Review: 2014 Honda Civic

Annoying tech gimmicks mar higher-trim models, and why no hatchback?

1.8L I-4 FWD
143hp @ 6,500RPM
1,230 kg
129 lb.-ft. @ 4,300RPM
5.5L/100 km

Choose wisely to find the right Civic for you

The Honda Civic has been Canada’s best-selling car since the last Ice Age. It has to be doing something right.

Customers typically quote reliability, durability and value-for-money as reasons for buying a Civic. All good, practical reasons.

Civic is offered as a four-door sedan (as tested) and a two-door notchback coupe. You can get into a Civic for as little as $15,690.

Interesting that Civic sells so well, given that it is only playing in about 75 to 80 per cent of the compact car sandbox. Most of the competition offers a four-door hatchback option – the only configuration that makes any sense in a compact car.

The coup’ is bought for style; fair enough. But a compact sedan- That’s just nuts. This is supposed to be a practical decision. You buy the footprint; why not buy the air rights?

‘Fun to drive’ also used to be on Civic’s why-buy list, but some of its joie de vivre slid away in recent iterations.

The company is trying to bring that back. Last year, the sedan got major and welcome face- and butt-lifts, plus significantly upgraded interior trim materials; the coup’ receives similar treatment this year.

My tester, an almost-range-topping Touring sedan, comes with leather, which I could do without, but, overall, it’s a pleasant place to be.

The rear seat has a completely flat floor, which makes this a more viable five-seater than most compacts. The rear seatback split-folds for more flexible cargo space.

The steeply-raked windshield means the dashboard takes up a lot of real estate. The upper level has a big digital speedo, with could-be-much-larger fuel and temperature bar graphs.

I wish the odometer were as big and bright as the digital clock right beside it; on sunny days, you can barely see the odo.

Up-level trims like my Touring tester offer the newest version of HondaLink, designed to integrate your smartphone with the car. It brings with it a seven-inch touch screen.

Oh no!

This thing is an ergonomic disaster. The touch sensitivity is all over the map. Sometimes, the lightest touch activates the function; other times you have to pound on it.

The virtual buttons are also so close together that the slightest bump in the road will knock your finger onto the wrong spot. And there’s no ledge to rest your hand, which might help steady it.

The real buttons on the steering wheel for answering the phone and controlling radio volume prove beyond whatever shadow of doubt remains that this is how to do it.

Working one of these at your desk is one thing. In a car, you need to find the switch without looking, and you need tactile feedback to know it has been activated.

One of supposed advantages of this system is that you can subscribe to a variety of musical services like aha and Pandora. Are these a big part of your in-car life’

If so, I bet you’d also like to be able to pre-set your favourites and call them up whenever you wanted. After a week in the car, I did figure out how to create a pre-set. But I never found out how to recall them.

Then there’s Lane Watch, borrowed from the larger Accord.

Flick on your right-turn signal and, a second or so later, POW! There’s this big picture in that seven-inch screen showing what’s beside your car.

Massively distracting.

Sure, it’s important to know what’s beside you. But this is a thousand-dollar solution to a zero-cost problem. Adjust your right-side mirror correctly and you already can see what’s there.

Fortunately, you can switch this off. Odd though: Honda recognizes that seeing beside you is important. So why can’t the left-side mirror be adjusted far enough out so you can see the blind spot on that side of the car’

They just haven’t thought this through.

Fortunately, you can avoid all this technology-for-its-own-sake nonsense by sticking with the lower trim levels. Then you’ll get the car Canadians have loved for decades.

Returning to that fun-to-drive theme, the suspension has been tightened up, and a few more ponies have been released from the corral thanks to a revised exhaust system. The 1.8-litre V-Tec four is now rated at 143 horsepower. Not a lot by competitive standards, but adequate.

A five-speed manual gearbox is base fitment. The automatic (optional on most trims, standard on Touring) is Honda’s newest Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT), not a device normally associated with sporty driving, because engine revs don’t always track road speed directly.

I bet most owners won’t even notice, because Honda has programmed in stepped pseudo-ratios to make it feel more like a conventional autobox. It may lose a few counts in efficiency, but it feels better to drive.

The car can be a bit languid coming off the line, especially if you have selected Eco mode on the dash to save a few millilitres of fuel.

And, in a passing manoeuvre, there is a bit of droning as the engine tries to find the sweet spot.

But a CVT typically gets 10- to 15-per-cent better fuel economy than a conventional automatic. In Civic, it is even considerably better than the manual.

In sum, you need to peruse that option list and make sure you get a Civic that fits your needs, and not one you scream at every day you drive it.

Choose wisely, and you’ll join a huge, happy community of Civic-minded owners.

The vehicle tested by freelance writer Jim Kenzie was provided by the manufacturer. Email:

The Toronto Star for

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