Preview: 2014 Honda Civic Coupe
New-look coupe's variable transmission programmed to mimic feel of a traditional automatic
ORLANDO, FLA.?The 2014 Honda Civic Coup? drives pretty much like the 2013 Honda Civic Coup?.
That?s not quite the end of the story, because I wouldn?t get paid for a 14-word story. Also, it?s not like there haven?t been changes.
But Civic has been Canada?s best-selling car for 16 years. So you don?t toss it all and start over ? you stick with what works.
Both the sedan and coup? are on sale now, with the coup? starting at $18,840 for the LX trim. That?s $195 more than last year, not bad considering the added features.
There is an even-more-base DX trim for the sedan, but it only accounts for 2 per cent of sedan sales, and is not offered in the coup?.
Last year, the coup? accounted for 11 per cent of Civic sales. Not a lot, but it is the style leader for the car, and brings a certain sporty halo to the line.
There will also be an upgraded Si Coupe coming in March. More on that when I get a chance to drive it.
As for the car you can buy now, 2014 is the third year in a row that Civic has undergone significant improvements.
A cynic might suggest they got it wrong with the ninth-generation of this nameplate (the last full model change was in 2011) and have been pedalling ever since to bring it up to speed in the face of ever-stiffening competition.
Not really, says Honda. While acknowledging the competition, it?s just the company?s philosophy of continuous improvement. Fair enough.
In any event, many of the suspension and technology upgrades that were introduced in Civic sedan in 2013 are added to the coup? this year.
The coup? also receives worthy upgrades to the exterior styling to further differentiate it from the sedan (as if two extra doors weren?t enough).
A new front fascia, with big, almost Ferrari/Porsche-like dual air intakes below the headlights, gives it a more aggressive look.
Ditto at the rear, with more sculpting in the fascia and a race-car-like diffuser in black below the body-colour bumper.
Clever, too, that only the plastic bits are involved ? significantly new appearance without affecting the more-expensive-to-change sheet metal.
The coup? gets an all-black interior (the sedan retains some gray components) and upgraded upholstery materials.
The general theme of the mechanical changes is to make Civic more fun to drive ? formerly, a Civic strength that has been dulled somewhat in recent years.
Tweaks to the dampers to improve response and flatten cornering, and larger wheels and tires on most models, make for crisper handling with, Honda claims, no impact on ride quality.
I doubt many people will notice increases of three horsepower and one lb.-ft. of torque from the 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine, the result of changes to the exhaust system.
But when accompanied by an improvement of 6 per cent in fuel economy for city driving (from 7.1 L/100 km to 6.7), nobody?s going to complain. The highway number remains the same at 5.0.
Therein lies the biggest technological change for 2014 ? the adoption of a continuously variable transmission.
CVTs are not normally associated with fun to drive.
Yes, the idea of engine speed rising and falling in a step-wise, linear fashion has become associated with sporty driving.
But it isn?t the most efficient way to do it. Keeping the engine closer to its sweet spot in the rev band to optimize output and minimize fuel consumption is why more ratios in a transmission is better than fewer.
So infinite ratios, as in a CVT, is ideal. But many people dislike the motor-boating sensation of engine speed not being directly related to road speed.
So Honda has programmed its CVT to react in a more conventional fashion. Most drivers won?t even notice it isn?t a regular automatic ? which is sort of Honda?s objective here.
On up-level trims, the coup??s CVT comes with steering-column-mounted paddle shifters, giving the driver seven distinct ?ratios? to play with.
The other major upgrade is a new display audio control system, Honda?s attempt to integrate all the electronic functions.
Needless to say, it involves the dreaded touch screen, with ?pinch, expand and swipe? functionality, just like your smart phone ? and just the sort of thing you should not be doing while driving.
The usual drawbacks of this technology apply: fingerprints rapidly make much of the screen unreadable, sunlight washes the entire thing out at certain angles, and it?s way too fiddly all the time.
The worst issue in Civic?s version is that the obvious knob to adjust radio volume is, in fact, the temperature knob.
Instead, volume is changed by tapping on a small vertical electronic slider on the screen.
Sure, you can eventually get used to just about anything. But good ergonomics means not having to get used to anything.
While I?m bitching about the dash, could they not make the trip odometer as big and bright as the outside temperature readout?
Civic also adopts a new expanded-view driver?s side mirror, looking like those used in Europe. The outer couple of centimetres are separated from the rest of the glass by a vertical line, outboard of which the mirror is more convex. The idea is to give an expanded view of the blind spot.
Of course, there is no such thing as a blind spot, if you adjust the mirror properly. The problem is; the Civic?s mirrors will not go far enough. So, they recognize the safety issue, but came up with the wrong solution.
Likewise, the Lane Watch system, adopted from the Accord, which is standard from EX on up. This system flashes a camera view of the right-side adjacent lane in the centre display screen.
Some people think this is a breakthrough of sliced-bread significance. It is nothing of the sort. It is merely distracting and, of course, totally irrelevant.
Fortunately, you can switch it off. But you still have to pay for it if you want the other useful stuff that comes in those higher trim levels.
In summary, I guess if the legibility of the trip odometer is one of my biggest complaints, that should tell you something.
The Civic accelerates, drives, handles and stops very well. It has lots of stuff in it. It also has a good reputation for reliability.
And, despite all-new entries from such stalwart competitors as Mazda3 and Toyota Corolla, the 2014 Civic is already out-selling the second-place competitor (the Hyundai Elantra, ironically among the oldest cars in the segment) almost two to one.
In Canada?s compact segment, it doesn?t pay to bet against Honda Civic.
Transportation for freelance writer Jim Kenzie was provided by the manufacturer. Email: email@example.com.
2014 Honda Civic Coupe
Price: $18,840 LX, $20,900 EX
Engine: 1.8-litre inline four.
Power/Torque: 143 hp/129 lb.-ft.
Fuel Consumption L/100 km: 7.3 city, 5.5 hwy. (manual); 6.7, 5.0 CVT LX; 6.9, 5.1 CVT EX.
Competition: Chevrolet Cruze, Ford Focus, Hyundai Elantra, Kia Forte, Mazda3, Nissan Sentra, Toyota Corolla.
What?s Best: Significantly improved fuel economy, upgraded styling inside and out, retains the all-round balance of goodness of its predecessors, adds a CVT that nobody will complain about.
What?s Worst: Touch screen is no better than anyone else?s, manual transmission is down on ratio count to some of the competition (five versus six).
What?s Interesting: 68 per cent of Honda Canada?s sales ? and almost all of its Civics ? are assembled in Alliston, making Honda more of a Canadian car company than most domestic brands