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Honda Civic undergoes a metamorphosis

September 30, 2005|by MALCOLM GUNN/Wheelbase Communications

The eighth-generation Civic sets out to prove that Honda can still impress seekers of agile and comfortable transportation at an accommodating price.

As a best-seller for Honda, the Civic's importance to the company cannot be overstated. More than 16 million have been sold since 1973 with about half of that number going to the North American market. For the past nine years, the Civic has led the sales race among compact-car brands.

Honda has always gone the extra mile formulating the Civic's design and content, and the new model keeps pace with that theme. The Civic sedan and coupe have received a major restyling that's most noticeable in their steeply raked windshields that help to improve aerodynamics and aid fuel efficiency. As well, the wheelbases (the distance between the front and rear wheels) have been stretched by slightly more than three inches, providing greater interior space.

And that cabin is a much friendlier place to be, especially for the driver who's seated in front of a futuristic-looking instrument panel. The electronic-readout-style speedometer and fuel and temperature gauges are positioned in their own pod directly above a centrally located tachometer. The intention is to help the driver focus on the road and still get the needed information.

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The new body panels are attached to a considerably more rigid platform, all in an effort to improve road manners and provide a more rattle- and squeak-free environment.

The new Civic lineup is a blend of sensible sedans, sporty coupes and fossil-fuel-snubbing models such as the Hybrid and the natural-gas-powered Civic GX four-door.

The Civic coupe and sedan base engine is a 1.8-liter four-cylinder that makes 140 horsepower, 13 more than last year's motor. The Hybrid works with a 90-horsepower 1.3-liter I4 combined with an electric motor that contributes a further 20 horses to help the car achieve a 50-mpg fuel-efficiency rating for city as well as highway use.

Atop the Civic hierarchy is the red-hot Si two-door coupe that runs with a 197-horsepower 2.0-liter four cylinder. That's a bump of 37 over the outgoing Si hatchback.

The Si, with its power boost and sleek silhouette, will likely play an important role in marketing the Civic to young, performance-oriented drivers who seemed generally unimpressed with the outgoing model.

Transmission choices include a five-speed manual or optional five-speed automatic on all 1.8-liter Civics and a six-speed manual that's exclusive to the Si. The Hybrid uses a continuously variable unit that constantly fine tunes the gearing to keep the engine operating at the peak of efficiency.

Honda is clearly going out of its way to maintain the Civic's small-car dominance with an impressive array of standard content. A grand total of six air bags, including side-impact and side-curtain protectors, come with all models, along with anti-lock brakes. Most Civics, except for the price-leading (and relatively spartan) DX, also get air conditioning (climate control on the Hybrid), power windows, cruise control, outside mirrors and locks, height-adjustable driver's seat, tilt-telescoping steering wheel and a 160-watt sound system.

The Si coupe adds well-bolstered two-tone sport seats, power moonroof, aluminum shift knob and pedals, rev-limit indicator light, distinctive wheels and body-colored wing.

A satellite-linked navigation system with voice recognition leads the parade of Civic options.

Larger (and slightly heavier) than their predecessors, the new range of crisp-looking Civics promise more standard goodies and more power for nearly the same fuel economy and monthly payment as before.

For these reasons, the 2006 Civic is both dressed and priced to impress.

Copyright 2005, Wheelbase Communications

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