Comfortable, smartly designed and available in a wide array of configurations, the 2009 Honda Civic sets the bar for the small-car segment.
To borrow a line from Yogi Berra, it's d\u00e9j\u00e0 vu all over again.
Back in the mid-1970s, fuel prices jumped during the first gas crisis of that decade. Honda was there with a neat solution: the Civic, which it had introduced to Americans just a couple years earlier. With its petite yet space-efficient dimensions, 40 mpg fuel economy and reliable nature, the Civic was a big hit for Honda. Compared to the heavy, sluggish American small cars of the time -- automotive luminaries such as the Vega, Pinto and Gremlin -- the much smaller Civic had a light, sporty feel, a lot more room for passengers and fuel economy ratings about 50 percent higher.
More than three decades later, fuel prices have increased again and savvy consumers are again flocking to Honda dealers in search of Civics. But the 2009 Honda Civic is a far cry from that vehicular roller skate of the disco era. The latest Civic is larger and much more luxurious than its puny ancestor. In fact, it's no longer Honda's smallest car; that would be the Fit. And there are now a wide range of Civics, from the give-sports-cars-the-bird-on-a-twisty-road Civic Si to the give-oil-companies-the-bird Civic Hybrid and natural-gas-powered Civic GX.
The current Civic generation bowed for 2006, and we're quite fond of it. Some styling elements are rather odd, such as the minivan-like windshield, snub nose and the dual-tiered instrument panel that combines digital and analog gauges. But the high build quality, sporty driving dynamics, rock-solid reputation for reliability and impressive fuel efficiency more than make up for a few aesthetic quirks. Some may even think of such quirkiness as a plus.
No matter which Civic you choose, this Honda's traditional strengths in comfort, overall quality and safety are all still firmly intact. Though we suggest doing a bit of comparison shopping -- the sporty Mazda 3, affordable Hyundai Elantra and Volkswagen Rabbit\/Jetta are also very good choices -- the 2009 Honda Civic remains an ideal pick for a small sedan or coupe.
The 2009 Honda Civic is a small car available as a sedan or coupe. For both, there are five main trim levels: DX, LX, EX, EX-L and Si. On the Civic sedan, Honda also offers the DX Value Package, the LX-S, the Hybrid and the GX.
The DX is meant for those on a very tight budget and offers little more than 15-inch steel wheels, power windows, a tilt\/telescoping steering wheel and a height-adjustable driver seat. At least with this year's new DX Value Package, you get air-conditioning and a four-speaker CD\/MP3 audio system with an auxiliary audio jack. The popular midgrade LX has the above features plus 16-inch wheels, full power accessories, keyless entry, a folding rear seat and cruise control. The LX-S adds alloy wheels, a chrome exhaust outlet, a rear spoiler and front sport seats.
Going with a Civic EX gets you 16-inch alloy wheels, a sunroof, six-speaker audio (with steering-wheel-mounted audio controls and a USB input jack) and a 60\/40-split rear seatback with a rear armrest. The EX-L comes with leather upholstery and heated front seats. The sporting Civic Si has most of the EX's features plus a high-output engine, a sport-tuned suspension, 17-inch alloy wheels, foglights, a premium audio system, sport seats and special interior trim. High-performance summer tires are an option for the Si, and a navigation system with Bluetooth phone connectivity is offered for the Si and EX\/EX-L models. Hybrid models are equipped similarly to the EX and have automatic climate control; they can also be equipped with the optional navigation system and leather\/heated seats. The GX has a feature list similar to the LX's.
The 2009 Honda Civic's suspension and steering work together seamlessly, giving the car a well-balanced, confident feel on city streets, back roads and highways alike. Even the mainstream models can be described as being somewhat sporty to drive. The Civic Hybrid and natural-gas GX are unfortunately quite slow, but neither model is meant for supreme acceleration anyway. That task is taken up by the Civic Si. Possessing nimble handling and a delightfully fizzy engine, the Si is one of the few cars available in any price range that makes you want to drive it just for the sake of driving.
Civic DX, LX and EX models are powered by a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 140 horsepower and 128 pound-feet of torque. That power is sent through the front wheels via a five-speed manual transmission or an optional five-speed automatic. With an automatic transmission, the Civic sedan goes from zero to 60 mph in a class-typical 9.6 seconds.
The GX also has a 1.8-liter engine, but it's fueled by clean-burning compressed natural gas and makes 113 hp. It only has a cruising range of 200 miles, but with Honda's Phill device, you can refuel from the comfort of your own garage. The GX is also America's cleanest mass-production car in terms of tailpipe emissions.
The 2009 Civic Hybrid uses a gasoline\/electric hybrid powertrain to maximize fuel economy. Its 1.3-liter four-cylinder engine makes 110 hp and is paired to a continuously variable transmission (CVT). For the Civic Si, Honda installs a 197-hp 2.0-liter engine and an exclusive six-speed manual transmission with a performance-enhancing limited-slip front differential. The Civic Si goes from zero to 60 mph in 7.1 seconds.
Nearly all Civic models boast above-average fuel efficiency. Civics fitted with the standard 1.8-liter engine and the automatic transmission earn an EPA estimate of 25 mpg city\/36 mpg highway and 29 mpg combined. The GX posts a similar 24\/36\/28 mpg, although its smaller \gas\ tank results in a shorter range. The Hybrid tops the Civic lineup with fuel mileage of 40 mpg city\/45 mpg highway and 42 mpg combined. Civic Si models have a 21\/29\/24 mpg estimate.
All Civics come with front-seat side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags and active front head restraints. Antilock brakes are also standard; EX and Si models have four-wheel discs, while the rest have rear drums. Stability control comes on EX-L, Hybrid and Si trims but is unavailable on the others.
In government crash testing, the 2009 Honda Civic earned a perfect five stars for its protection of occupants in frontal impacts. Side-impact tests resulted in a four-star rating for front passenger protection and five stars for protection of rear passengers. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gives the Civic its top rating of \Good\ for the car's performance in frontal-offset and side-impact tests.
The Civic's dash features an unusual, polarizing layout. An analog tachometer is in the traditional location, but the digital speedometer and gas gauge are at the base of the windshield. Though some drivers find the two-tier display distracting, others say it makes quick visual checks of speed easier. Otherwise, its controls are well laid out and easy to operate, while materials are of high quality. The Honda Civic continues to be one of the best small cars in terms of room, interior storage and refinement. Regular Civic sedans have 12 cubic feet of trunk space, but it drops to about 10 for the Hybrid and 6 for the GX due to the space taken up by the hardware of their respective powertrains.
Wide-ranging engine lineup offers both fuel efficiency and performance, roomy and refined interior, strong crash test scores, available as a sedan or coupe.
Controversial gauge cluster design, Bluetooth and stability control only available on upper trims, slow acceleration times of Hybrid and GX models.