Always one of the top sellers in the compact car segment, the Honda Civic gets a few changes for 2014, including a redesigned coupe and a new transmission.
The Honda Civic began its ninth generation with the 2012 model, which was poorly received by some in the automotive media. In a somewhat unusual move for a carmaker, Honda scrambled to tweak the sedan just a year later, followed by a refreshed coupe for 2014.
From a styling standpoint, 2014 Honda Civic sedans carry over unchanged, while coupes get refreshed exterior styling, including a sleeker silhouette, revised front and rear ends and more angular, aggressive lines.
Both body styles offer a new Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT), which replaces the outgoing 5-speed automatic transmissions. Instead of using traditional fixed gears, a CVT can automatically select from an infinite number of gear ratios to optimize fuel economy, and ideally, performance. While this translates to better gas mileage, the feel of a CVT can be elastic, though Honda's new transmission doesn't feel as anemic as some.
Also new for 2014 is a revised infotainment display. The 7-inch touchscreen, on EX models and above, can pair with Apple and Android-powered phones, allowing connectivity to apps like Pandora. While the touch screen is large and easy to read, we found it less than intuitive, especially when reaching for the volume buttons or setting radio presets.
Traditional gasoline-powered Honda Civics already achieve excellent fuel economy, though for even more efficiency, the Civic is also available in hybrid and natural gas versions.
Gasoline-only versions of the 2014 Honda Civic sedan and coupe are powered by a 1.8-liter inline 4-cylinder engine. In most cases, we found the i-VTEC 143-horsepower engine with its 129 pound-feet of torque to be adequate. Acceleration performance is average but feels stronger because the engine is smooth and cabin quiet. There's an Econ mode that remaps the engine and transmission for fuel mileage over power. EPA fuel economy estimates for the Civic sedan and coupe range from 28/36 mpg City/Highway with the manual transmission to 30/39 mpg City/Highway with the CVT, depending on trim level.
A Civic sedan HF uses additional aerodynamics and special wheels, along with low-rolling-resistance tires, to achieve 31/41 mpg City/Highway.
The Honda Civic Hybrid pairs a 1.5-liter SOHC 16-valve four-cylinder engine rated at 110 hp and 127 lb.-ft. of torque with a 23-hp electric motor. Fuel economy is an EPA-estimated 44/47 mpg City/Highway.
A refreshed Civic Natural Gas model uses a 1.8-liter inline 4 good for 110 hp and 106 lb.-ft. of torque. As its name suggests, it runs on compressed natural gas (CNG). It achieves a 27/38 mpg City/Highway gasoline equivalent rating.
On the other end of the spectrum, there's the sporty Civic Si, available in sedan or coupe form, with its high-revving 2.4-liter twin-cam four-cylinder gasoline engine that makes 201 hp and 170 lb.-ft. of torque. We've had it on the track and its performance is marvelous.
The compact car segment is one of the largest in the market, and as such, competitors to the 2014 Honda Civic are many. They include the Chevrolet Cruze (or even the smaller Chevrolet Sonic), The Ford Focus, Hyundai Elantra, Kia Forte and Mazda3.
Honda Civic sedans feature a nose, hood, black honeycomb grille and angled headlamps that are pleasing to the eye, with a humped hood and raked windshield that draw attention. The side sills are sculpted smartly, and with body-colored mirrors and door handles. The Civic looks classy, especially with the optional alloy wheels (not so much on the LX version with its plastic wheel covers).
The rear fenders flow nicely into a horizontal V over each side of the rear bumper. At the tail above the bumper, it's contemporary but still ordinary, with big two-piece taillamps.
The Civic coupe shares many styling cues are shared with the sedan, while others are found exclusively on the two-door. Coupes are an inch and a half lower than sedans, riding on a wheelbase that's almost two inches shorter.
Lines on the 2014 Civic Coupe are more angular and aggressive that the outgoing version, with a new front grille that sweeps across the nose into the redesigned wraparound headlights.
Front foglight openings are larger and more imposing, and the lower front air intake forgoes the rounded corners for an angular, hourglass-like shape. From the side, character lines, rocker panels and fender arches are more pronounced, and silhouette is sleeker. Designs for the 17-inch wheels are also new. Taillight lenses and the rear bumper have also been redesigned.
The 2014 Civic Si Coupe is differentiated by unique front and rear air diffusers, redesigned 18-inch wheels and a decklid spoiler.
Although it falls into the affordable car category, the Honda Civic interior feels premium. Soft-touch materials are used on the instrument panel, center console, and door panels, and silver accents and faux stitching here and there add a touch of upscale. Black carpeting is standard. The colorful instrument backlighting is soothing, and looks especially cool at night.
In the cabin there's plenty of standard content, such as Bluetooth phone and Bluetooth audio, Pandora internet radio interface and MP3, USB, iPod and SMS text message capability. There's a nice color multi-information display (i-MID) with rearview camera.
A new 7-inch touchscreen comes standard on EX models and above. Overall, it's an improvement over the outgoing system. For the most part, menus and functions are easy to find. Though, we found some of the controls less than intuitive. For example, the power switch is a tiny button on the upper left corner, like a cheap aftermarket navi unit. Volume is adjusted on the touch screen by repeatedly pressing up and down arrows on the touch screen, which we found cumbersome (though the drive can adjust the volume on the redundant steering wheel buttons). Also, one practically needs an instruction manual to set radio presets. Even a car full of Millennials had a hard time figuring it out.
The two-tiered dashboard is unique, some would say funky. The most useful information is repeated at the top of the dash, allowing the driver to scan without taking his or her eyes much off the road. Forward sightlines, even over that cool humped hood, are excellent. We appreciated the thinner windshield pillars, and small window set in the angle where the pillar intersects the car's hood. Rearward visibility in Civic coupes is somewhat reduced because of the more steeply raked rear window.
Seats are comfortable, and the standard fabric upholstery on base models is quite good. Leather on higher trims is fine, but not buttery soft.
The 160-watt audio system sounds good, using six speakers in our EX.
The fabric upholstery is excellent, with seats that are well shaped, nicely bolstered and widely adjustable. The standard 60/40 split-folding rear seatback expands cargo capacity. We put a six-footer in the rear seat, and he didn't complain about legroom or headroom.
Headroom in Civic sedans is ample in front with 39 inches. Upper trim levels lose a bit of space, with 37.9 inches on EX and above.
In the rear, sedan headroom stays at a respectable 37.1 inches on the base; other models about a half-inch less. Rear legroom measures 36.2 inches across all models. We put a six-footer in the rear seat, and he didn't complain about legroom or headroom.
As expected, though, coupes lose a significant amount of rear legroom, measuring only 30.8 inches. Combined with the somewhat difficult feat of getting in and out, the back seat is best left for kids or smaller adults on short trips, though this is typical for compact two-doors. As always, we appreciated the standard 60/40 split-folding rear seatback that expands cargo capacity.
Coupes lose a bit of trunk space, with 11.7 cubic feet on our EX-L test model, compared with 12.5 cubic feet in the sedan.
In both sedan and coupe form, we found the standard Civic 1.8-liter i-VTEC engine with its 143 hp and 129 lb.-ft. of torque to be adequate for everyday driving. Acceleration is average for the class, meaning slow; but the engine was smooth and the cabin relatively quiet.
The big news for 2014 is Honda's switch from the old 5-speed automatic transmission to a CVT, which can automatically select from an infinite number of gear ratios to optimize fuel economy, and ideally, performance. While this translates to better gas mileage, the feel of a CVT can be rather elastic-y, though Honda's new gearbox doesn't feel as anemic as some. Still, we were left wanting for more while driving winding canyon roads in Southern California with the EX-L coupe.
Cars equipped with paddle shifters have a manual mode, which allows drivers to switch between set gear ratios, mimicking a traditional automatic. During demanding driving, we found we got more out of the Civic by switching over to the paddles, though we still felt like Goldilocks a bit between second and third gears on sharp mountain curves; the lower seemed to low, and the higher seemed too tall. This, however, is not uncommon on many modern cars, which are tuned more for fuel economy than performance.
The suspension is comfortable and predictable, with cornering that's relatively flat for the class. Don't forget, we're talking about a Civic here, a car whose cars primary goal is not necessarily to be fun to drive. If you want sporty, there's the Civic Si, with its high-revving 2.4-liter twin-cam four-cylinder making 201 horsepower and 170 lb.-ft., a huge bang for the buck.
After about 250 miles of combined city, freeway and hard canyon driving in our Civic EX-L coupe, we averaged 27.7 mpg. That's much less than the published 33 mpg Combined rating for the CVT, but we also pushed hard in manual mode on some of the most demanding roads.
On a separate drive in the LX sedan, we flipped on the Econ mode and kept driving hard. We felt the difference but not so much it made us grumble. We still kept up with the other cars going 75. Our final tally was 32.1 miles per gallon, closer to published numbers but still a tad short of the EPA-estimated 30/39 mpg City/Highway and 33 mpg combined.
Honda Civic remains a hard-to-beat combination of efficiency, comfort, safety and price. A new CVT offers improved fuel economy, and a variety of trim levels and powertrains accommodates a wide range of lifestyles.
NewCarTestDrive correspondents Laura Burstein and Sam Moses contributed to this report.