2011 Honda Civic Expert Review:Autoblog
There was a time was when any serious discussion of "hot hatches" – small, lightweight economy cars pumped full of go-fast parts and body modifications of dubious taste – always included the Honda Civic Si. Back in the day, the D16Z6-engined Si would routinely do battle against the Volkswagen GTI and Nissan Sentra SE-R for import tuner supremacy. Times, however, change.
These days, the battle for hot hatch supremacy starts and essentially ends with turbocharged beasties like the Mitsubishi Evolution and Subaru WRX/STI, with a dash of MazdaSpeed3 or Mini Cooper S thrown in for flavor. The Sentra SE-R is little more than a sad shell of its former self (a fact we find odd considering just how much cache Nissan has built up for the brand with its exotic-destroying Godzilla GT-R) and the Volkswagen GTI has evolved into an entry-level Audi – lots of interior and NVH refinement, but lacking the kicked-in-the-you-know-where power necessary to keep up with the all-wheel-drive Japanese kids. But what about the Civic Si? Where does it fit into the import tuner lexicon, especially when loaded up with lots of Honda Factory Performance (HFP) parts? Make the jump as we attempt to find out.
Photos copyright ©2010 Drew Phillips / AOL
The four-door Civic is more conservatively shaped than the two-door version, a double-wedge profile that we still find intriguing late into its life-cycle. The sedan, however, is sort of the BMW 3 Series of the small C-segment: Smartly shaped and aerodynamically efficient, but now getting on a bit. Honda has tried to address some of this lacklusterness by tricking out this particular Si with lots of HFP add-ons. While these supposed aero-mods might actually enhance performance, the front splitter seems only there to scrape up against gas station driveways.
Meanwhile, the rear wing is a total show piece, as a factory Civic Si is hardly capable of speeds where this sort of downforce is warranted. Worst of all, fart-can exhausts should never, ever come from the factory and we think this is a particularly shameful way for Honda to make $40. It's not that we find the Si HFP ugly (we think the paint scheme is great), but it's sending out the wrong sort of message, the sort that Jesse's Jetta sent out in the original Fast and the Furious movie. Almost a desperate, "Me too, me too..."
Inside is the now familiar Star Trek dashboard affair that people love or hate. We're (naturally) split. On the plus side, we really like the simplified layout where the tachometer is front and center, just like it should be in a performance-oriented car – though it does make you wonder why it occupies that place of honor in the more pedestrian Civic models that make up the overwhelming majority of sales. Still, fans of VTEC will appreciate knowing exactly when cam-phasing is set to take place.
But on the demerit side, it's easy to overlook the speedometer and the fuel gauge, two readouts most folks probably use more often than a tachometer. In fact, so hidden was the bar-graph fuel meter that we nearly ran out, inadvertently running the tank down to one bar before we rolled into a gas station on fumes. Also, the speedo is digital only. We wish there were a duplicate analog gauge, because if you turn the headlights on during the daytime, the speedometer fades to near invisibility without monkeying around with the dimmer settings. Speaking of invisible, the frustrating-to-use, aftermarket-looking navigation system is exactly that. Though, if you're into the last decade's aesthetic, we suppose it's a neat time capsule piece.
The single best part of the Si's interior is its six-speed shifter. More specifically, its silken, precise action. The shift knob itself is a HFP part, wrapped in cow and a little small for our taste. Also, the leather (or is that leather-ette?) shroud wasn't attached in our tester, and as far as we can tell, it isn't supposed to be attached. The resulting free-floating piece of material therefore feels cheap and annoying. But Honda could've covered the shifter in cactus and we really wouldn't have cared – the movement is that good. Say whatever you want about Honda's recent U.S. efforts, the one thing that's simply undeniable is how consistently wonderful their manual transmissions feel. Mazda and Porsche come close, but at the end of the day, Hondas just swap gears better than anyone else. And the clutch action is just as good.
We also liked the leather-wrapped HFP steering wheel, and in terms of the HFP seats, we were split. The material was properly racy and the bolstering good – especially the upper back-bolsters – but the seats were a little too squishy (to one of us) for true pocket rocket duty.
After giving our blue four-door Si tester the once over, and especially after looking at the headline-font-sized "VTEC/DOHC" graphics on the rear doors, a very wise lady said, "My initial reaction to lettering on the side of a car is that it's stuffing its pants." A keen observation, perhaps, especially when you look at the Civic Si's engine through 2010-eyes. Rated at 197 horsepower and 139 pound-feet of torque, the mill is a torqueless wonder. Consider the Subaru WRX for a moment, and never mind about its 265 horsepower. Even with a plastic intake manifold, the Rexer managers to lay 244 pound-feet of torque down to all four wheels. This Civic's got barely half that going to just the fronts. The good news? You need torque to have torque-steer.
There is, however, plenty of plain old steer. Honda has done a commendable job of equipping its hottest Civic with a smart suspension, one that's able to take what little power there is and make the most of it. Additionally, the age old question of "Fast car slow or slow car fast," receives a pretty good answer from the Civic Si. Compared to its competition, at least, you can essentially drive the thing flat-out at almost all times. Not only will it take you longer to get into extra-legal speeds, but when you are cooking along, you're in total control of the kitchen.
But again, cooking alone takes some effort, as just getting up to 45 mph from a standstill takes all the cam-phasing the little VTEC can muster. That said, the little motor spinning off into the stratosphere sounds wonderful. We can't tell you how many times we were startled to finagle a perfect launch, roughly slam our way through the gears through fourth only to look down in amazement that we hadn't yet cracked 50 mph. Frankly, it's sort of an odd sensation.
But back to the handling, where we need to stress one particular point. In some ways the handling is very good, meaning that when you head straight out of the box and onto your favorite road, the Civic Si will delight you. Turn-in is sharp, the steering is fairly communicative and the damping is crisp with a near-perfect amount of rebound across uneven stuff. But there's a catch: Enthusiasts out there who will appreciate the sort of sharp reflexes offered up by the Si are likely to be the exact people that can't get over the power deficit. They'll demand more power. And while we're certain the aftermarket is brimming with solutions (hi Mugen!), a large power infusion would probably upset the Civic's balance. Evil, steering wheel-ripping torque steer would doubtlessly be an issue, and any more weight over the front wheels is not what the performance doctor ordered. The 2010 Civic Si is and will remain a slow car, which is probably not what its target customer wants.
At the end of the day, the base $22,255 Civic Si is a good driver's car. But it's severely down on power to its competition and all the HFP parts don't help the equation – especially at an as-tested price of $25,165. For that kind of money, you could take your pick from an entire fleet of more capable pocket rockets. The WRX starts at $24,995, and with options and destination will cost you more than the Honda, but it's so much more car. More to the point, perhaps, a Mini Cooper S starts at $23,000 and offers as much handling with more grunt (due to its lower weight, not power).
Essentially, Honda is going after the kind of customer that likes the idea of customized and tuned cars, but one who doesn't feel like doing any work. Or market research. We're guessing there's not too many of them, which is why you don't see a Civic Si all that often, especially one loaded with HFP parts like our tester. Maybe in the next generation. Or maybe next time, Honda will finally give us Yanks the opportunity to sample the buffer Civic Type-R, the Honda us fast-driving types actually crave. Until then, with the retirement of the S2000 and the perpetual cancellation of any sort of NSX-successor, the Civic Si remains Honda's sole performance product. Not only don't we think it's good enough, we doubt Soichiro Honda, the company's founder, would either.
Photos copyright ©2010 Drew Phillips / AOL
New Car Test Drive
Benchmark compact offers something for everyone.
The Honda Civic is a benchmark in the compact class, noted for its reliability. A wide range of models is available. They're easy to drive, with ample windows that provide outstanding outward visibility.
We found ride quality in the Civic solid but not overly firm, with less road noise and wind whistle than is common for the class. The stiff chassis gives the Civic a solid and planted feel, with impressive stability and responsive steering, while the relatively long wheelbase smoothes the ride. Inside, the Civic is pleasant, attractive and inviting. Bluetooth and navigation are available.
Safety features include side-impact airbags as standard equipment. Vehicle Stability Assist electronic stability control comes on the Civic EX-L, Hybrid, and Si models.
The 2011 Honda Civic comes in coupe and sedan versions. Civic DX, LX, and EX models share a 140-hp, 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine with a choice of 5-speed manual transmission or 5-speed automatic. We found the Civic LX sedan the most comfortable model. The DX is relatively basic, while the EX is more plush.
The sporty Civic Si coupe and sedan share a 197-horsepower engine, 6-speed manual transmission, four-wheel disc brakes, and supportive sport seats.
The Civic Hybrid sedan is powered by a 1.3-liter four-cylinder engine coupled with a permanent magnet electric motor and a continuously variable transmission. The Hybrid model features dramatically reduced emissions, and it delivers an EPA-rated 40/43 mpg City/Highway.
The Civic GX sedan uses natural gas for fuel. Natural gas is available to residents of California, New York, Utah and Oklahoma and is used by fleets elsewhere.
For 2011 the Honda Civic line remains essentially unchanged. Its styling was last freshened in 2009, after a total redesign for the 2006 model year.
The 2011 Honda Civic DX coupe ($15,605) and sedan ($15,805) come with power windows, tilt-and-telescope steering wheel, height-adjustable driver's seat and fold-down rear seatback. The coupe gets a rear decklid spoiler. Buyers wanting a radio must supply their own or order from the dealer, but a rear window-integrated radio antenna is standard. Brakes are disc in front, drum in rear. The P195/65R15 tires are on steel wheels with full wheelcovers. The Civic DX-VP sedan ($16,555) adds air conditioning, a four-speaker, 160-watt AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio system with an auxiliary input jack, CD text display, and speed-sensitive volume control.
The Civic LX coupe ($17,555) and sedan ($17,755) add cruise control with steering-wheel-mounted controls; power door locks with keyless entry; center console with sliding armrest; overhead map lights; express up/down for the driver's power window; and P205/55R16 tires. The sedan comes with a four-speaker stereo (same as DX-VP), but the coupe has a six-speaker system, and also a rear-seat walk-in feature that remembers the front passenger seat's setting. The Civic LX-S sedan ($18,355) upgrades to alloy wheels, exclusive sport-trimmed black cloth seats with synthetic suede bolsters and silver stitching, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a rear deck spoiler, and a chrome exhaust tip. A 5-speed automatic ($800) is optional.
The Civic EX coupe and sedan ($19,605) skip some of the LX-S model's fancy trim but add a power moonroof; variable-speed intermittent windshield wipers; a second 12-volt power outlet; a 60/40 split folding rear seatback; and outside temperature indicator. The steering wheel adds audio controls; while the keyless remote adds a trunk release button. Brakes upgrade to four-wheel discs. The sedan's stereo adds two speakers (for a total of six); while the coupe gets a 350-watt, seven-speaker system; both get a USB interface. Both EX models are also available with automatic transmission, XM Satellite Radio, and voice-recognition Navigation ($22,405). A 5-speed automatic ($800) is optional.
The Civic EX-L coupe and sedan ($21,955) add leather seats with seat heaters, leather-trimmed steering wheel and armrest, heated mirrors, and Vehicle Stability Assist and Brake Assist. Both models are available with the automatic transmission, XM and Navigation ($23,955).
The Civic Si coupe ($22,205) and sedan ($22,405) are performance models, powered by a 197-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. They come only with a 6-speed manual transmission. Other go-fast goodies include a limited-slip differential, sports suspension, Vehicle Stability Assist with traction control, and P215/45VR17 tires on 17-inch alloy wheels. Fog lights come standard. Inside are synthetic suede sport seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, and an aluminum shift knob. Both coupe and sedan get the 350-watt, seven-speaker stereo. Packages include high-performance tires for the coupe ($22,405) and sedan ($22,605); plus XM and navigation ($24,205 and $24,405).
The Civic Hybrid sedan ($23,950) features a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), automatic climate control, a roof-mounted radio antenna, a rear decklid spoiler, and hybrid-pertinent digital data displays. Vehicle Stability Assist comes standard. The Hybrid is available with the navigation system and XM Satellite Radio ($25,950) and with a leather interior ($25,150) including heated front seats and side mirrors, or with the leather package, navigation, and XM ($27,150).
The Civic GX ($25,490) is essentially an LX sedan with a 1.8-liter engine powered by natural gas. It comes only with a 5-speed automatic transmission.
Honda Civic comes in two distinct body styles, sedan and coupe, and they do not share any body panels. The Honda Civic sedan has a lower grille with a tall, trapezoidal center opening and secondary scoop-like openings on either side. A grid-like insert in the center opening contrasts with a kind of cyclone-fence theme in the side scoops. Slender headlamp assemblies angle upwards as they curve around the fenders; visually connecting them is a bright bar with the Honda H at the center and another slim air opening underneath. Around back, another bright chrome bar connects the taillights just above the indentation for the license plate.
The coupe's upper grille has the Honda logo centered in an oval-themed black mesh, with a more shallow lower trapezoidal opening, and scoops at either side that are drawn out wide and horizontal and divided midway by a horizontal strut.
Save for a lower body character line, the sides of the Civic are more slab than sensuous. Understated fender blisters break up the otherwise featureless expanse. Honda calls it a monoform design, and a central expression of this is the windshield, the leading edge of which reaches into the hood all the way to the middle of the front wheel wells, pushing the cab-forward design concept to a new extreme. On the coupe, the windshield is raked at a radical 21.9 degrees; the sedan's at a barely more upright 23.9 degrees.
The coupe's spoilered, rounded rear profile suggests sleek swiftness. The sedan's somewhat abbreviated trunk lid and high, chunky tail add perceived mass to a tightly proportioned, smallish sedan.
Details and markings distinguish each trim level.
On the Si sedan, the grille bar is black instead of chrome. On both the coupe and sedan, an Si badge tucks into the grille's lower left side, and oval fog lights are set into the bumper's outboard openings. An i-VTEC label appears just forward of the rear wheel well; on the Si sedan it's placed low on the rear door. A rear spoiler wraps over the outboard edges of the sedan's trunk lid; on the coupe, the spoiler is free-standing. Both sedan and coupe roll on their own unique alloy wheels. The Hybrid is understated, with just a small Hybrid badge under the right rear taillight. Our least favorite feature is its pseudo-aero wheels, which look as if they were cut from pizza pans.
A blue CNG diamond on the right side of the rear deck lid, and NGV lettering on the rear doors, identify the natural gas-powered GX.
We find the Civic LX sedan the most comfortable model. The DX edges more toward spartan inside, while the EX heads toward lush. Fit and finish meet Honda standards. Plastic trim elements look high-grade, although the multi-piece dash invites concern about high-mileage squeaks and buzzes.
Seats are comfortable, not plush. Seat bottoms provide better than average thigh support. The manual height adjustment on the driver's seat pivots on front hinges, forcing drivers to choose between seat height and legroom. The Si models get sport front seats with synthetic suede upholstery and more aggressive bolsters both bottom and side for improved support.
The view out the front, with the expansive windshield, low cowl and sloping hood, is unparalleled in the class. A commensurately low beltline would enhance side vision, but otherwise there's little about which to complain. Tiny front quarter windows on the sedan, necessary to allow the front door windows to roll all the way down, push the side rear-view mirrors a bit too far rearward for quick and easy glances at neighboring lanes.
Controls are for the most part where they should be, but not necessarily as they should be. There's little symmetry in organization or shape of features and interfaces. It's not an unpleasant look, but one that requires some acclimation. Despite the seeming logic of the two-tier instrument display, we still haven't adjusted to the resulting weird pod draped over the top of the dash.
The dash itself seems endlessly deep; draped across its top, in front of the driver, is a hooded opening with a digital speedometer between LCD coolant temperature and fuel level gauges. Down below, in the more common place for instruments, a large, round, analog tachometer dominates the view through the top half of the steering wheel, with warning lights to either side. Outboard of this display are large, irregular vent registers. Instrument lighting is blue on most models but red on the Si models.
Sedans share the coupe's three-spoke steering wheel (with spokes at the 3, 6, and 9 o'clock positions), which matches the spacey interior theme just as well. The Civic navigation system includes Bluetooth HandsFreeLink, a wireless telephone interface that works with Bluetooth-enabled mobile telephones for hands-free operation via steering wheel-mounted controls.
Centered in the dash above the climate control panel is a stereo control head with the pertinent accoutrements; unless you order navigation, in which case this space is shared by an LCD window combining the navigation display with audio settings.
To the right of this squished pod-like arrangement, the dash curves away from the front passenger and houses two more horizontally oriented vent registers; again, neither of which matches the other. A wide, but not especially deep glove box resides below a cabin-wide, clam shell-like notch dividing the upper and lower halves of the dash.
There is no center stack to speak of, which otherwise might tie together the dash and the floor-mounted controls. Instead, below the climate control panel is a shallow storage bin with a power point and an audio input jack on the left side. Forward of the metallic-trimmed block of plastic serving as a base for the hand brake and shift levers is a good-sized, rectangular storage bin. Another shallow cubby is tucked in between the shift lever housing and a pair of seat bottom-level cup holders under a sliding cover. Aft of this on all but the DX is an abbreviated, padded armrest covering another storage bin, inside of which on the EX, EX-L, Si and Hybrid is a second power point. Each door has a hard plastic map pocket. A magazine pouch is on the rear of the front passenger's seatback; on the Hybrid, there's one on the driver's seatback, too. Architecturally busy interior door panels could be friendlier to fingers in terms of grips and pulls, but armrests provide good support at the right level.
When it comes to interior room, the Civic coupe and sedan are competitive with other cars in their classes. Almost oversize rear doors provide easy rear-seat access. But the bench seats in the rear are flat and do little to keep passengers in place in twists and turns.
Cargo space, at 12.0 cubic feet in the sedan, trails the class leaders by a couple of cubic feet. The coupe surrenders 0.5 cubic feet, the Hybrid gives up 1.6 cubic feet to battery and such, while the GX loses fully half its trunk to fuel storage.
The Civic is an enjoyable car to drive. We found ride quality solid but not overly firm, with less road noise and wind whistle than is common for the class. The exceptionally stiff chassis gives the Civic a solid and planted feel. The brake feel is solid as well. Thoroughly modern front and rear suspension designs deliver impressive stability and certain steering response. The long wheelbase smoothes the ride.
The 5-speed automatic is simple: Put it in Drive and leave it there, and it does the job admirably. We do wish, though, that Honda would insert a tab below the D setting in the gate, as we sometimes shifted past it when shifting out of Park or Reverse and ended up in the D3 notch.
The 5-speed manual gearbox is a bit rubbery in the shift feel, and hitting the desired gear sometimes requires careful aim.
The 1.8-liter engine that comes standard is rated at 140 horsepower and 128 pound-feet of torque. Honda rates the combined output of the Hybrid's electric motor and 1.3-liter gasoline engine at 110 horsepower and 123 pound-feet of torque, on regular unleaded. The LNG-powered GX rates 113 horsepower and 109 pound-feet. The 2.0-liter Si models feature 197 horsepower and 139 pound-feet, thanks partly to a high-compression cylinder head that demands premium fuel.
Fuel economy estimates are 26/34 mpg EPA City/Highway for the 5-speed manual, 25/36 mpg for the 5-speed automatic, and 21/29 mpg for the Si 6-speed manual. The Hybrid earns a 40/43 mpg rating, the GX a gasoline-equivalent of 24/36.
The EX-L, Hybrid, and Si models come with electronic stability control, and the Si features larger front brake discs.
The Si engine is powerful. Hard acceleration is often accompanied by torque steer, a tug on the steering wheel. Around 6000 rpm the engine delivers a power surge as the i-VTEC's variable valve mechanicals shift emphasis from torque to horsepower. A helical-type, limited-slip differential enhances traction in slippery driving situations.
The Si Sedan is almost as much fun as the Si Coupe. The sedan rides on a wheelbase that's two inches longer and is a bit heavier (by 59 pounds). So, it's a little slower in acceleration, although it takes a stopwatch to notice. Steering response isn't quite as sharp, either.
The Hybrid's CVT automatic takes some getting used to, as the shiftless transmission leaves the tachometer needle roving seemingly aimlessly around the dial while the engine management system's electronic brain works to keep the engine speed at its most efficient given road speed and load. The Hybrid can deactivate up to all four of its cylinders and operate using only its compact (just 70mm wide) electric motor in certain low-speed situations. Its 1.3-liter gasoline engine features the same i-VTEC technology as the other Civics, albeit with eight valves instead of 16. By itself it produces 93 horsepower at 6000 rpm, and 89 pound-feet of torque at 4500. Because the electric motor develops its peak 20 horsepower and 76 pound-feet at different speeds (2000 and 1160 rpm, respectively), Honda rates the combined power more conservatively than simply adding the peak numbers together.
The Civic GX is powered by a dedicated natural gas version of the Civic's 1.8-liter i-VTEC engine. Because it produces close to zero regulated emissions, buyers are eligible for a $4,000 federal tax credit. Currently, natural gas is approximately 30 percent less expensive than gasoline when purchased at a refueling station. The Civic GX is the only vehicle certified by the EPA to meet both Federal Tier 2-Bin 2 and Inherently Low Emission Vehicle (ILEV) zero evaporative emission certification standards. But consumers can buy the GX only through certain qualified dealers in New York, California, Utah, and Oklahoma; although it is available to fleets nationwide.
The Civic Hybrid and Civic GX are classified as Advanced Technology Partial Zero Emissions Vehicles (AT-PZEV) by the California Air Resources Board CARB.
The Honda Civic LX sedan is a superb choice for someone who wants a practical compact that is smooth, comfortable and quick. The EX models add all the conveniences, including heated leather seats in the EX-L. The GX offers basic transportation with the potential economy and real emissions reduction of natural gas. The Hybrid makes a good commuter car with its fuel-saving electric motor. The Si Coupe and Si Sedan deliver sporty performance for driving enthusiasts.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Tom Lankard filed this report from Detroit. With John F. Katz reporting on the Hybrid and GX from South Central Pennsylvania.
Honda Civic DX Coupe ($15,605); Civic LX Coupe ($17,555); Civic EX Coupe ($19,605); Civic EX-L Coupe ($21,955); Civic Si Coupe ($22,205); Civic DX Sedan ($15,805); Civic DX-VP Sedan ($16,555); Civic LX Sedan ($17,755); Civic LX-S Sedan ($18,355); Civic EX Sedan ($19,605); Civic EX-L Sedan ($21,955); Civic Si Sedan ($22,405); Civic Hybrid Sedan ($23,950); Civic GX Sedan ($25,490).
Alliston, Ontario, Canada; East Liberty, Ohio; Greensburg, Indiana; Suzuka, Japan.
Options As Tested
Honda Civic LX Sedan automatic ($18,555).
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