Does an update a day keep the critics away? That's what Honda seems to think with the Civic, which receives its third major update in three years for 2014 — this time mostly for the coupe. It should keep the popular nameplate relevant, even as other automakers vie for attention with ever-better alternatives.
Available as a sedan or coupe, the 2014 Honda Civic combines efficiency and quality to fit the bill for many small-car shoppers, but some will find the coupe's stiffened suspension too firm.
Trim levels include the LX, EX, EX-L and high-performance Si. Sedans also come in a high-efficiency HF trim, and you can buy a Civic Natural Gas sedan in 37 states. Click here to compare the Civic sedan and coupe or here to stack up the 2013 and 2014 Civic. Click here to learn about the Civic Hybrid, which we cover separately in Cars.com's Research section. This year we tested a Civic EX-L coupe and a Si coupe.
Exterior & Styling
The sedan, which received visual updates in 2013, carries over, while the 2014 coupe has received its first styling update since 2012, the year Honda redesigned both body styles. New, gaping fog-light portals give the Civic coupe its most dramatic expression since the nameplate's mid-2000s Stormtrooper redesign. The portals overtake the front bumper, and they'll garner stronger reactions than anything else on the car. Honda says it altered the coupe's hood, fenders, headlights, taillights and grille.
A short deck-lid spoiler is optional. The Civic Si sedan and coupe have a larger rear wing. They also have a unique grille, modest ground effects and a dressier, exposed tailpipe.
How It Drives
A continuously variable automatic transmission replaces last year's five-speed automatic. (A five-speed manual is available on the EX coupe and both LX body styles; the Civic Si comes only with a six-speed manual.) Like last year's responsive automatic, the CVT is a hit. In our Civic EX-L coupe it transitioned to higher revs with little delay, and the gas pedal still has Honda's trademark responsiveness. In an age where ever-higher fuel efficiency leaves too many cars with sluggish accelerator or transmission response, I welcome the Civic's pep.
The Civic's 1.8-liter four-cylinder makes 143 horsepower and 129 pounds-feet of torque, up 3 hp and 1 pound-foot versus last year's engine thanks to a revised exhaust system. (The 2.4-liter Civic Si also gets a power bump, to 205 hp and 174 pounds-feet of torque, while drivetrains in the Civic Natural Gas and Civic Hybrid are unchanged.) The increase is modest, but driven solo the 1.8-liter Civic accelerates well enough — certainly in line with other base compacts. If you want more oomph, the Scion tC and Mazda3 have larger four-cylinders and better passing power. Some competitors are quieter, too; the Civic has long been a noisy car, and one editor noted that little has changed on that front.
Activated via a dashboard button, an Econ mode adjusts drivetrain response, climate control and cruise control systems to improve gas mileage; one editor thought it blunted acceleration enough to make the Civic feel like a dog. On the opposite front, a sportier Drive (S) mode below Drive keeps engine revs higher at highway speeds and speeds up the revving from the CVT, which brings the drivetrain to full boil faster. If you want maximum control, paddle shifters in EX-L and CVT-equipped EX coupes hold seven simulated gears.
Honda stiffened the Civic coupe's suspension for 2014, the second round of suspension changes across the nameplate in two model years. I think the automaker went too far.
The coupe corners well, with minimal body roll for its class and lively steering feedback on sweeping turns and switchbacks. And despite subfreezing temperatures, our tester's Michelin Pilot HX MXM4 P245/45R17 all-season tires held the road well; the 2014 Civic displays better balance than the nose-heavy norm in many front-drive compacts. It's a far cry from the last Civic Si we tested (read my review here), which was of the unengaging 2012 ilk.
Alas, the tradeoff comes in ride quality, which feels closer to the choppy 2006-2011 Civic. The four-wheel independent suspension — still a theoretical advantage over the semi-independent rear suspensions prevalent among compacts — blunts potholes well enough, but the chassis bucks up and down too easily over dips in the road. It settles in better on the highway, but undulating stretches of pavement still bounce you around. The Civic needs better body control; the Scion tC we tested a week earlier — hardly an exemplar of quality — handled the wintry rubble better.
Many factors affect ride quality, so sample a few other trims to compare. Civic sedans have 1.9 inches' more wheelbase and separate suspension tuning. The 15- and 16-inch wheels on LX and EX models may soften ride quality, too.
The Civic Si, meanwhile, has a stiffer rear stabilizer bar, even sportier suspension tuning and a limited-slip differential. It also gets 18-inch alloy wheels, which replace last year's 17s. Ride quality is similar to the non-Si coupe, but it's more livable relative to sportier competitors with harsher rides like the Fiat 500 Abarth and Nissan Juke NISMO RS. The Si's 2.4-liter four-cylinder serves up predictable power as the revs ascend, and it's a welcome upgrade over the 1.8-liter four. Still, some editors disliked the engine's peaky nature, which lacks the low-end oomph of many turbocharged competitors. Pedal to the metal, the Civic Si will lose a drag race to the punchier Volkswagen GTI, Ford Focus ST or Subaru WRX.
An ace of a manual transmission redeems things, with a short-throw shifter accompanied by instant accelerator response. Overall balance feels more neutral than some front-drive cars, but Honda still needs to quell the Si's body roll, which seems no better than the regular Civic's — fine for a run-of-the-mill commuter car but too much for a sport compact. Editors agreed: The Civic Si pitches too much into corners for its class, and it's been an issue since the current generation debuted more than three years ago.
EPA-estimated mileage is 28/36/31 mpg city/highway/combined for stick-shift Civics. With the CVT automatic, the combined rating climbs to 33 mpg — in line with automatic 2014 versions of the Ford Focus (30 to 33 mpg, depending on trim), Mazda3 (31 to 34 mpg), Hyundai Elantra (28 to 32 mpg), Nissan Sentra (33 to 34 mpg) and Toyota Corolla (31 to 35 mpg).
The Civic Si rates a modest 25 mpg and, like many sportier compacts, recommends premium fuel. The automatic-only Civic HF, meanwhile, uses lightweight alloy wheels, a weight-saving tire repair kit instead of a spare tire and other modifications to eke out an EPA-rated 35 mpg combined. That ties the Corolla LE Eco for best in class.
The Civic's A-pillars sit in your field of view, but they're narrow and the windshield is tall enough for good forward visibility. Still, part of that is because in the coupe you can't sit very high. Headroom in LX models is about an inch less than a comparable Civic sedan, and the moonroof in EX and EX-L models strips another 0.4 inch. The results are tight: My 6-foot frame sat a few inches lower than preferred.
EX and EX-L models have a moonroof and automatic climate control — though not a dual-zone system, which most competitors now offer — and EX-L cars have heated leather seats. Despite topping the lineup, the Civic Si sticks with manual air conditioning and unheated cloth seats, albeit sportier ones.
In the coupe, the three-position rear seat has enough legroom for adults, but headroom is short. Adults will tolerate short trips back there, but not much farther. The Hyundai Elantra coupe has more backseat room, and the Scion tC feels downright sedanlike.
The Civic sedan, meanwhile, gets a power driver's seat for 2014 on EX-L trims — the first time any Civic has offered that feature. All Civic sedans accommodate adults reasonably well in the backseat, given the class, but the Sentra and Volkswagen Jetta have the roomiest confines.
Honda updated the Civic's interior in 2013 and again in 2014, mostly on the electronics front. Cabin quality is respectable: Uniform materials cover the upper doors and dashboard, with padding in all the areas your arms and elbows rest.
Ergonomics & Electronics
Atop the dash, Honda's 5-inch i-MID screen displays vehicle settings, trip computer, audio information and the Civic's standard backup camera. Also standard are Bluetooth phone and audio streaming and an iPod/USB-compatible stereo with Pandora internet radio integration — generous features for a compact car.
EX and EX-L models add a new 7-inch touch-screen between i-MID and the climate controls; it integrates the backup camera, multimedia display and the optional navigation system. You also get HondaLink, a system that can stream Aha internet radio, weather and point-of-interest information off a tethered smartphone once you download the apps. A HondaLink navigation app runs about $60, and it makes the $1,500 factory navigation option, which includes satellite and HD radio, all but unjustifiable.
The 7-inch screen is easy enough to use, with touch sensitivity that worked when I had gloves on (though another editor said it didn't work with his gloves) and better implementation of smartphonelike map interactions (like swiping, scrolling and pinch zooming) than most systems that claim such functionality. Still, Honda adopted capacitive touch-panel buttons around the screen, including an infernal volume bar you tap or drag your finger along to adjust, and replaced mechanical tuning buttons with on-screen buttons. It's far slower than the physical knobs on the head unit for LX and HF trims. Honda needs to bring those knobs back across the board.
Keyless access with push-button start is new; it comes on the EX, EX-L and Si.
Cargo & Storage
Storage nooks abound up front, including an all-important storage tray ahead of the gearshift. Trunk room underwhelms, however, with 12.5 cubic feet in the sedan and 11.7 cubic feet in the coupe — both low for this class. LX and HF models have a single-piece, folding rear seat; higher trims have a 60/40-split folding seat.
Both the Civic sedan and coupe received top scores in all crash tests by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, including IIHS' latest (and most challenging) small-overlap frontal test. The coupe is an IIHS Top Safety Pick. The sedan is an IIHS Top Safety Pick Plus because lane departure and forward collision warning systems — necessary for TSP Plus status — come on the Civic Hybrid. Other trims don't have those features, however, which make the award a bit specious.
Value in Its Class
The Civic remains one of the best-equipped and priciest small cars on the market. Even the LX coupe, which is the cheapest trim you can buy, starts around $19,000 with destination. From the Corolla and Kia Forte to the Jetta and Mazda3, most major competitors start cheaper — some by thousands. Still, Honda gives you enough standard features that base models should suit most shoppers.
At the other end, a loaded Civic Si tops out past $25,000 with factory options. It's little wonder that the Civic LX accounts for the majority of new-car dealer inventory on Cars.com, however. With that many standard features, there's little reason to upgrade.
The one-size-fits-most approach has worked so far. Shoppers have bought more Civics than any other competitor save the just-redesigned Corolla. The 2014 changes don't lift the Civic across the board, but they should keep it among the top contenders on any compact-car shopper's list.
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