Used cars: 2006-11 Honda Civic
It starts with a few drips of antifreeze on the pavement.
Then the coolant starts running more freely, burning on the hot engine and smoking with a distinct odour. The driver notices the temperature gauge rising out of the normal range, often very quickly. Some barely make it to a service centre.
Canada?s favourite car has an endemic problem: a number of Honda Civic 1.8 L four cylinder engines were cast so poorly, the aluminum engine blocks can crack near the exhaust manifold, turning the motor into an effective boat anchor.
It?s a heartbreaker for devoted Honda owners who thought nothing could tarnish the automaker?s good name.
The surprising thing is the reception owners get when they bring their wounded cars to dealers. The engines are replaced with no questions asked in many instances, under technical service bulletin 10-048. A hidden warranty covers the blocks for eight years.
Consider the brand rightly polished.
The front-wheel-drive Civic was rebooted for 2006 with Jetsons-inspired styling, more punch and stouter, safer construction. While larger outside, it was smaller in some dimensions inside compared to the outgoing model; rear legroom shrank by 4 cm, but at least the floor was as level as a regressive flat tax.
The unibody sedan and coupe benefited from a 35 per cent increase in torsional rigidity. The suspension consisted of MacPherson struts up front and a multi-link control-arm rear setup. To democratize safety, front, side and head-protecting curtain airbags were standard on all models.
Inside was a two-tiered instrument panel with an analog tachometer behind the steering wheel and a digital speedometer near the windshield to help keep the driver?s eyes focused on distance. The rear bench was deeply contoured for two sitting a little too close to the floor.
The chain-driven SOHC 1.8 L I-VTEC four cylinder was good for 140 hp and 128 lb.-ft. of torque, matched with either a manual or automatic transmission, both with five gears. The Si borrowed the Acura RSX?s DOHC 2.0 L I-VTEC four making 197 hp and 139 lb.-ft. of torque, tied to a six-speed manual tranny.
The Civic Hybrid featured a stingy 93-hp 1.3 L four banger mated to a 20-hp electric motor and a continuously variable transmission (CVT). There was not enough muscle to coax the Civic from a standstill by electric power alone, however.
Nothing much changed until 2009, when the Civic earned a slight nose job and revised rear fascia, new wheel designs and high-tech enhancements, including available Bluetooth. Surprisingly, the same engines soldiered on unchanged.
ON THE ROAD
Despite gaining 80 kg during its redesign, the eighth-generation Civic remained a fleet-footed grocery getter, taking just 7.7 seconds to reach 96 km/h (the automatic added almost a second).
With its well-sorted chassis the Civic was an accomplished road car, generating 0.81 g of lateral acceleration (grip). Braking was undistinguished, taking 58 metres to scrub off 112 km/h. Unfortunately, the Civic?s less-than-kind ride quality tested some drivers.
?The rear struts are basically non-existent if I have two adults in the back seat. The car bottoms out on small bumps,? reads a post.
The single-most common grievance described the tiresome din that accompanies long trips: ?Lots of road noise intruding into the cabin at highway speed,? reader Richard Gareau observed.
Fuel economy is mostly good, although there are Civic owners who have complained the diminutive motor sips more gas than advertised ? especially Californian Heather Peters, who took Honda to small-claims court over her Hybrid?s fictional fuel savings, and lost.
WHAT OWNERS REPORTED
The Canadian- and U.S.-built Civic is immensely popular for reasons your neighbour will gladly recite to you over the fence, so let?s look at the lesser-known weaknesses of this bestseller.
Beyond the unknown batch of porous engine blocks affecting model years 2006 to 2008, there?s online chatter about uneven rear tire wear due to poor suspension geometry caused by faulty upper control arms. Honda has issued a technical service bulletin (TSB 08-001), but not all owners have had the revised arms installed.
Another common complaint identifies premature brake wear. Other maladies include short-lived a/c condensers ? dealers blame ?road debris? and won?t repair under warranty ? as well as broken sun visors, clear coat delamination, lousy rear wheel bearings and abundant interior rattles.
The 2009 and newer Civics aren?t afflicted by leaky engines and bad control arms, making them the recommended buy.
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2006-11 Honda Civic
WHAT?S BEST: Refined drivetrains, tossable demeanour, gas sipper
WHAT?S WORST: Highway buzzbomb, cracked blocks, suspension eats tires
TYPICAL GTA PRICES: 2006 ? $8,000; 2011 ? $15,000