This review is part of an eleven-car comparison of compact sedans. The Civic is ranked in first place of eleven.
Honda is on a roll.
After too many years of too many products selling on the strength of their name far more than on their merits – including various iterations of the brand's bread-and-butter Accord, CR-V, and Civic – most Hondas are once again living up to their relatively lofty price points.
The Civic is a leading example. It debuted as a 2012 model without the refinement, advanced powertrain, and uplevel features found in most competitors -- and still sold wildly. Even so, Honda set about improving the car year by year. 2013 brought revised styling, a nicer interior, a quieter ride, revised steering, and improved crash-test performance. And now the 2014 Civic boasts a new transmission that gets it outstanding fuel economy, along with new safety and infotainment features.
These upgrades have joined the basic strengths of the Civic's roomy cabin, pleasant ride quality, and decently agile handling. While those weren't enough to make the Civic terribly impressive at its debut – this reviewer ranked it in eighth place of 10 cars three years ago – the overall package is now one of thorough competence with splashes of true excellence.
To be clear, you have to pay quite a bit for this degree of competence, especially if you don't want the same features that Honda bundles together. Figure on spending about $2,000 more than the typical competitor in this comparison (though still less than the second-place Mazda3), including its Toyota Corolla arch rival. And some buyers will reject the Civic on the basis of its needlessly fussy dashboard alone.
But overall, the Civic's upgrades have made it a solidly competitive car that anyone shopping in this class should be considering. And that's more than any competitor can say.
Nice to drive
Unlike the Mazda3, the Civic isn't a sporty sedan. But unlike most other competitors, it still has a decent bit of spark to it. Natural, well-weighted, and decently responsive steering are coupled with a composed chassis. A driving enthusiast might not actively seek out something that handles like a Civic, but it's not going to repel them either.
Some enthusiasts will be less enamored by the powertrain, though. Like a growing number of competitors, the 2014 Civic now sports a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) that lacks fixed gear ratios. This can lead to a loud droning engine note under hard acceleration, because you don't get the rise and fall of revs as a transmission changes gears. The Civic is hardly the worst offender in this class, but someone who frequently drives with his or her foot planted on the floor wouldn't love how this Honda sounds.
Fortunately, in more relaxed driving, the CVT and 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine behave without much fuss. The car could be a little quieter, yes, but it's not objectionable by the class standards. And the CVT helps yield an extra mile per gallon over last year's five-speed automatic, for a total of 33 mpg in mixed driving. A tested two-door Civic (read review) returned 36.5 mpg in a weeklong test of mixed driving (with more highway than city).
In addition to some engine boom during hard acceleration, the Civic also suffers from a bit of extra highway-speed road noise, though it's improved over the years. Ride quality is stable yet compliant.
Strange but comfortable inside
Honda has sold enough Civics since 2006 for many people to be used to its unconventional dashboard layout, but it remains a design that neither Honda nor anyone else has elected to replicate. A digital speedometer and fuel gauge sit above an analog tachometer and warning lights, splitting the dash into two levels behind the steering wheel.
Furthermore, the rest of the dashboard features odd angles to let the instrument panel angle toward the driver. And, for 2014, the tested Civic EX trim abandons physical audio controls on the dash in favor of one large touchscreen. The system itself is pretty well-designed, with large buttons and bright graphics, but it would have worked better still if Honda hadn't eliminated physical knobs for volume and tuning – as it is, these basic functions can prove frustrating.
Interior quality is pretty good, at least, thanks to 2013 upgrades. Materials are richer than the original 2012, and there are fewer small trim pieces that need to fit together. The 2014 model also saw a further upgrade to its cloth seat fabric. There are still a few sloppy panel fits, though, that evaded Honda's Civic improvement team.
The Civic's wide front seats are friendly to a wide range of body types – never confining, but also surprisingly supportive. The rear seat could use more headroom, but there's good leg space. A flat floor and relatively flat seat cushion means a third adult can fit in the rear better than in many small cars. The trunk is a disappointment, though, at just 12.5 cubic feet – about a cube smaller than the norm in the class.
Rear visibility could be a little better, but the EX includes Honda's outstanding “LaneWatch” system: a camera mounted on the passenger-side mirror that displays a full view of your blind spot onto the dashboard screen. All Civics include a backup camera as well; the EX's has multiple viewing modes.
Can be pricey
Rather than offering individual options, Honda puts everything together in take-it-or-leave-it trims. And no trim lined up with the list of features that were added to most competitors for this comparison, which sought out comparably equipped models. The list of selected features was an automatic transmission; power windows, locks and mirrors; alloy wheels; Bluetooth connectivity; and an infotainment screen.
The Civic LX – priced at $18,387 out the door after haggling, which would be quite competitive in this comparison – has a color customizable display that's still short of an advanced infotainment system, and no alloy wheels. About $2,000 more buys those features, but you also get the LaneWatch camera, a sunroof, a proximity key system, and automatic climate control, whether you wanted to pay for them or not.
Of course, adding all of those features to most competitors would also raise their prices. So in some cases, the Civic can be a pretty decent bargain; in others, as it turned out for the standards of this comparison, it's not.
Different economy cars do different things. There are the fancy ones, there are the cheap ones, there are the sporty ones, there are the roomy ones – and, most popular, there are the ones that serve as fairly basic but pleasant transportation.
That's where the Civic leads: basic transportation that's more pleasant and less compromised than other purveyors of basic transportation. It's roomy, comfortable, nicely finished, and feature-laden. It's agile, safe, and fuel-efficient.
It's also a little pricey, depending on what options you want. It's also a little fussy in the dashboard layout. It's also a little tight in the trunk. It's also a little noisy.
But while there's clearly room to improve, the same applies to the competition. And for the time being, the Civic is the leading choice for a solid compact sedan.
Overall grade: A-
More about the 2014 Honda Civic EX:
- Photo gallery
- Report card -- how does it compare in different ways, such as comfort, performance, and fuel economy?
- Report card -- how does it stack up for different types of buyers?
- Review: 2014 Honda Civic EX-L coupe
Vehicle tested: 2014 Honda Civic
Vehicle base price (MSRP): $18,390
Version tested: EX
Version base price (MSRP): $21,090
Vehicle price as tested (MSRP): $21,880
Vehicle price as comparable (MSRP): $21,880
Estimated transaction price as comparable: $20,439
Test vehicle provided by: Sport Honda; Silver Spring, Md.
Length: 179.4 inches
Width: 69.0 inches
Height: 56.5 inches
Wheelbase: 105.1 inches
Weight: 2,868 pounds
Trunk volume: 12.5 cubic feet
Turning circle: 35.4 feet
Engine (as tested): 1.8-liter I4 with 143 horsepower
Transmission (as tested): CVT automatic
EPA city mileage: 30 miles per gallon
EPA highway mileage: 39 miles per gallon
EPA combined mileage: 33 miles per gallon
Observed mileage during test (coupe): 36.5 miles per gallon
Assembly location: Indiana
For more information: Honda website
* Prices as comparable reflect vehicles equipped with the same features, when possible: an automatic transmission; power windows, locks and mirrors; alloy wheels; Bluetooth connectivity; and an infotainment screen.
** Estimated transaction prices are based on data from Truecar.com and dealer quotes.