REVIEWS: 2009 Honda Civic 4DR EX-L Navi

March 3, 2009
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0902 03 Z+2009 Honda Civic LX S+front Three Quarter View
Each time I drive the Civic, I am enamored of the whimsical blue-lit split-level gauges in front of me. That, and the low cowl and wide expanse of glass. They are touches that help explain why owning a Civic - for those who don't care about having a mind-bending driving moment - still feels like a special experience long after the new smell wears off.
This particular Civic is loaded with everything any fairly young, hip driver would want - navigation system, Bluetooth, MP3/auxiliary jack, serious stereo system, heated seats, leather trim, and on - in a sensible array. It gets killer fuel economy and is overstuffed with safety features. As we all know, Civics have legendary resale values, too, which makes the $24,000 price tag a bit easier to swallow. But make no mistake - there will be no mind-bending driving moments with this car.
Jean Jennings, President & Editor-in-Chief
0902 01 Z+2009 Honda Civic LX S+front View
I walked past at least two Civics in the parking garage before I found our fully-loaded tester, which is as good an indicator of its popularity as any. That said, the compact car segment has become more crowded of late, and the next Civic will need to bring some changes if it hopes to maintain its leadership.
My main source of disappointment is the interior. I'm quite fond of the spacey dash layout in our Four Seasons Honda Fit, but for $24,325, I expect nicer materials. And while this was a particularly well-equipped model, it's not hard at all to option the sticker beyond $20,000. Our Volkswagen Jetta TDI, which costs $23,090, offers far more interior refinement. (Of course, the Jetta lacks the Civic's reputation for bulletproof reliability.) On the plus side, the front seat is plenty comfortable, and I still appreciate the superb forward visibility. There's a good amount of space in back too; I recently rode from Washington D.C. to New York in the center rear seat of my friend's 2007 Civic and haven't had to file a disability suit, which is saying something for a compact car.
The driving experience, as Jean noted, is hardly exhilarating. It sounds cliché for an auto journalist to say a car drives better with a manual, but there's possibly no car for which it is more true than the Civic. It's not just that I missed the snick-snick precision of Honda's best-in-the-business gearbox. The five-speed automatic is perfectly smooth, but it seldom allows the peaky, 1.8-liter four-cylinder to hit its stride. Shove your foot to the floor after a sharp turn, and almost nothing happens. Mind you, the Civic is more than up to the task of keeping up with traffic, and steering is predictably precise, but don't expect the vaunted Honda small-car driving experience unless you're willing to shift for yourself.
The Civic is still a great car, fully deserving of its sales success and high-resale value; however, it's no longer head-and-shoulders above its competition, which now includes excellent entries like the redesigned Mazda 3 and even the Saturn Astra. My hope is that with the Fit now playing well to the young hipster crowd, the next Civic will be able to grow-up, especially inside.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor
0902 04 Z+2009 Honda Civic LX S+rear View
The Honda Civic is a small-car icon, and this particular example fully supports that reputation. Even SUV downsizers could be happy with an EX-L model like this one, with its heated leather seats, touch-screen navigation, and supercool ten-spoke wheels.
I still have some issues with this car, however. At highway speeds, the quick steering becomes very twitchy, which could create a problem for all those drivers who constantly have a cell phone pinned to one ear. I also didn't expect these high levels of road noise.
I, too, would prefer one of Honda's superb stick shifts in a Civic, but this automatic is quite smooth, even if it doesn't like to let the 1.8-liter i-VTEC engine rev to the moon on downshifts. Jean and David expressed their affections for the big digital speedometer, but I'm not as big a fan. It takes some getting used to, and the unique dash layout is actually a big reason why my wife - a former 2002 Civic coupe owner - doesn't really like the current Civic.
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
0902 08 Z+2009 Honda Civic LX S+front Passenger Interior
The Civic is the small car that every manufacturer wishes it had in its lineup, revered for its reliability and resale value. Having said that, anyone who thinks the Civic is an entry-level car needs to take a closer look at the Monroney sticker-the EX-L we tested prices out at a little over $24,000. (To be fair, the most inexpensive Civic still comes in at about $16,000, but you need to opt for the EX-L or the even-more-costly Si if you want traction control - an option that's available on the $17,000 Fit Sport but not on lesser Civics).
The Civic EX-L isn't exactly riveting to drive, but like all Civics it has a nice ride/handling balance and a perfectly adequate 140-hp four-cylinder. The interior is well put together, although the steeply raked windshield means there's a huge expanse of plastic that runs from the top of the dashboard to the base of the windshield.
I'm going to side with Rusty on the dash layout. Perhaps it's because of my relatively short stature, but no matter how many adjustments I made to the seat and the steering wheel, I found that the Civic's digital speedometer was still partially obscured by the steering wheel. Call me old-fashioned, but I prefer an analog speedometer.
Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor
0902 09 Z+2009 Honda Civic LX S+cockpit
Although I am not enamored with the look of this latest Civic - it reminds me of a horseshoe crab - the interior is just as welcoming and comfortable as it always has been. The low cowl makes for great visibility and makes the cockpit feel much bigger than it is, the down side being the previously mentioned horizontal stretch of plastic connecting the dash to the windshield base. I love the blue gauges and the high-mounted, extra-large type digital speedo. The dash is simple and straightforward and you don't have to look more than once to find any controls.
I agree with Zenlea on the low quality of the plastics. The shifter looks especially cheap and feels only marginally better. Perhaps the manual-equipped Civic is better. The steering wheel, though, which is partially wrapped in perforated leather, is the highlight of the cabin. Its compact size and finger-tip audio controls suit this Civic's $24,000 price.
Speaking of price, wow! There are a number cars I would consider before dropping $24,000 on a Civic. Yes, it's smooth and probably reliable as can be but it feels a bit cold to me and is a little light on style. This being said, I think Honda's highly regarded manual transmission would go a long way toward upping the driving excitement.
Unlike Rusty, I was surprised by the absence of road noise especially when compared with the Ford Focus. The Honda's 1.8-liter engine is also noticeably more quiet than the Ford's 2.0-liter unit especially when driving at or above 80 mph.
Jennifer Misaros, Production Editor
0902 07 Z+2009 Honda Civic LX S+rear Three Quarter View
2009 Honda Civic 4DR EX-L Navi
Base Price (with destination): $24,325
Price as tested: $24,325
Options:
** Include details for packages **
Fuel Economy: 25 / 36 / 30.5 (city/hwy/combined)
Engine:
Size: 1.8L in-line four-cylinder
Horsepower: 140 hp @ 6300 rpm
Torque: 128 lb-ft @ 4300 rpm
Safety Ratings (in stars, 1-5):
Frontal Crash Driver: 5
Frontal Crash Passenger: 5
Side Crash Front Seat: 4
Side Crash Rear Seat: 5
Rollover: 4
Transmission: 5-Speed Automatic
Weight: 2831 lb
Wheel/Tire Info:
- 16" Aluminum Wheels (size)
- P205 / 55 R16 89H
0902 02 Z+2009 Honda Civic LX S+front Three Quarter View

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