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2011 Honda Civic Coupe Review
After so many years on the market, Honda’s compact coupe doesn’t give up much to the competition
By Huw Evans, Photography by Colum Wood, Nov. 09, 2010

No matter what kind of buzz, the latest twin-turbocharged all-wheel drive hyper car might generate, the fact remains that year after year, the majority of car buyers - folks like you and me – flock to a specific type of vehicle. And in the small car segment, in North America, one of those has consistently been the Honda Civic Coupe.

FAST FACTS

1. With the 2.0L now the base engine in this class, Honda still relies on its excellent 1.8L with 140-hp and 128 ft-lbs of torque.

2. Civic Coupe pricing ranges from $15,605 to $24,204 with our LX automatic test car set at $18,355.

3. Only higher-end EX models come with stability and traction control.

4. Fuel economy averages 29-mpg with a 25/36-mpg (city/hwy) rating for the automatic and 26/34-mpg for the manual.

The Japanese concern has been peddling Civics since 1972 and a two-door version with a proper trunk since 1992. And since inception, the car has sold rather well. Since its last substantial makeover, for the 2006 model year, the coupe, which forms part of Honda’s eighth generation Civic, continues to find a sizeable number of buyers; people who seem to be looking for a set of wheels that’s dependable, decently put together and can deliver a dash of sportiness without breaking the bank.

After a mild update for 2009, which saw the edition of a new front fascia, more aggressive grille with a honeycomb texture, plus mild rear end tweaks and updated interior features (including a USB interface in the console), predictably, Honda’s junior coupe is little changed for 2011. Trim levels comprise base DX, LX, EX, EX-L, and Si, with prices ranging from a MSRP of $15,605 for the entry level DX, to $21,955 for an EX-L automatic, up to $24,205 for the sporty Si, completed with satellite navigation and performance rubber.

LEFT OF THE MIDDLE

Compared to the seventh generation Civic, which was conventional in every sense of the word, the current car has a few more sci-fi touches – the styling for one. There’s definitely a bit of a spaceship look to it, especially from the front and credit to Honda for giving the car significantly different sheetmetal than the sedan, with unique fenders, doors and roofline. Fit and finish are quite decent in the segment, with Toyota’s Corolla starting to show its age while the new Scion tC as well as the Mazda3 prove worthy rivals.

The Civic coupe’s aura of low drag sportiness continues on the inside. The fairly expansive and aggressively sloped windshield gives the car a somewhat cab-forward look. It can be a little intimidating to some when they first get behind the wheel, but after a few minutes, the expansive dash becomes barely noticeable, especially once you’re under way. Like the exterior, the cabin is quite well put together. Acres of plastic abound, but there’s a feeling of integrity not found in many small cars and the controls have a feel of precision.

Perhaps what surprises most is standard digital instrumentation (save for the analog tachometer). Although it can often be a love it or hate it proposition for many drivers, Honda’s seems to work better than most. The speed and fuel displays prove easy to read at all times and again, like the somewhat futuristic dash, it is easy to adjust to them.

Hondas, especially Civics, are generally known for their low to the ground stance and when you sit in the current Civic coupe, the feeling is much the same, though the driver’s chair is height adjustable and the tilt and telescoping steering column makes it fairly easy for most drivers to get comfortable. In our LX, the cloth seats, although plain in appearance, offered a surprising amount of support in a car of this price range. Thigh support and lumbar are also particularly good, plus unlike the chairs found in some other recent Hondas (namely the Accord), they prove comfortable over longer journeys.

In back, most people will find it a bit of a squeeze. The coupe’s doors are fairly short, which means, even with the front seat backs moved forward it’s a bit tight to get in. Also, the fairly small rear quarter windows give the back a bit of a cave-like feel. It’s fine for short distances, but nobody deserves to spend any length of time there.

The trunk is actually quite spacious for a car like this, able to swallow 11.5 cubic feet and the rear seat also folds, for those slightly bigger objects, lending a surprising practicality.

Civic coupes are fairly well equipped, with standard power windows and mirrors, A/C and an AM/FM CD stereo. LX and up models get speed sensitive volume control and that USB interface, plus cruise control, power locks, 16-inch wheels and a few other small items. Sadly Sirius/XM satellite radio is not a standard feature and in order to get it you need to opt for the navigation system, that’s only available on EX-L and Si models, a bit awkward considering many cars now offer it as standard, even on the lower trim levels.

We also have to take issue with the excessive number of trim levels with a total of nine packages, plus sub-packages like the LX-S that add alloy wheels, upgraded interior fabric, a leather steering wheel and some nice outside features like a rear spoiler and chrome exhaust tip.

SMALL ENGINE STILL A WINNER

In terms of the mechanicals, Civic coupes come with a standard 1.8-liter single overhead cam, four-cylinder engine, teamed with either a five-speed manual or five-speed automatic. The little engine cranks out 140 horsepower at 6300 rpm and 128 ft-lbs of torque at 4800 revs. In operation, the engine is fairly smooth, but like past Honda fours (and sixes come to think of it), it somewhat lacks throttle response at low rpm. And precisely for that reason, it works best with the slick shifting five-speed manual gearbox – the ability to hold the car in every gear allowing you to extract the most from its fairly peaky powerband. The auto, while fairly seamless in operation, seems to hold the engine back under acceleration, though at cruising velocity, as four-cylinder powertrains go, the little engine is actually quite hard to fault.

While the Civic Sedan is just starting to lag in the fuel economy wars with new 40-mpg entries from Chevy and Ford, in the less-competitive coupe segment the Civic still comes out on top. With a rating of 25/36-mpg (city/highway) for the automatic or 26/34-mpg for the manual, both come out to a 29-mpg average and are well ahead of the Forte Koup. And with the Scion tC boasting significantly more power, a fuel economy comparison would hardly be fair.

Si models do come equipped with a larger 2.0-liter dual overhead cam four cylinder, pushing out 197 hp at a very peaky 7900 revs and mandatory six-speed manual, but given the differences in character that engine brings, the Si deserves its own, separate entry.

GOOD REFLEXES

Another thing that has characterized recent Civics is a fairly firm, go-kart like ride and the 2010 coupe is no exception. The current car uses MacPherson strut front suspension with a fully independent multi-link rear. Combined with the standard (on LX) 205/65/16 tires, it can be a bit jarring, particularly on rough Michigan roads, which we experienced during our test. It can get a little tiring over longer distances, as can the fairly noticeable wind noise, but with seat comfort a step above most small cars, the annoyance factor is somewhat reduced.

One area where the Civic coupe can’t be faulted concerns the car’s driving dynamics. The power assisted rack and pinion steering is razor precise for a small car and the Civic feels, taut and nimble, particularly in city driving. Cornering is also exceptionally good – very neutral for a front-driver, with little body roll and good controllability. Even on slippery surfaces, where most FWD cars tend to run wide, the Civic demonstrates fairly sharp turn in and good feedback.

DX and LX models feature standard front disc and rear drum brakes, with ABS. The rear units are small and stopping ability is about average for the class. Four-wheel discs are fitted to EX-L models, but why Honda chose to fit drum brakes to the rear of DX and LX models in this day and age is just an offensive level of cost cutting.

Also only available on top-level EX models are traction and stability control.

THE VERDICT

Although the Civic has remained a perennial bestseller for decades and continues to draw a loyal audience, the small car segment is now more competitive than ever. With the ninth generation Civic due out soon, it will be interesting to see how Honda plans to stay on top.

In the meantime, the current car, while lacking slightly in design and with competitors starting to catch up in the fuel economy race, represents a serious rival to even the more potent Forte Koup SX and Scion tC by nature of its fun-to-drive dynamics.

LOVE IT
  • Nice steering
  • Good fit and finish
  • Swoopy coupe styling
LEAVE IT
  • Wimpy brakes
  • Firm ride
  • Base versions could be better equipped
  • No stability or traction control on lower-end models

RELATED READING

2010 Kia Forte Koup SX Review
2009 Scion tC
2010 Mazda Mazda3 5-Door s Grand Touring Review
2009 Honda Civic Si