengers, you can do better.
While Honda’s smaller Fit is only offered in a hatchback body style, with a single engine available, the larger Honda Civic has one of the most extensive model lineups among small cars. In addition to base and mid-level models, there’s a sports-oriented Si version, along with a natural-gas version in the form of the Honda Civic GX. And all but the GX are offered in a choice of coupe or sedan. There’s also a high-mileage Hybrid model, but that’s only offered as a sedan and it’s covered by TheCarConnection.com in a separate review.
As the 2010 model year arrives, the Honda Civic has now gone four years since its last major redesign, yet it still manages to look fresh. That’s because at the time of its introduction, the Civic was a little far out design-wise, with a swoopier, more ached roofline; a stubbier, yet more aerodynamic front end; and a bold, two-tiered video-game-like instrument panel that made other small-car dashes look plain. Now, several years later, several other small-car models have emulated some of the Civic’s cues so that it still looks quite fresh.
The 140-horsepower, 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine that comes in base DX, mid-level EX, and the best-equipped LX models is no penalty box. It’s smooth, quick-revving, and refined, and pairs well with either the five-speed manual or five-speed automatic. The manual gearbox is light and quick-shifting in the Civic and a step better than the linkages in most other small cars. Either transmission delivers exceptional fuel economy, with EPA estimates for the manual of 26 mpg city, 34 highway for the manual gearbox and 25/36 mpg for the automatic.
If you’re willing to trade a little fuel economy for a lot more horsepower, the 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine in the Si makes 197 horsepower and drives the front wheels through a six-speed manual gearbox. The Si package is completed with a tighter suspension, larger 17-inch alloy wheels, a limited-slip differential, a rear spoiler, Si exterior trim, and synthetic sports seats.
The environmentally friendly natural-gas-fueled GX version is offered in a single trim. It’s the most expensive model in the lineup, yet it’s eligible for up to $4,000 in tax credits and can be teamed with a home refueling station dubbed "Phill." Honda says natural gas is about 35 percent cheaper than gasoline, and the GX gets the gasoline equivalent of 24 mpg city, 36 highway, so you’ll pay off any premium quite quickly. It’s probably not the best choice for long-distance driving, however.
With MacPherson struts up front and multilink rear suspension, Honda starts with a very common small-car configuration but does a great job tuning it, delivering crisp handling (though not quite as good as the Mazda3) and responsive (though light) power steering. However, the ride on the base Civic is a bit choppy, considering the Civic's longish wheelbase. The sport-tuned Si is even harsher, with choppy roads inducing significant rattling. That said, the Civic does a good job isolating coarse road noise.
The better-than-average front seats in the 2010 Honda Civic afford good support and a great driving position, helping make the driving experience enjoyable. Even in base cars, the height-adjustable seats leave great headroom for tall drivers. The rear, however, is less rosy; the rear doors on the sedan are cut narrow at their base, so it's not easy for long legs to clamber in and out. Also, backseat passengers had better not be tall or even average in height, as the curvature of the roof interferes with headroom. It’s the penalty of the rakish roofline. Also, the deeply raked windshield on both the coupe and sedan leaves a lot of unusable room atop the dash.
Side and side curtain airbags are standard equipment on the Honda Civic lineup, along with anti-lock brakes, and overall the news is quite positive on the safety front. The Civic gets four- and five-star results from the federal government, along with all “good" ratings from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. It’s also an IIHS Top Safety Pick. And Honda’s VSA stability control system—still a relative rarity in small cars—is included with EX-L and Si models. The feature isn’t offered in more affordable versions, however.
Last year Honda significantly revamped the Civic’s feature list to make widely desired tech features more available throughout the lineup. Bluetooth HandsFreeLink and a USB audio interface, along with satellite radio and a nav system, are now offered—though in typical Honda fashion, you’ll need to step up to the most expensive EX versions to get all of it. The base DX is pretty basic, with no air conditioning, but power windows and door locks and a tilt/telescoping steering wheel are standard on all models. The Civic LX has air conditioning, cruise control, power locks, a CD audio system with an auxiliary jack, and a folding rear seat. The EX sedan gets distinct alloy wheels, a sunroof, and an available navigation system with XM Satellite Radio. And although a leather-upholstered Civic seems a little odd, you can get exactly that, plus heated seats and mirrors, in the Civic EX-L edition.