By Jim Bray
It may have started life as basic transportation, an affordable alternative to the Big Three's coupes and sedans of the 1970's, but since then the Honda Civic has grown up in every way. And now that it's in the process of being replaced by a new generation, this classic family car could offer you some deals if you can still find any on a Honda lot.
(Click on the image to open a slideshow)
Note that I said "could" rather than "will." Kind of like COVID COULD kill 90 per cent of the population but probably WILL not. You'll have to do your own homework here (including looking for lease returns) and not just trust some guy with a word processor. Even if he's me!
Anyway, Honda Canada sent the Touring version of the sedan, a car that's much more attractive and straightforward-looking than some of its other, bumpy and bulbously creased versions. I hated those Civics, if only for their looks (though Honda has some other issues I'll address below), but ever since the 1976 Civic hatchback my wife and I owned back then (or perhaps before) it has always been a very good car, efficient and reliable.
And surely that's what's important to many people.
We bought our Civic in a deal that saw us swap a more expensive but ultimately garbage 1975 MGB straight across. We lost about $1500 on that deal, which was quite a bit of money for a young married couple in 1976, but in the end, we made the right decision: that B was an unreliable money pit even under warranty, but we never had a lick of trouble (other than rust, which was certainly an issue back then!) with our Civic through 50,000 miles of use.
Since then, the Civic has morphed from its basic "We make it simple" mission into a world class car, and it has earned that position. Alas, "we make it simple" no longer applies, at least as far as actually using the car is concerned, and I really think it should.
The sedan is/was available in a variety of versions, from the base LX trim level to the top line Touring. There's also an EX and a Sport version in the mix for good measure. All versions but the Touring get Honda's two-litre, 16-valve, Port Injection, DOHC, i-VTEC four-cylinder engine, which the company says puts out 158 horses @ 6500 rpm and 138 lb.-ft. @ 4200 rpm. This is competitive if not particularly heady. The base Mazda3, for example, features a two litre DOHC 16-Valve four that puts out 155 horsepower @ 6,000 rpm and 150 lb.-ft. of torque @ 4,000 rpm. Close enough.
What I like best about both of these cars is that, in the base trim level, you can still get a manual transmission! Alas, if you want the toys and creature comforts, you'll have to give up the stick for higher trim levels.
Moving up to the Touring, Honda's 1.5 litre turbo four puts out a more interesting 174/162 HP/Torque, but through a damn Continuously Variable Transmission - though at least Honda gives you paddle shifters (Sport and Touring) and has programmed the thing to try pretending it's a "real" automatic. It helps, but it still whines like a CVT.
There's also an ECON button you can use to save the earth by emasculating any bit of peppy performance that lovely turbo four offers (This is a typical Honda thing, not just a Civic thing). Press it and you might as well walk, while contemplating why you spent all that money on the higher end Civic and then dumbed it down so it might as well be a low end Civic.
But I digress…
I liked the Civic's suspension, which toes the line between sport and comfort very well, trending a tad toward sport. There's also a sport mode for the drivetrain that you can access, but it doesn't do a lot in this particular car. And that's a shame. I usually stick to sport modes when driving most review cars, but there wasn't much point here.
Still, it drives very well.
That kinda sporty suspension is an independent one, struts up front with a multi-link buttock, with stabilizer bars for both ends. Honda's sample wore 18-inch wheels. Brakes are discs all around, with the usual aids, and the variable ratio electric power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering offers good feel and works well.
The inside story isn't as good. Oh, the Civic is comfortable and everything you want and/or need is there, but Honda still has a way to go when it comes to its interfaces and its nannies. I doff my hat at them for letting you turn off the most egregious assaults on your driving joy – lane departure, yadda yadda – and they'll stay off. Alas, if you dare unlock your seat belt while the car is moving, a woman's voice comes on and admonishes you to put it back on.
This drove my wife and I nuts (okay, more nuts) because she likes to unlatch upon approach to Chateau Bray, at a very low rate of speed (we're parking the thing, after all), but the nagging nanny always spoke up. I explained to her that it was kind of analogous to me driving with her along, but that didn't go over as well as I thought it should.
Then there's the centre stack's LCD screen. The interface is terrible – slow and in need of a major upgrade, but the worst thing about it is the lack of a tuning knob for the radio. Honda finally restored a volume knob after several years, but I'd argue that the tuning knob is more important. It's easy to adjust the volume from the steering wheel, but you can really only go from preset to preset via the steering wheel; if you want to change channels to something not in your presets (or to find them so you can add them to your presets) you have to fight with the flat screen – something best accomplished when you aren't actually driving.
It's a time waster and a trouble maker.
Again, this isn't just a Civic thing; it's a Honda thing.
That said, it's a comfortable driving compartment, with plenty of places to store stuff, and the trunk is positively cavernous.
I was hoping to try the 2021 Civic back-to-back with its new generation but logistics prevented that. I have read that the 2022 model is even nicer, though I've also seen no evidence that Honda has addressed any of the things about which I find it necessary to whine. I'll let you know, once I get seat time in the new version.
In the meantime, if you can still find one, the 2021 Civic sedan is for the most part a terrific little car that will undoubtedly serve its broad base of customers very well. As long as you don't mind the nagging and the rest of the interface angst.
The 2021 Honda Civic Touring starts at $28,200 Canadian.
Copyright 2021 Jim Bray