I can remember being there on the auto show floor. I was taking photos of the refreshed 2013 Honda Civic, and overheard one journalist say to another, “Well this certainly covers up the smoldering crater left from the 2012 model.” We auto writers love our hyperbole, and while the language may have been somewhat dramatic, there was a point to be made.
The 2012 Civic was a substandard car for the brand that has made its bones on beige cars for the masses that are not very exciting, but get the job done. With rather surprising quickness, Honda turned out an updated 2013 Civic just a year later, and 2014 continues to deliver those refinements. But despite all the updates, the Civic is just not the small car kind that it once was. An arsenal of competitors have arisen, while Honda– despite acknowledging some issues– has rested on its laurels.
If you were to look at the Civic, you would wonder what the heck I am talking about. The Civic Coupe that we tested featured an aggressive front end, that has been restyled for 2014. It boasts sharply raked headlights that flank an aerodynamic grille plate. Below that are large air inlets that hint at some semblance of performance, and in the case of uprated models, would contain fog lamps.
Trims for the Civic Coupe are LX, EX and EX-L. LX starts at $18,190 and has standard features such as 16-inch wheels, backup camera, Bluetooth hands-free phone connectivity with text messaging and a 160-watt stereo with 6 speakers and Pandora streaming web radio capability.
Our test model was an EX, which has a base MSRP of $20,290. The EX has all the gear of the LX, but with added features like 16-inch alloy wheels, automatic climate control, push button start, and the innovative Honda LaneWatch, which we will delve into later in this review.
Next up is the range-topping EX-L trim. It starts at $22,540 and features leather seating, leather-wrapped steering wheel, 19-inch alloy wheels and heated front seats. An EX-L with navigation (with voice recognition) starts at $24,040, rounding out the lineup.
Regardless of what trim you select, the Civic Coupe comes equipped with a 1.8-liter inline-4, sending 143 horsepower to the front wheels. Power is routed through either a 6-speed manual or continuously variable transmission, otherwise known as a CVT. A CVT is able to replicate nearly any gear ratio within certain parameters, and is billed as delivering improved fuel econonmy.
Not all CVTs are able to deliver the advertised fuel economy gains, and many have a “rubber band” effect that detracts from the driving experience, but the engineers at Honda have tuned these issues out of the Civic Coupe. Fuel economy is listed at 29 mpg city, 39 mpg highway.
We got closer to 34 mpg in combined city and highway driving, but it was the actual feel of the Civic Coupe that impressed us more. Acceleration is modest in regular drive mode, but there is a Sport mode that livens things up. Honda has apparently studied the failures of other automakers’ attempts with CVTs, and created a unit that is responsive, and even fun.
Honda also has a refined steering setup and suspension. Like the VW Golf TDI that I recently reviewed, it may not have straight-line power, but will take a turn in a manner that will deliver some enjoyment to the driver.
Meanwhile, the interior of the Civic Coupe is all in the eye of the beholder. Some see a futuristic and allegedly ergonomic interior. I see an overdone mishmash of displays that misses the point on how people interact with their vehicles. The two-tier display unit is almost as frustrating as those cars that have gauge clusters located in the middle of the dash, as opposed to in front of the driver (I said ALMOST). And the trouble does not end there.
Automakers are on a touch-screen kick. It doesn’t matter if the car needs it or the user experience is improved. It is a matter of keeping up with the joneses, and everyone does it, to separate their uprated trims from the base model. Unfortunately, I fear that Honda engineers set up this touch-screen without putting it front of real human beings. It is completely lacking in common sense. You have to hit extra menu buttons to get from the tuner to the presets, and where you would typically hold down on a preset to save a station, there is a whole process that is unnecessary and distracting.
Oh, and there is no volume knob! Sure, there is the “-/+” toggle on the steering wheel, but it is insane to offer a car without the simplest, most intuitive piece of equipment on the automobile– short of the pedals and steering wheel!
Smartphones are relatively easy to connect, and accessing contacts is easy. Playback of streaming music is easy through the USB audio connection, but there were often delays in playback over Bluetooth. Sometimes it would not even play at all. We used an iPhone4S, but we suspect using the latest iPhone5S should fix that.
One of the best tools on the Civic Coupe is the Honda LaneWatch, which features a camera mounted to the right side mirror. When you engage the right turn signal, the image is projected on the center screen, so you have an unfettered view of the area to your right that extends back for quite a distance. This is the perfect tool to avoid cars that are in your blind spot, and is one of the pros in a car that otherwise failed to impress.
There was a time when one could justify the price of a Honda Civic. Through the 90’s and into the 2000’s it was the standard bearer for the small car market. But as time wore on, it seemed like it was going for style points while missing out on the fundamentals. Meanwhile, the Toyota Corolla, Kia Forte, Hyundai Elantra, Dodge Dart, Chevy Cruze, Ford Focus (and others) all became worthy usurpers to the Civic. The kicker is that most of the cars listed here cost much less than the Civic. The Honda Civic Coupe is not a luxury car, but tries to charge a premium for the same reliability being found in other cars.
There are rabid, loyal Honda fans that will decry this, but a handful of other small cars are available that offer the same practicality and reliability as the Civic– but do so at thousands less.
In my estimation, it is not worth it.