Test Drive: Honda Civic

Just as we have all watched someone develop over the years from a gangly child into a mature adult, the same thing has happen to the Honda Civic.? After 38 years and eight generations, the Civic has gone from basic transportation into a mature world-class line of cars.? We say line of cars because when you buy a Civic now, there are 41 choices including two body styles, six trim levels and three types of powertrains.

Each variant offers clean aerodynamic styling, high quality materials and top-level fit and finish.? The Civic is also one of those unusual brands that appeals to a broad spectrum of consumers from stanch environmentalists to young street racers.

Our recent Civic test car, an EX-L sedan with navigation and five-speed automatic transmission, falls about upper middle of the Civic lineup priced at $24,515, including the destination charge.?? The base DX is the entry-level model priced at $16,165, and the hybrid with navigation and leather seating is at the top at $27,710.

With features like the voice activated navigation system, leather seating, XM satellite radio, moonroof and long list of other features, the EX-L is part of the trendy new category of luxury small cars.? People buying these cars, don?t mind going down in size and up in fuel economy, but they don?t want to give up the creature comforts had come to expect from their larger cars.

Powered by a 140-hp, 1.8-liter i-VTEC four-cylinder engine with a five-speed automatic transmission, our test car was rated by the EPA at 25 mpg city and 36 mpg highway.? We averaged 29.7 mpg during our week of local driving. ?A 0 to 60 mph time of 9.6 seconds won?t win any races, but for daily driving it?s plenty.? The car is smooth riding, handles nicely and does everything asked with a factor of driving fun.? Shoppers insisting on more go need to step up to the Si model, which increases the performance factor significantly with a 197-hp, 2.0-liter engine and six-speed manual transmission.? This performance variant drops the 0 to 60 mph time by nearly three seconds, the fuel economy rating to 21/29 mpg and the ride is much stiffer.

At 40/45 mpg, the hybrid is the Civic is the Honda mileage champ, and for ultra low emissions and low operating costs, the Civic GX is the only production car sold in the U.S. operating on compressed natural gas (CNG).? The GX is rated at 24/ 36 mpg and with CNG selling nationally for about $1.86 per gallon, drivers get more miles per dollar.? The downside of the GX is it?s hard to find fueling stations, plus it has a limited cargo capacity due to the trunk-mounted tanks.

Civic sales were down about 23 percent in 2009, but the model ended up as the sixth bestselling vehicle.? The Honda Accord and Honda CR-V also finished in the top 10.

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