Small Wonders: Honda Civic (2009)
“Why fix it, if it isn’t broken?” That’s probably what Honda designers and engineers had in their minds when they were tasked to refresh its eighth-generation Civic. The Civic has always been Honda’s core product, a car that’s not only gifted with the best technological abilities the company has to offer but also one that defies the company’s philosophy. Despite having other car manufacturers encroaching on the Civic’s market, the Civic has remained the undisputed industry leader. So, just how do you keep the momentum of such a successful car going?
First off, carry over what made it so popular in the first place, and in this case, it has to be its drivetrain. Though the Civic is still available with a 2.0-liter engine, the breakthrough engine (as well as the biggest seller) is the 1.8-liter engined models. Despite having no mechanical changes done to it, the 140 horsepower output easily puts it squarely in 2.0-liter territory, while still promising the economy of a 1.5-liter engine.
The Civic’s futuristic styling is yet another reason for its huge success. From the get-go, this Civic has thrown out the compact car styling book out the window its sleeked and raked roofline. For the facelift through, Honda has upped the futuristic cues even further. Upfront, the glaring and beady quad headlamps have been given a smoked look treatment; the rectangular bumper has been chiseled and cleaned up; and even the chrome wing inset in the wide grille has been angled leaving a somewhat Star Trek impression. Over at the back, the rear bumper has also been squared off, but the biggest change has got to be the new octagon-pattern tail lamps that feature LED brake lamps for the first time.
The Star Trek design theme is carried over to the interior as well. Despite almost being three years old, the Civic still maintains the lead in avant-garde interior executions. Settling into the driver’s seat, you’ll feel like piloting a spacecraft than a car. The controversial and often talked about two-tier instrument panel has been carried over. The lower portion, below the steering wheel, contains a large tachometer with the various indicator and warning lights. The top segment, positioned just below the windshield and viewed above the steering wheel shows the Civic’s speed using a large digital display as well as the vehicle’s fuel and temperature via mobile phone like bar graphs. Up to now, it still looks strange, but it proves to be exceptionally clear and easy-to-use. It even remains highly readable even in bright sunlight. Sadly, there’s still no on-board trip computer or fuel mileage indicator despite the smaller Jazz already having one. Equally discontenting is how the instrumentation set up eats a large portion of dash space, requiring the Civic to have a deeply recessed dashboard that’s hard to see out of in tight maneuvers.
The quirky dashboard design does give the Civic class leading front legroom. The front seats are equally supportive and quite comfortable despite the lack of lumbar adjustment. Though a tilt/telescopic steering wheel adjustment is fast become the norm in this class, the Civic still has the most usable adjustments as well as one of the best driving positions. However, despite the meaty rimmed wheel, the small diameter design does not make this car a tidy companion when negotiating those MMDA U-Turn slots (an extra turn of the wheel is often necessary). At the back, the Civic still has the most spacious rear seat in its class thanks to the flat-floor design. Sadly, there’s still no 60/40 split-fold functionally, something that the rest of the cars in its class already have.
Complementing the blue-lit instrumentation is the blue fabric covering the seats and door panels. Even the acres of plastics on the dash are finished in blue too. The secondary controls though are finished in metalized plastic and are efficiently laid out. The Z-shaped handbrake may be odd to use at first, but it does take minimal space leaving for a large center console. A button at the side reveals divisions for 2 cups of coffee. And when not in use, there’s even a classy sliding cover to keep things like mobile phones hidden away. There are several other cubbyholes including a small ledge for your Zune that incorporates an auxiliary jack nearby for a very convenient connection. Apple iPod owners out there are taken a step further with the Civic’s new iPod integration kit. Located in the center armrest, it allows the built-in audio system to fully control your iPod while delivering robust sound. There’s even an auto-volume control that adjusts the stereo’s volume automatically to the vehicle’s speed.
On the road, the Civic is one smooth and responsive machine. Though there’s still a stick shift model available, you just have to get the five-speed automatic model. Cruising at speeds over 100 km/h, it sees the engine barely ticking over 1,900 rpm instead of the usual 2,500 rpm found in most four-speeds. This equates to better fuel mileage and less cabin noise. Before, driving the Civic in a combination of road and highway use eked out 12.30 km/L, this time, in a purely urban setting, the Civic still returned a commendable 8.14 km/L.
Meanwhile the steering wheel reacts quickly. If your driving involves holding the steering wheel in one hand and another fondling your mobile phone, you better watch out. The Civic’s flab-free steering doesn’t take too kindly to being ignored. For enthusiastic drivers though, it’s a delightful and rewarding experience. Surprisingly, the Civic manages to avoid the downsides of responsive steering. It’s steady on the highways and doesn’t require constant correction. The suspension filters out bumps and maintains good composure even when subjected to ragged surfaces and potholes. The Civic also suppresses its engine noise very well too, so it’s just too bad that there’s some road and wind noise intruding into the cabin at higher speeds.
Honda pulled out all stops to make sure the eighth-generation Civic is once again on top of its game. Though naysayers may be quick to dismiss the re-freshening as a half-hearted effort, consider this: the Civic still has cutting-edge style, roomiest and most high-tech interior and the best ride-handling combination. By all intents and purposes, the refreshed Civic still accomplishes its mission.
By Ulysses Ang | Photos by Ulysses Ang