I probably shouldn't admit to auditory hallucinations, but every time I sat behind the new Civic's diminutive silver and black steering wheel, I heard the Star Wars theme welling-up inside my head. I know it's crazy: a vehicle known throughout the galaxy as the automotive equivalent of a pair of Birkenstock nurse's shoes suddenly inspiring thoughts of an Incom T-65 X-wing Starfighter. But there it is: an electroluminescent mass market motor clearly designed to appeal to the light saber set. In other words, the eighth gen Honda Civic sedan is the car of the future, straight from the past.
Externally, Honda's enterprising artisans set their phasers on kill. Unfortunately, their brazen attempt to replace their three-box sedan with a one-box wonder looks like more like a transporter malfunction involving an economy car and an SUV. The Civic's front end is an Odyssey unto itself, with a windscreen so steeply raked it's virtually a forward facing sunroof. The muffed multi-model matrix is equally obvious at the back. The eagle's head lamp treatment is pure Audi A4, while the horizontal crease is straight off BMW's 3-Series. Taken as whole, the Civic's new shape displays all the anomalous futurism of Captain Kirk's concubines, with none of their intrinsic allure.
There's more '70's time-traveling inside. A huge numeric speedo lives under a Teletubby-style hutch emerging from the plastic playing field stretching between dash and glass. This bizarre throwback to Cadillac's ill-fated digital displays is flanked by bar 'graphs monitoring fuel level and engine temp. The strange choice of mission critical info is mirrored by the tachometer's preposterous prominence– at least for an family four-door– in the real estate normally reserved for gauges. A square-bottomed steering wheel only slightly larger than a Pizza Hut personal pan pizza completes the videogame-themed ergonomics.
Or not. The Civic's drop snout is the piece-de-la-Atari. By denying drivers even a glimpse of the car's muzzle, windscreen becomes widescreen. If it weren't for the Civic's A-pillars– columns of such magnificence that Honda felt obliged to put triangular windows at their base– you'd be tempted to press the alternative view button. Oh wait, there isn't one. But the Civic EX is available with a sat nav iPod XM CD WMA voice recognition backup camera system. Given the rest of the instrumentation's disco obvious look and feel, the unit's dour, aftermarket demeanor and fat finger flummoxing buttonology is a bit of a downer. Still, play value is high…
Just in case you didn't quite make the connection between car and game, hit restart. I mean, fire-up the wee beastie, give her some gas and turn the controller– wheel. The new Civic's helm is more direct than an IRS audit. And it's got the handling to match. Thanks to MacPherson struts at the front, a reactive-link double wishbone in the rear, larger wheels and tires, and performance-oriented spring and damper tuning, the Civic EX is a tenacious corner carver. The sedan stays flat and level through the most tortuous twisties. Even if you're [a professional driver on a closed course] driving with your eyes closed, you'll know this isn't your Mom and Dad's Honda.
Unless you put your foot down. While the Civic's in-line four has more than enough oomph for a high mileage shopping trolley, the 140hp 16-Valve i-VTEC® powerplant fails to provide punch to match the car's boy racer dynamics. Around town, the biggest problem is a drive-by-wire-throttle that's jumpier than a "dancing" chicken. At cruising speeds, or [theoretical] passing situations, you're good to slow. Drivers practiced in the fine art of piloting a plodding car quickly (i.e. mercilessly thrashing the engine and maintaining momentum at all costs) will find the Civic sedan a willing partner. Anyone else will be driving it slowly anyway, so it won't really matter.
The new Civic will be a tremendous hit– as a coupe. With its hotter engine and more harmonious (if equally goofy) "To Infiniti… and beyond!" sheet metal, the new Civic Si will find favor with twenty and thirty-somethings. They'll take one look inside and "geddit". They'll take one drive and want it. A percentage of these prospective owners may also seek the practicality of a four-door, but it won't be a large one. As for the rest of Middle America…
As a mainstream product, the new Civic is just too wacky to capture the tepid hearts of conservative car buyers. Sure, the sedan boasts all the virtues that made it such a perennial sales success– reliability, practicality, frugality and comfort. But the Civic faithful will not be well-pleased by the disconcerting view out the windscreen and the bizarre instrumentation in front of them. It's one thing to watch an X-wing fight its way through tie fighters. It's another to drive one though traffic.