2006 Honda Civic
By Ann Job of MSN Autos
What's the hottest new car on the market? Arguably, it's the new-generation Honda Civic.
Civics are selling strongly, and the Civic has been snagging one award after another. For example, the new Civic was named Motor Trend Car of the Year by the well-known enthusiast magazine. It won the North American Car of the Year award from an independent group of North American auto media, which includes me. And the new Civic was the "top pick" in the under-$20,000 sedan category by Consumer Reports magazine.
The reason for all this attention: Honda's eighth-generation Civic has fresh, attractive, exterior styling, improved power and fuel economy, more standard safety features than before and a mod, spacious-feeling interior.
That's not all. The new Civic handles more precisely than its predecessors, and the ride is more sophisticated. Fit and finish is impressive, with body gaps between exterior metal panels tinier than what's found on many luxury cars.
Four Civic Models
All ride on the same front-wheel-drive platform and share many components. But for 2006, each Civic has a more distinct personality.
The Civic coupe, for example, doesn't share outer body sheet metal panels with the Civic sedan.
Meantime, the new MacPherson strut front suspension and rear multi-link double wishbone configuration under each car are finely tuned, with tires deliberately selected, to give each Civic model a distinctly different ride and driving sensation. If you don't believe, do what I did. Drive the sedan, then the Si and then the coupe back to back.
For example, the Civic sedan keeps jolting bumps away from passengers in an upscale ride, while the Civic Si's sporty ride conveys most road bumps and vibrations to passengers. The Si also wears the largest standard tires ever on a Civic: 17-inchers.
For 2006, the sedan is offered in three trim levels and with a choice of 5-speed manual transmission and a first-ever-for the-compact-car-class 5-speed automatic.
Civic coupes have the same transmission offerings, come in the same three trim levels as the sedan—DX, LX and EX—and are powered by the same healthy-feeling 140-horsepower 1.8-liter single overhead cam four-cylinder engine with 128 lb-ft of torque at 4300 rpm. This is a new, larger engine than what has been in Civics in the past.
Fuel economy is a highlight in the compact-sized Civic sedans and coupes. Gasoline Civics are rated by the federal government at 30 miles a gallon in city driving and between 38 and 40 mpg on the highway, depending on the specific model.
Yet, in a test Civic sedan with automatic, the power came on in a peppy manner. I especially liked how the Civic accelerated with improved vitality across a wide range of driving situations, including on the highway.
For real performance, there's the Civic Si. This sporty coupe, which makes up some 14 percent of Civic coupe sales, has a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with double overhead cams and i-VTEC that can generate 197 horsepower and 139 lb-ft of torque at 6100 rpm. This is the highest horsepower ever in a factory Si. The Si comes only with a 6-speed manual. A first-ever sedan Si is due for 2007.
Prices Have Increased
Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price starts at more than $14,300 for a DX coupe with four-cylinder engine and manual transmission. In contrast, the 2005 base Civic coupe started around $13,600.
Consumers should expect to dish out more than $14,500 for a base, 2006 Civic DX sedan, and the gasoline-electric powered Civic Hybrid (discussed in a separate review) now starts around $22,000 vs. the $19,900 starting price for the previous-generation, 2005 Civic Hybrid.
New Car All Around
The new, power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering is more responsive in all Civics and can take a bit of getting used to. The Civic steering wheel is compact, and combined with the new, quick steering gear ratios, gave me the feeling I was at the controls of a video game. This sensation wore off as I spent more time behind the wheel.
The new Civics are just a bit wider than their predecessors for a more comfortable interior, so seats are wider and more comfortable. But I wished for more lumbar.
There's a prominent rake to the windshield, and this sizable front glass area has resulted in jokes from some car critics about the Civic's windshield being oddly larger than its hood.
But interior plastics on the Civic have a quality appearance with a minimum of silver-colored accents. All Civic interiors now feature a more high-tech dashboard where the gauges in front of the driver are split between a curved arrangement up near the windshield and a lower group right behind the steering wheel. Honda officials said the effect is a pseudo head-up display, like that found on some expensive, sporty cars.
But the Civic horn still sounds wimpy.
Trunk space in the Civic sedan is 12 cubic feet, and rear seats don't fold down to provide pass-through space.
Other standard safety equipment includes anti-lock brakes and Electronic Brake Distribution, which helps even out the braking force between front and rear wheels for more stable stopping in emergency situations.
The new Civic also is the first with active head restraints, which are designed to help minimize whiplash injuries during a rear-end collision. These standard head restraints are in the two front seats.
A Final Note
They "are starting to have an influence on car sales," said Toshiro Morita, large project leader for Honda. "They look for leading edge products with styling, performance and innovation."