The Morning Call and's view

If you remember the very first Honda Civic, you go back a ways.

Now in it’s sixth generation, the car that made Honda famous has grown up.

Available in hatchback (CX, DX), coupe (DX, HX, LX) or sedan (DX, LX, EX) variations, all ride on the same 103.4-inch wheelbase this year. Translation: lots more space inside. Three single overhead cam, 16-valve 1.6-liter four-cylinder engines motivate the line. CX, DX and LX Civics offer 106 horses and 103 pound-feet of torque. The HX coupe gets 115 horses and 104 pound-feet of torque. Top drawer EX models get 127 horses and 106 pound-feet of torque.

The HX is the mileage leader here, with an EPA estimate of 39 mpg city, 45 mpg highway when mated with the five-speed transmission.

No matter which letters decorate your Civic’s trunk lid, you’ll get a sophisticated four-wheel double wishbone suspension. New suspension bushings and revised power steering retain Honda’s responsive, communicative feel. A five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission are available. This year, all automatics receive “grade logic” for smoother shifting on hills.

Driving an EX sedan for a week showed just how much better this year’s car is. The sedan’s exterior styling is more sophisticated than before, with a chrome-edged grille and a more important look.

Still as peppy as before, the 127-horsepower four provides plenty of power, no matter what the driving situation. It gets noisy in the upper register, but delivers the goods when going down the road. Gas mileage was good as well; it drank one gallon every 29 miles.

Braking also was good, despite reverting from rear discs to rear drums this year. Anti-lock brakes are standard on the EX, optional on other models.

Honda’s automatic transmissions have never been marvels of smoothness, but this year it seems that Honda has taken a lot of the jolt out of their automatics. They match the smoothness of their competitors.

The interior sees upgrades as well. The sill level of the dash, while still low, is higher this year. The look is Honda’s usual modern effort. But unusual for a Honda, it has a couple of ergonomic faux pas. It’s easy to confuse the radio buttons and climate control airflow buttons. The dual cupholders, located at the base of the center console, have a lid that blocks the optional cassette deck when in use. Otherwise, it is marvel of how Honda watched the details.

As the yen skyrocketed, Honda deleted the seatback map pocket on the left side of the vehicle, retaining it on the right seatback only. At the same time, it retained tripled weather stripping on the door to ensure that interior remains quiet. The controls still have Honda’s usual silky feel.

Adroit use of every inch of interior space makes this car much bigger inside than outside. Four adults can ride in comfort this year. Even the power sunroof was well designed, generating less wind noise than a recent luxury sed an costing twice as much. It adds to the quieter, refined feel of this year’s sedan.

It’s easy to see why this vehicle is so loved. While fully optioned cars seem pricey, they’re less than some competing models. This Ohio-built Civic (70 percent U.S. parts) was economical, fun to drive and refined. Few small cars can pull it all off the way a Civic can.

It’s what becomes a legend most.

1996 Civic EX Sedan Standard: 1.6-liter single overhead cam four-cylinder, four-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission, front stabilizer bar, front disc brakes with anti-lock, driver and passenger airbags, air-conditioning, AM/FM stereo, keyless entry, reclining front bucket seats, rear window defroster, tinted glass, intermittent windshield wipers, remote fuel filler and trunk releases, center console with storage box, cruise control, power windows, power door locks, split rear folding seats, driver and passenger vanity mirrors, coin box,c pholders, power sunroof, dual power mirrors, full-wheel covers, P185/ 65R14 tires. Optional: Cassette player, floor mats. Base price: $17,280. As tested: $18,043. EPA rating: 28 mpg city, 35 mpg highway. Test mileage: 29 mpg.

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