ORLANDO, FL – The only way to stay on top in the car business, especially in the intensely competitive compact segment, is to continue to improve your product.
The Honda Civic has been Canada’s top-selling automobile for 16 consecutive years, but the automaker knows it can’t rest on its laurels of it wants to retain that status. Challengers such as the Hyundai Elantra, Mazda3 and Toyota Corolla are nipping at the Civic’s bumper, so Honda has tweaked its Canadian-built sales star yet again.
The ninth generation of the Civic didn’t get a rousing welcome when it was introduced in late 2011. Although it still managed to outsell the others, Honda conceded that changes needed to be made, so the 2013 iteration arrived with improved interiors, exterior changes and some chassis revisions.
Exterior styling has been given a sportier flavour, with mild makeovers to the snout, lower front fascia and rear bumper. New wheel designs have been applied across the lineup, from the base DX on up to the Si.
The entire lineup also gets a new driver’s mirror with an expanded view. The angled additional panel on the mirror adds 4.2 degrees of viewing area, improving the driver’s ability to see other vehicles in the typical blind-spot area.
To improve visibility on the right side of the Civic, Honda’s exclusive LaneWatch system is now featured on all but the base DX and LX trims. This safety feature, borrowed from the Accord, uses a camera mounted under the right exterior mirror to provide a view up to 50 metres behind the car.
The image, displayed on the in-car screen, provides a picture covering up to 80 degrees along the side of the car. (The typical side-view mirror covers about 20 degrees.) It is automatically activated when the right turn signal is turned on, but can also be put into operation by touching a switch on the turn signal stalk.
LaneWatch not only gives the driver the ability to see vehicles in the right-side blind spot, but also signals the presence of bicycles, motorcycles or even pedestrians lurking in that grey zone.
The LaneWatch picture shows up on a new seven-inch touch-screen that controls the audio system and connectivity links. It’s also home to the available integrated navigation system.
The Display Audio system’s capacitive touch-screen can be manipulated like a smartphone, responding to finger movements such as slide, flick, pinch and multi-tap. Connectivity is available using your phone through HDMI and USB cables, as well as Bluetooth.
Initially, only iPhone users will be able to fully connect with the system, including access to Apple’s Siri through controls on the steering wheel. However, Honda is continuing to work on making the system compatible with Android and Windows operating systems.
Honda-approved apps can also be applied, including a navigation app ($59.99) that can be downloaded if your model isn’t equipped with the factory nav system.
I did find the Display Audio system somewhat difficult to use while driving. Trying to tune in a radio station or adjust the volume required taking my eyes off the road to scroll through the menus – it would be so much easier (and safer) if a simple knob was included in this high-tech package.
It should be noted that Honda has improved the interior for 2014 with new fabrics, patterns and weaves, as well as upgrades to the instrument panel that minimize that grey plastic look.
Materials are softer, there are some black accents to add a touch of contrast and overall, it’s a comfy place to spend time on the road.
Although the seats are comfortable and supportive, I did have issues with the seat height, which impacted headroom. In the coupe, which was fitted with a sunroof, I found the seat cushion to be positioned uncomfortably high, resulting in my head brushing – and at one point impacting – the headliner.
Honda officials noted the more extreme rake of the windshield and lower roofline of the coupe was the likely cause of my discomfort – I would suggest building in a bit more seat height adjustment would resolve the problem. Switching to a sedan, with its less extreme windshield angle, provided far better headroom and the seat height felt far more appropriate.
The most important improvements in the 2014 Civic have less to do with cosmetics and much to do with its mechanical aspects. For starters, the 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine has gained an additional three horsepower and an extra lb-ft of torque (143 horsepower and 129 lb-ft of torque overall) compared to the ’13 engine. The increased output is the result of refinements to the exhaust system, reducing backpressure.
More significant is the change to the next component in the powertrain. Honda has dropped its five-speed automatic, replacing it with a new continuously variable transmission (CVT). (The base DX is equipped with a five speed manual.)
The new CVT, developed in-house, has improved the Civic’s fuel efficiency by 6%. Its city consumption rate has improved from 7.1 to 6.7 litres per 100 km and its combined rating has dropped to 6.0L/100 km. Interestingly, highway consumption remains unchanged at 5.0.
I admit I’m not a usually huge fan of CVTs, which tend to force small-displacement engines to buzz at intrusive levels during acceleration. However, during a day of driving on a variety of roads north of this Florida vacation hub, the Honda CVT performed so well I had to keep reminding myself this wasn’t a traditional automatic gearbox.
Honda engineers have managed to develop a programming system for their CVT that allows a smoother, more linear increase in engine speed.
If you opt for the EX or EX-L coupe, you’ll get the added bonus of paddle shifters. There are two ranges included in these models – a D-range, in which activating the paddle will initiate a single gear change and automatic return, or the sporty S-range, which functions like a manual gearbox with seven available "speeds."
You can downshift and upshift to your heart’s delight. You won’t likely enjoy the Civic’s improved fuel efficiency in this mode, but you’ll certainly have a lot of fun.
Changes to the new Civic’s suspension have also enhanced its "fun" side. The coupe now feels more responsive and its handling more precise, due to revisions to the dampers and an increase in anti-roll bar diameter.
On twisty roads, my Civic coupe tester remained flat and confident, although the steering feedback could still be improved. In cruising mode, the Civic’s ride was comfortable and compliant.
The 2014 Civic lineup of coupes and sedans are now on sale, except for the new Si edition, which will also be available as a coupe and a sedan. The sporty two-door version goes on sale March 12, while those who prefer the four-door model will have to wait until April 1.
A highlight of the Si is an engine upgrade to a 2.4-litre four with double overhead camshafts. Output is 205 horsepower at 7,000 revs and 174 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,400 rpm. The Si coupe and sedan are only available with a six-speed manual gearbox and a helical limited-slip differential is standard.
Pricing will start at $26,655 for either iteration. That’s a $400 increase over the previous model year, but adds such standard features as Display Audio with navigation, LaneWatch, Smart key, 18-inch wheels and the expanded-view driver’s-side mirror.
A hybrid Civic sedan will also be offered, starting March 3. It’s trimmed out with features similar to the upscale Touring model but is powered by a 1.5-litre four-cylinder (110 horsepower, 127 lb.-ft. of torque) combined with Honda’s Integrated Motor Assist technology and a lithium-ion battery.
The system delivers a combined fuel efficiency of 4.2 L/100 km, with a consumption rate of 4.3 in the city and 4.1 on the highway. The base price of $26,990 includes such features as the seven-inch Display Audio system with navigation, Smart key, LED driving lights, LaneWatch and lightweight 15-inch alloy wheels.
With continuous improvements such as these, there's every likelihood that the Civic will continue its reign as Canada's best-selling car for the 17th year