Honda's Civic line has long been synonymous with frugality and reliable, if pedestrian, basic transportation. The current crop of 2008 Honda Civics is no exception, but these days it's possible to outfit a Civic with a few modern conveniences while keeping the payments within reach. The loaded Civic EX-L we tested struck a nice balance between tech offerings and value pricing.
Inside and out, the Civic's styling mostly basks in its inoffensiveness, with no bold strokes to be found anywhere on the body, and lens shapes mimicking those on more upscale sedans. Alloy wheels are standard on the EX, and go some way to improving the car's stance, but even the top level EX-L we tested lacks anything approaching panache. Civic buyers may find that just as well. The name of the game with this car is getting around comfortably and cheaply, and it does its job well at the price.
Test the tech: Commuter rally
We decided to quantify our well-worn morning commute through San Francisco to test the tech of the 2008 Honda Civic, equipped as it was with a touch- and voice-controlled navigation setup we've found useful in other Honda models. We planned to program CNET headquarters as our destination, and then enter a few waypoints along the way to take care of some errands.
Our first thought was that we really liked this system more than two years ago, when we first encountered it. Since then, we're less enamored of its blocky display format and the resolution of its maps, but the touch screen and voice recognition are still nice to use. Entering destinations via voice is tedious, but is the best choice if you are underway. The predictive touch-screen keyboard is much easier to use.
The first hitch in our plan was the discovery that waypoints can only be chosen from a list of points of interest in the car's database, which are displayed four at a time. Our route contained more than a thousand possible choices, so finding our two businesses on the list (if they were even on it) was not practical. We backtracked and used the "Today's Destinations" feature to enter the two stops as street intersections and saved them to the list (up to five can be entered).
Our first stop was only about a block and a half from home, which the system accurately estimated at .2 miles, covered in one minute. From there to our next stop was estimated at 4.1 miles in a planned 11 minutes. The system chose the best route around the potentially confusing Union Square and downtown areas, but underestimated our rush-hour travel time by about five minutes. From there to CNET was another .8 miles, underestimated by another minute or so.
In the cabin
As with the exterior's styling, the 2008 Honda Civic's interior is pretty run-of-the-mill. Only the now-familiar two-spoke steering wheel and split-level gauge displays break up the predictability. The upgrade to leather on the seats, steering wheel, and armrest that is the difference between the EX and EX-L is a nice touch, but maybe not worth $1,200.
The navigation system, part of a package with XM satellite radio, the voice control system, and other steering-wheel controls, represents a better call at $1,750. For just about everything except the entering of addresses as destinations, the voice control system is as good as the manual controls. There is a sizeable list of specific commands to learn, but pressing a button with your thumb and talking beats looking at a screen and finding a button on the dash somewhere.