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The Honda Civic used to be the entry model in Honda's U.S. lineup, but in more recent years the Honda Fit hatchback has replaced it. While the Civic is a little more upscale in its latest generation, it's still offered in several different models, to fit performance buffs, serious green shoppers, or those simply on a tight budget.
The current-generation Honda Civic looked pretty far-out when it was first introduced, five years ago, but it turned out to be a trend-setter. Its swoopier, more ached roofline, stubbier, yet more aerodynamic front end, drawn-forward, more rakish windshielf, and even its bold, two-tiered video-game-like instrument panel, which made other small-car dashes look plain at the time, have since been emulated by other automakers—serving to keep the Civic's look very contemporary.
The 2011 Honda Civic remains offered in quite a range of powertrains—and two body styles—but no matter which one you pick, the driving experience can be described as perky yet refined. 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, even though its acceleration numbers probably don't stand out. It's smooth, quick-revving, and refined, and pairs well with either the five-speed manual or five-speed automatic. While the automatic can be a little lumpy during gentle around-town driving, the manual gearbox is light and quick-shifting in the Civic and a step better than the linkages in most other small cars.
Overall, the Honda Civic feels very peppy, with quick and precise steering especially in low-speed driving. On the highway can be a little too light on center, but when pushed hard the Civic feels like a more sophisticated, more expensive car whereas most other budget-priced small sedans start to show ragged edges.
If you're willing to trade a little fuel economy for a lot more horsepower, the Si is a blast; its 2.0-liter four-cylinder makes 197 horsepower and drives the front wheels through a six-speed manual gearbox. This engine delivers a rush of power at the high end of its rev band, if and only if, you're willing to keep it up there. 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."
Better-than-average front seats in the 2011 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, though the seat cushions themselves are a bit short and drivers should make sure their knee doesn't rest against the hard handbrake lever. 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.
Through most of the lineup, except for the top EX-L, the Civic's equipment list is lackluster—and with no chance to get items like Bluetooth on lower trims, it's a bit of a throwback to the days of the 'economy car.' The entry DX model 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.
- Peppy engines
- Excellent manual gearbox
- Well-isolated interior
- Fuel efficiency
- Natural-gas, Hybrid, and performance (Si) variants
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- Tight headroom, especially in back
- Backseat tough to enter/exit
- Ride can be choppy