Though everything from mid-size sedans to SUVs carry the Honda badge nowadays, the heart of the company product line remains the compact transportation device. Small, innovative and efficient, Honda's trademark Civic has been a leader in its segment for more than 30 years, and shows no signs of relinquishing its hold on the top spot. The key, as always, is the use of clever engineering, good assembly quality and a comprehensive menu of standard and optional features to create an entry-level car that provides more than basic transportation. The expected virtues--primarily fuel economy and small exterior dimensions--are there, but good looks, comfort and better-than-average driving pleasure are also integral parts of the Civic driving experience. Better yet, these attributes apply to all Civics, regardless of equipment level. Before rushing to the nearest Honda dealer in search of a bargain, however, you should be aware that "best" doesn't necessarily mean "least expensive." Granted, the least expensive Civic barely nudges the $11,000 barrier, but adding options or choosing one of the dressier versions can push the out-the-door price nearer $20,000. Comparable offerings judged by size include the Toyota Tercel, Mitsubishi Mirage, Nissan Sentra and Dodge/Plymouth Neon. But a loaded Civic's window sticker leads to expanded choices; for the same money, one might look at base versions of the Ford Contour, Toyota Corolla or even Honda Accord. Those are tougher opponents, being generally more substantial and commodious. Against members of its own class, the made-in-USA Civic is the pick of the litter. And, if nothing else, the expenditure of extra money for fancier trim can be balanced against significant cost savings any Civic owner will realize at the gas pump.