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The Civic is an enjoyable car to drive. We found ride quality solid but not overly firm, with less road noise and wind whistle than is common for the class. The exceptionally stiff chassis gives the Civic a solid and planted feel. The brake feel is solid as well. Thoroughly modern front and rear suspension designs deliver impressive stability and certain steering response. The long wheelbase smoothes the ride.
The 5-speed automatic is simple: Put it in Drive and leave it there, and it does the job admirably. We do wish, though, that Honda would insert a tab below the D setting in the gate, as we sometimes shifted past it when shifting out of Park or Reverse and ended up in the D3 notch.
The 5-speed manual gearbox is a bit rubbery in the shift feel, and hitting the desired gear sometimes requires careful aim.
The 1.8-liter engine that comes standard is rated at 140 horsepower and 128 pound-feet of torque. Honda rates the combined output of the Hybrid's electric motor and 1.3-liter gasoline engine at 110 horsepower and 123 pound-feet of torque, on regular unleaded. The LNG-powered GX rates 113 horsepower and 109 pound-feet. The 2.0-liter Si models feature 197 horsepower and 139 pound-feet, thanks partly to a high-compression cylinder head that demands premium fuel.
Fuel economy estimates are 26/34 mpg EPA City/Highway for the 5-speed manual, 25/36 mpg for the 5-speed automatic, and 21/29 mpg for the Si 6-speed manual. The Hybrid earns a 40/43 mpg rating, the GX a gasoline-equivalent of 24/36.
The EX-L, Hybrid, and Si models come with electronic stability control, and the Si features larger front brake discs.
The Si engine is powerful. Hard acceleration is often accompanied by torque steer, a tug on the steering wheel. Around 6000 rpm the engine delivers a power surge as the i-VTEC's variable valve mechanicals shift emphasis from torque to horsepower. A helical-type, limited-slip differential enhances traction in slippery driving situations.
The Si Sedan is almost as much fun as the Si Coupe. The sedan rides on a wheelbase that's two inches longer and is a bit heavier (by 59 pounds). So, it's a little slower in acceleration, although it takes a stopwatch to notice. Steering response isn't quite as sharp, either.
The Hybrid's CVT automatic takes some getting used to, as the shiftless transmission leaves the tachometer needle roving seemingly aimlessly around the dial while the engine management system's electronic brain works to keep the engine speed at its most efficient given road speed and load. The Hybrid can deactivate up to all four of its cylinders and operate using only its compact (just 70mm wide) electric motor in certain low-speed situations. Its 1.3-liter gasoline engine features the same i-VTEC technology as the other Civics, albeit with eight valves instead of 16. By itself it produces 93 horsepower at 6000 rpm, and 89 pound-feet of torque at 4500. Because the electric motor develops its peak 20 horsepower and 76 pound-feet at different speeds (2000 and 1160 rpm, respectively), Honda rates the combined power more conservatively than simply adding the peak numbers together.
The Civic GX is powered by a dedicated natural gas version of the Civic's 1.8-liter i-VTEC engine. Because it produces close to zero regulated emissions, buyers are eligible for a $4,000 federal tax credit. Currently, natural gas is approximately 30 percent less expensive than gasoline when purchased at a refueling station. The Civic GX is the only vehicle certified by the EPA to meet both Federal Tier 2-Bin 2 and Inherently Low Emission Vehicle (ILEV) zero evaporative emission certification standards. But consumers can buy the GX only through certain qualified dealers in New York, California, Utah, and Oklahoma; although it is available to fleets nationwide.
The Civic Hybrid and Civic GX are classified as Advanced Technology Partial Zero Emissions Vehicles (AT-PZEV) by the California Air Resources Board CARB.