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New car reviews

2006 Honda Civic Coupe EX

Civic duty

Marc Stengel, Thu, 2 Feb 2006 08:00:00 PDT

So the Honda Civic is all-new for 2006. So what? Manufacturers are always barking on about glorious changes to their products, and what we consumers usually end up with is the same old thing with a few extra curlicues.

But the Honda Civic really is all-new for 2006. Mightily new. Impressively new, to an extent that Honda deserves plaudits for tinkering in such a significant, courageous way with the crown jewel of its product line.

After all, Civic first appeared in North America in 1973-on the eve of the 1974 Arab Oil Embargo that virtually guaranteed the success of Honda's tiny-but-frugal little compact. Thirty-three years later, what debuted as a commodity car for the humdrum commuter has evolved most intelligently into a sophisticated looking and behaving piece of automotive engineering.

For 2006, there are separate and distinct sedan and coupe versions of the Civic, a new version of the Civic Hybrid and a new hot-rod Civic Si pavement-scorcher. For this review, an up-level Civic Coupe EX was driven, featuring a built-in DVD navigation system paired to an XM Satellite radio audio system. Within a Civic-family price range of $14,910 (for a Coupe DX) to $23,900 (for a loaded Civic Hybrid; Civic Si prices are yet unannounced), the Coupe EX featured here cost $21,360, as-tested.

All basic Civic coupes and sedans feature an upgraded inline-four cylinder engine enlarged to 1.8 liters. Thanks to extra displacement and to the addition of iVTEC variable valve timing, power grows to 140 horsepower and 128 foot-pounds of torque. That's a gain of from 10 to 20 percent over last year's 1.7-liter Civic, depending upon which of two engine choices is considered for the outgoing '05 models. What's more, maximum torque is delivered at lower rpm, creating a much improved sensation of acceleration from a standing stop. Remarkably, fuel mileage remains outstanding. With a five-speed automatic transmission, EPA ratings are 30 mpg/city, 40 mpg highway. Honda's timing-in the midst of this, our first oil spike of the 21st century-is once again perfect.

There's a fair big of rigamarole in Honda's press literature concerning the redesign of the Civic-inscrutable stuff like the "one-motion profile" and "Advanced Personal Compact" design formula. None of that even begins to convey the impact of sweeping changes to the Civic Coupe's exterior and interior. The flowing, rounded lines of the exterior are fetching in a way typical compact commuter cars are not. There is genuine sport and pizzazz in this silhouette.

There's a fair big of rigamarole in Honda's press literature concerning the redesign of the Civic-inscrutable stuff like the "one-motion profile" and "Advanced Personal Compact" design formula. None of that even begins to convey the impact of sweeping changes to the Civic Coupe's exterior and interior. The flowing, rounded lines of the exterior are fetching in a way typical compact commuter cars are not. There is genuine sport and pizzazz in this silhouette.

One unintended consequence of the exterior's rakish lines is less salutary for the interior. The extremely low-angle front windshield does indeed create a wonderful sense of airy expansiveness, but the windscreen terminates so high into the roofline that it invites a bit too much of the midday sun into the cockpit. Civic's tiny visors aren't up to the task of minimizing this greenhouse effect, and over time a driver may wind up pining for a cloudy day now and then.

But driving the Civic Coupe is its own reward in many other respects. The built-in navigation and satellite radio head-unit ought to serve as the industry benchmark for incorporating "telematics" into a modern cockpit. The readouts for mapping and satellite radio information are clear, distinct and unobtrusive. Why, one has to wonder, can Honda can make something operate so simply when rivals seem hell-bent on needless over-complication?

One might, as well, say the same about the signature thrill of driving this new Honda powertrain. Even with the decidedly less zippy (but more fuel efficient) automatic transmission, the new Civic motor is a masterpiece. Its responsiveness is immediate, and its ability (thanks largely to iVTEC) to match powerband to gearing means that the car is continually "tuned" to changing road conditions.

This "tuning" effect is best in evidence with regard to handling. Four-wheel independent suspension combines with a very trim curb weight of 2,767 pounds to produce quick and light reflexes. Steering feel is fast and precise; indeed so effortless and quick is the Civic Coupe's "turn-in" feel when entering a tight corner that a driver can initially be disconcerted by it. Other vehicles' steering capabilities are moribund by comparison; accordingly, one is likely to be startled by this Civic's.

Five-passenger capacity in a two-door coupe is always something of a compromise, but for 2006 Honda has managed to maintain adequate, three-passenger seating at rear even while shortening the Civic Coupe's wheelbase. Useful trunk space of 11.5 cubic feet about doubles when the 60/40-split seatbacks are folded; but deploying them is a bit of a nuisance. First, a latch in the trunk must be released; then one has to walk around to either door and pull the seatbacks forward from within the car.

What's surprising about the Civic Coupe, however, isn't the odd inconvenience of certain details but the overwhelming success with which so many fundamental, significant changes have coalesced into an entirely new car. For 33 years, Honda has felt duty bound to deliver customers a Civic that is frugal, efficient and safe. Now that Civic is particularly fun to drive and attractive to behold, it is a customer's duty in return to give the redesigned Civic every serious consideration.

2006 Honda Civic Coupe EX Navi: 2-door, 5-pass.; 1.8-liter SOHC inline-4 w/ iVTEC; FWD, 5-sp. auto; 140 hp/128 ft.-lbs.; 30 mpg/city, 40 mpg/highway w/ regular; trunk: 11.5 cu. ft.; std. equipment: 4-wheel ind. suspension & ABS disc brakes, HVAC, AM/FM/CD/XM Satellite, DVD Navigation, 16-in. wheels, front/front-side/front-rear airbags; base price: $20,810

 

 


2006 Honda Civic Coupe EX on carlist.com


2006 Honda Civic Coupe EX on carlist.com


2006 Honda Civic Coupe EX on carlist.com


2006 Honda Civic Coupe EX on carlist.com

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