Honda's Civic remains one of America's favorite vehicles. While gas prices have settled down into the $2.00 to $2.50 range again, it still makes sense to be economical and keep initial purchase price reasonable, and that's what Civics do.
The 2009 Civic is offered in familiar sedan and coupe forms, in a range of versions that has served it well for decades. The basic DX gets you the virtues of Civic ownership, and you can add comfort and convenience by moving up to the LX and EX. If you want more performance, the Si offers more power and handling enhancements. The Hybrid will save you gas, and the GX natural gas model delivers exquisitely clean emissions.
The LX is the midrange model, and as such the volume seller. It adds, above the DX, air conditioning, cruise control, power locks, 16-inch steel wheels with covers, keyless entry, a 160-watt audio system, center console, auto up-and-down driver's power window, and a folding rear seat.
My test car, built in a brand new factory in Greensburg, Indiana, was an LX-S sedan in Atomic Blue Metallic, a color that sounds more exciting that it is. There was nothing radioactive about the car, as far as I could tell.
The LX-S model, new for 2009, adds appearance features that enhance the LX alloy wheels, sport-trimmed black cloth seats with synthetic suede bolsters and silver stitching, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, rear deck spoiler, and chrome exhaust tip.
The DX, LX and EX models use a 1.8-liter, 140-horsepower inline four-cylinder engine with either a manual or automatic five-speed transmission. The automatic weighs more and costs more ($800), but fuel economy is actually slightly better on the highway. The manual delivers 26 City, 34 Highway while the automatic is 25/36.
EPA Green Vehicle Guide numbers are 7 for Air Pollution and 8 on Greenhouse Gas, good enough for Smartway designation.
My tester had the automatic, which freed me from gear changes in commute traffic, but provided a bit less amusement on the open road than the manual. Honda's manual transmissions have always been quick and enjoyable, adding a little liveliness to the overall pleasant driving experience.
The Civic is no longer a little car, as it was in the early days when it was the size of a MINI Cooper. Today's car holds five people and with its long wheelbase, cruises the freeway comfortably. It carries a string bass easily. I noted significant road hum from the tires, not really bothersome but you can't expect total isolation in cars at this price point.
This generation of Civics got a major redesign in '06, and the '09 carries on with minor late cycle changes. The front bumper and grille are modified, and the lights use clear covers with amber bulbs. New wheel designs are an inexpensive way of freshening what is becoming a familiar design, despite its shocking look when it debuted.
The interior remains radical, with a very deep dash below a steeply raked windshield. The gauges are split, with essential information digital speedometer and bar graphs for fuel and temperature, tucked up at the bottom of the windshield and the tachometer and other ancillary meters in the space behind the steering wheel. The dash projects back so far that I bumped my knee on it getting into the car one day.
The Si is the Civic hot rod, with a 197-horsepower 2.0-liter engine, offered only with a six-speed manual transmission. It also gets a limited-slip differential for handling the extra power in the inevitable situations you'll run into while showing off to other enthusiasts. It has firmer suspension tuning and larger, 17-inch alloy wheels with high performance tires. Inside are sportier, high-bolster seats with red stitching. And you get Si badges inside and out.
The Civic Hybrid offers high mileage 40 City and 45 Highway with a combination of a 1.3-liter gas engine and a 15-kilowatt electric motor. It runs on electricity only sometimes, gliding along through parking lots (watch for pedestrians!).
The Civic GX is extremely clean, and is offered in limited quantities. It's an ideal fleet vehicle, because you need to refill it with natural gas, which is harder to find, although a home fill kit is offered. Natural gas is about a third less expensive than gasoline, and with fuel mileage equivalent to a gasoline model, the GX scores a hybrid-like 9.5 on the Air Pollution and a 9 on the Greenhouse Gas score in the EPA Green Vehicle Guides ratings.
Prices for Civics, including destination charges, run from the $16,175 for a DX with manual to the fully-loaded Hybrid at $27,520. My LX-S stickered at $19,525.
The Civic combines quality, reliability, economy and even a bit of style for a reasonable price. What more do most of us need?