It's hard to beat the Honda Civic's combination of price, performance, and quality. Refreshed for 2009 with a new, more aggressive front end featuring a three-opening front air dam, the Civic retains its 140 horsepower engine, slot car handling, and most of its space-age looks. Honda introduced two new trim levels to this generation, an LX-S and DX-VP. Our LX-S model is meant to be a sporty intermediate between the basic LX model and the premium EX model, while the DX-VP adds basic creature comforts to the spartan DX model, such as air conditioning and a radio.
But while the LX-S gains alloy wheels, a decklid spoiler, sport seats, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel, it falls victim to Honda's odd pricing structure that eschews a la carte options in favor of preselected trim levels. For example, there's no way to get GPS navigation without a sunroof, because the sunroof is standard on EX and EX-L trim levels, which are the only levels that allow the option of navigation. The result is that the LX-S is stuck in an odd position without much cabin tech beyond the basic CD player.
Test the tech: DIY cabin tech
We were disappointed to see that our Civic LX-S was practically devoid of much of the cabin tech that we like to see on the dashboard of our test vehicles. There was neither a Bluetooth hands-free system nor a GPS navigation. There wasn't even a trip computer that calculated fuel economy. Even the Honda Fit has an mpg meter.
The Civic is one of the most oft-modified cars in the world, so we decided to upgrade ours. Because of the heavily proprietary nature of the Civic's base audio system, swapping the receiver for an all-in-one unit was out of the question. With this limitation, we decided to go with some "bolt-on" cabin tech.
To get all of the features we wanted directly from Honda, we'd have to upgrade to the Civic EX and then spec the Honda Satellite-Linked Navigation System, which includes the Bluetooth hands-free calling. When you add it all up, you get a price premium of $3,250.
The first issue to address was Bluetooth hands-free calling. We chose our Editors' Choice Motorola Motorokr T505 speakerphone for its good call quality and built in FM-transmitter, which meant that we could route call audio through the Civic's radio, closely mimicking a stock installation. The T505's aesthetic closely matches the futuristic look of the Civic's cabin, with its metallic matte finish. With the T505 in place, we were $139 into our budget.
With our calls coming in clear, we moved on to the GPS navigation. We selected the Sony NV-U74T GPS device for its 4.3-inch touch screen and Navteq Traffic reporting, which you can't get from Honda's factory navigation system. We figured that at the $299 price point, having traffic data was a good trade off for the lack of Honda Voice-Command, which we wouldn't be able to replicate to an acceptable degree with discrete devices.
Next up, we tackled iPod integration. We were certain that we wouldn't be able to add a USB input without majorly modifying the interior of the vehicle, so we had to figure out how to directly manipulate our iPod Touch without holding it while driving. Enter the Griffin WindowSeat. This iPod holder has brackets for the iPod Touch and both generations of iPhone, as well as a suction cup to mount the device to the windshield for easy access. We added $29 for the WindowSeat and $10 for a 1/8-inch audio cable long enough to reach the line-input at the bottom of the center stack.
Having reproduced many of the features in the Civic EX, we couldn't leave well enough alone. Because we feel that fuel economy meters should be standard, we added a PLX Kiwi. This device plugs into the OBD-II port that all new cars are equipped with and calculates fuel economy based on parameters supplied by the engine control unit, the vehicle's electronic brain.
Adding the PLX Kiwi's $299 MSRP, we'd spent a grand total of $780. This represented a savings of $2,470 over upgrading to a Civic EX with navigation. Before we could celebrate our thriftiness, we had to assess what we were getting for our money. Our windshield was cluttered with tiny LCD screens and our dash was a mess of 12 volt, audio, and data cables.
At the end of this experiment, our assessment is that while the hassle may be worth the savings to add one of these devices, if you want it all, then you'll want to go with a more integrated solution.