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 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine in the Si 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."
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.