Honda Civic LX Review

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta

Herbie Hancock is a jazz pianist with a lesser known passion for all things electronic. After trading his sublime Steinway for some cutting-edge synthesizers, Hancock’s musical career Rockit-ed into interstellar space. It’s unclear why Honda reversed Hancock's career path for their eighth generation Civic. Here we have a machine that harkens back to the time when funk-fusion hit the airwaves and flying wedge concepts littered the world's design studios. What’s up with that?

The retro echoes are obvious, but let’s be clear about their execution: the new Civic’s tall profile, cab forward silhouette and skaterboi ramp cum windshield is less old school Lamborghini, more "Minivan Jr." Despite Audi-esque tail lights, the four-door’s strange proportions clearly say “I wanna be a hatchback!” About the best that can be said about the design: it's unmistakable from ten feet or ten furlongs away.

Too bad the windows aren't opaque. Honda’s interior decorators invite you to savor their first ever KITT car cabin. This ode to seventies sci-fi chic sports a two story gauge cluster. A digital speedometer sits up top; a Cyclopsian analog tachometer lingers below. The lighting effects aren’t quite Peter Max, but it’s not for lack of trying. All that’s needed is a flashing LED display and testy, effeminate voice to protect you against the “world of criminals who operate above the law.”

Fortunately, the Civic’s high quality fit and finish create a suitable cavern for A to B’ers determined to enjoy their daily dose of gridlock or weekly jaunt to the local supermarket. The Civic’s cloth doesn't look or feel cheap, even having the foresight to spend quality time on the inviting door panels. True to Honda’s heritage, both major and minor controls are faultlessly, sensuously ergonomic. And there’s plenty of head, leg, shoulder and trunk space for five Civic-minded adults.

The Civic LX' rear cargo-hole also makes the win list, with decklid operation and load height that's Verne Troyer compliant. But the hood's Dustbuster profile and long arm A-pillar make forward visibility a game of chance on the turnpike or within Wholefoods’ parking lot. Once you get over the front end's lack of visual reinforcement and the video game interfaces, taking a commanding grip on the Civic LX’ slick two-spoke wheel is child's play.

But not in the Atari 2600 kind of way. Honda's funky-fresh wedgemobile handles in a manner more befitting a Gran Turismo endurance race. Most everything from the ghosts of Civics past is present and accounted for: linear steering, powerful brakes, confident handling and reasonably well controlled body motions. The Civic’s 16" wheels encourage fast cornering and deep braking, even if the chassis’ limitations are strictly R&B (reached and breached).

While it’s nice to think that frugal little cars are driven by financially challenged enthusiasts, an automatic transmission is mandatory in this neck of the woods. The Civic's slushbox shifts effortlessly between five well-matched gears.

That's a good thing. With a 1.8-liter four cylinder mill huffing out 140hp at 6300rpm, the amble from rest to 60mph require more than a couple of cogs and almost nine seconds of the Civic driver’s time. Let’s face it: the Civic LX’ acceleration isn’t exactly the stuff of NOPI folklore. But the mill gets the job done with a vario-cammed powerband that revs freely, with minimal thrash and complaint. More importantly (at least for the target market), the $17k sedan clocks in at 30/40 EPA mpg.

Granted, the LX-trimmed Civic won't set souls afire with greasy bits worthy of The Temple of VTEC. But the little Honda is a direct hit on the average American’s big car sensibilities. The diminutive sedan serves-up the kind of calm, confident ride and sound isolation normally associated with premium priced luxobarges. And that's what makes this package special: strict attention to dynamic details while catering to the comfort-oriented demands of penny-pinching customers seeking reliable basic transportation.

Yes, but– somehow the Civic’s small car persona got lost in translation. While you gotta love all those airbags and the superlative passive safety, there’s no getting around the fact that the 2750lb Civic is a bigger beast than ever before. Which begs the question: was adding extra heft the right path for a car known for catering to both the entry-level dynamically dense buyer and the performance crazed Import Tuner crowd?

In this age of bigger is better, the current gen Civic bowed to market trends and sold the pistonheads out. Yes, the Civic is still a comforting method of family transport with unique styling and respectable performance. Sure, it’s still a modern day Model A: a blank canvas for street savvy tuners to make a, um, “strong” visual, auditory and performance statement. But the Civic is no longer a sport compact. Forget about the questionable nostalgic styling; this may be the biggest letdown of them all.

Sajeev Mehta
Sajeev Mehta

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  • Dlambe850 Dlambe850 on Sep 21, 2008

    I'm a 2003 Honda Civic LX Sport driver for two days now. As my handle suggests, I was a Volvo driver, and drove Volvos for 22 yrs, until the timing belt went on my beloved 93 850 about 3 weeks ago, in New Jersey. If one has never experienced the "death" of a car in a foreign country - believe me, it's no picnic. Anyway, the prospect of a $6-8K engine repair bill buried my beloved all-leather Volvo. So, I started looking for cars upon my return to Canada. As I am recently retired, another Volvo (S60 would have been my choice) was not in my budget. One of my brothers-in-law drives a 2008 Civic, and I was most impressed with the car, save two things - that cursed "digital" read-out, and that it was an automatic. I'll drive a 5-speed until my knees give out. Anyway, after looking at used Accords -- if I could afford a used Accord, I could afford a used Volvo. So the hunt was on for a "decent" Civic. I found a 2003 Civic LX Sport, with only 81k km on the odometer. Love the car - my "homage" to my leather Volvo is the leather-clad steering wheel, gear knob and boot. I have to admit - after my last Volvo, the stereo system in this Civic sucks, big time, but I suppose it's adequate for my needs (it does play CDs) I fully realize that I've gone from essentially an Alpine, 8-speaker system to whatever Honda puts in (4 speakers, from what I can tell). I'm open to suggestions on how to "upgrade" it. What I lost from the Volvo? Outside thermometer (it was nice to know how friggen cold it was on those frigid Canadian January mornings), leather seats and seat heaters (sigh...), and automatic lights. I actually have to turn on and off the headlights on this car - something I haven't done since 1996..... What I gained? Keyless remote, and security-coded immobilization keys (nice toy - saves on insurance, too...), moon-roof, and probably most importantly, another 10 mpg (Imperial), and regular gas!!! - the Volvo took premium, at an addition 11 cents/litre (or about $0.40 per US gallon!!!!), that's quite a savings per fill-up. The front end of this car is very tight and responsive - actually, impressively tight. The turning radius sucks for a car this size, but I've been used to a Volvo 850 for the past 12 yrs, which had a very wide radius. My old Volvo 240 still has/had the best turning radius of any car on the road. Sigh.... Why can't they build cars with a tight turning radius anymore? My major complaint? The back end has a soft bounce - akin to our fathers' old GMs. Feels like sitting on the sofa. I'm used to that "hard" European ride, and perhaps, after reading the comments above, I should have looked at a Mazda. However, I'm enjoying this car. Not too big, yet not too small. Hope it's not too "buzzy" on the highway. I've gone from a 5-cylinder 2.4 litre engine to a 1.7 litre 4 cylinder. I've got all the other "creature comforts" - like cruise control and electric windows. Like my creature comforts... Needless to say - I'll be watching the timing belt on this like a hawk. Accords have a timing chain, and the salesman told me they're only chanced once every 500,000km. Do Hondas last that long? I buried my beloved Volvo 850 at 320416km. That's just a tad over 200,000mi for you Yanks. So, any suggestions on how to improve the radio/stereo sound? And what about that mushy back end? The trunk is amazingly large, and, like my last Volvo, I have a 60-40 split back seat. Sweet... This car sips gas, which is fine by me. And I now get to giggle every time I fill up - it's costing me 11 cents/litre less on every fill-up. Any suggestions on how to "soup this car up"? I have a spoiler on ther rear. My Volvo had a back fog light, which I used on occasion. That's also something I'll miss - like about two times per year. I'm no teen, but I have to say, this car's some peppy thing. And when I went from a Volvo 240 to an 850, I told everyone I was driving a "poor man's BMW". I haven't figured out how to describe this car. In sum, I'm happy with my purchase. Wish the stereo was better, and I'll probably miss the thermometer, come January. No block heater, either. Hope I won't have to have one installed. AC/heat is impressive, so far, though neither has been tested in high/low temps. And, believe me, in my neck of the woods, it can be +35C in summer, and -35C in the winter. You Yanks can crunch the numbers. The rest of the world understands....(Take the hint - go metric!! - join the rest of us.......) To Honda - lose that nasty digital display. It's reminescent of the nasty GM products of the early 1990s. Hated it then, and hate it now.... Oh, and did I mention that the car's actually built in Canada? (Alliston, Ontario)

  • AJ AJ on Oct 17, 2008

    I picked up my 2009 Civic Coupe yesterda. Wow! I am impressed with this car! I went with the manual transmission, which is great! The shifting is very smooth, and it makes the car zippy! I had test driven an auto and it felt a little sluggish at take off and when passing (which hey for the mpg, what do you expect?). Plus I like the fact that with a manual that I can down shift if I need more passing power. The car for just being an LX model is also nicely done and even includes front side dual-stage airbags, plus the side curtain airbags and ABS. The seats are really comfortable and the car is just comfortable to sit in and drive. At first when I saw the digital mph display, I didn’t know what to think of it? It is different. But just on the second day of ownership I love it. It’s very easy to read and it doesn’t require me to take my eyes off the road to check my speed (as we all do). I also love the style of the car as it’s very sharp including the new front grill on the 2009 model. So to sum up this car, I don’t know how the Big 2.8 (and the UAW) can compete in this class?! Way to go Honda!

  • ToolGuy Honda is dreaming. And resting on its 'laurels' (French for 'posterior').
  • SCE to AUX Here's some advice - slow down. That's a great way to arrive home safely, without a ticket, with lower blood pressure, and more economically.
  • Dartdude They need to rebrand the models, The standard model should be Wagoneer and long version should be Grand Wagoneer. There should offer the Ram Rev powertrain in these
  • Irvingklaws Seems more like they're adopting Honda styling queues. Now if they would just adopt their reliability...
  • FreedMike "Obsidian Edition."Oooooh, obsidian is really, really hard stuff.