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In the cabin
The Civic LX-S has an interior that feels premium, although it's made mostly of hard plastics. The dashboard features an interesting matte finish that reduces glare and feels great to the touch. In other places, such as the shifter pod surround, there is a faux-brushed-aluminum finish. Fit and finish was superb with no odd buzzes or rattles and good isolation from external noise. At highway speeds, however, the Civic's econo-box roots are exposed by moderate, but not overpowering, amounts of road noise coming up from below.
We like to deal with road noise by cranking the stereo. The Civic's base four-speaker, 160-watt stereo won't win any sound quality competitions, but it performs admirably for a system with no tweeters or subwoofers. At moderate volumes, audio quality is balanced and clean. At near max volume, the system distorts progressively as the bass begins to drown out the highs and mids, but it's still listenable. Thanks to the Civic's well-built cabin, rattling door panels are a non-issue. Audio sources include AM/FM radio, an MP3-compatible CD player, and a line-input at the bottom of the center stack. As stated earlier, navigation, Bluetooth, and satellite radio aren't even options on the Civic LX-S, requiring an upgrade to the EX model. A six-speaker stereo with USB input is standard on the higher trim level, but not in LX-S or below.
The two-tiered instrument cluster is a bit weird at first, but over time we came to love it. On the lower level are the tachometer, trip computer, transmission information, and an array of warning lights. On the upper level are the digital speedometer, fuel meter, and temperature gauge. This layout puts the meters most often glanced at--for example the speedometer--within the driver's field of view to minimize looking down when driving. All of the gauges feature white text over a bright blue backlight with a very cool sci-fi aesthetic.
In LX-S trim, we're treated to a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter knob. The seats get a black Sport Trim with silver stitching, which upgrades upholstery to a high-quality fabric that does a great job of holding the driver in place during spirited driving. Stepping up to the top of the line EX-L model begets heated leather seats, but we like the Sport Trim seats just fine.
Under the hood
A commuter by design, the Civic LX-S is not going to wow anyone with gross displays of horsepower. Every Civic Sedan, with the exception of the high-performance Si model, is powered by a 140-horsepower, 1.8-liter iVTEC engine. iVTEC is a technology that allows the Civic to adjust its valve timing for optimal performance and economy across the engine's range. Based on our driving impressions, it seems that Honda has tuned the Civic for thriftiness, rather than speediness.
The problem is that most of the Civic's 128 pound-feet of torque resides in the upper reaches of the powerband, just above 4,300rpm. This means that off the line performance suffers, but once you get the Civic moving, it proves to be quite zippy. However, the power problem is compounded by the equipped five-speed automatic transmission that, while quite docile for commuting, always seems to be in too high of a gear for any sort of driving enjoyment. We reckon that, equipped with the manual gearbox, we'd have a car that was as fun to drive as the 2009 Fit Sport tested earlier, if that's the sort of thing you're after.
Regardless of power-train configuration, the Civic handles like a mountain goat. Blasting down off-ramps, the Civic feels surefooted and inspires confidence in the vehicle's abilities. Winding through twisty mountain roads, the steering is precise, with just a hint of understeer to let you know when the limits are being approached. On congested city streets, the Civic's precise handling and low steering effort makes short work of weaving through traffic, dodging potholes, and parallel parking.
We were able to get about 37 miles per gallon out of our Civic LX-S over a combined cycle of highway and city driving. This is just a hair over the EPA estimated 36 highway and 25 city miles per gallon when equipped with an automatic transmission, which is impressive considering that we didn't have a fuel economy meter or alter our driving technique for high mpg. The manually shifted Civic is rated at 34 highway and 26 city mpg. Factor in the Civic's CARB emissions rating as a ULEV2 vehicle and you've got a fairly green little commuter.
We loved the Civic's planted handling and better-than-estimated fuel economy. It also doesn't hurt that the Civic could be a fun canyon carver with the right transmission. Though the Civic's space-age looks were a bit odd in the last generation, we've come to enjoy the high tech appearance. The new model's design tweaks make it one of the best looking vehicles in this segment. While we enjoyed sitting in the uniquely styled interior, the decided lack of even optional cabin tech at this trim level kept us from falling in love with this car and resulted in a low cabin comfort score.
At $18,755 the Civic LX-S is a good value for the money, coming in about $2,000 cheaper than similarly equipped Toyota Corolla S, VW Jetta S, and Mazda3 s Sport. However, none of these models offer a navigation option. For the technophile who loves a good spirited drive, the $21,205 Civic EX with manual transmission and Honda's fantastic voice-command navigation is an even better deal.