Dismayed by his unreliable 1982 Buick Skylark, Colin Duke grudgingly took his friend’s advice and kicked the tires of a new Honda Civic hatchback in 1985.
“I quickly became impressed by its build quality and performance, and ended up buying my first Honda and have never looked back,” Duke wrote to us. His family buys a new Civic every few years, making them charter members of Civic Nation.
But all is not well in the land. Some have condemned the ninth-generation cars, calling them “unHonda-like.”
“The interior materials are very cheap; everything squeaks. I burn oil, my tires are wearing fast, the battery died, second gear is very hard to get into. Not as good as they used to be,” reads one online lament.
RELATED: 2015 Honda Civic Coupe EX Review
After six long years, the eighth-gen Civic was finally replaced by a redesigned sedan and coupe for 2012. Aerodynamically smoother with a raked windshield and cleaner floorpan, its wheelbase was actually shortened by 4 centimetres, yet it yielded more legroom for rear-seat occupants.
Changes to the front strut suspension and multi-link rear setup provided more wheel travel and a creamier ride. The electric power steering returned, but it felt less responsive. If the intent was to move the Civic upmarket, it lost some of its verve in the transformation.
The unique two-tier instrument panel returned, too, with a massive tachometer and digital speedo display. The sculpted front bucket seats with their shapely bolsters and forward headrests were the subject of the loudest complaints by owners, who called them uncomfortable, even punishing. Clearly, try before you buy.
The standard Civic engine was a 1.8-litre four cylinder with 140 horsepower and 128 lb-ft. of torque, essentially a carryover with slightly better torque and less internal friction. It worked through a manual gearbox or automatic, both with five forward gears. The sporty Si used the Acura TSX’s 201 horsepower 2.4-litre four.
The new Civic was widely panned by the press due to the obvious penny pinching. One report called the carpet “dish scrub brush” material — and for the first time it failed to earn a recommendation from Consumer Reports. Unaccustomed to mockery, Honda scrambled to fix the deficiencies.
The 2013 sedan got several new updates, including stiffer springs and bushings, thicker roll bars and a revised electric power-steering rack. The cabin earned improved materials and assembly. Thicker glass and added soundproofing quelled the din inside.
The coupe received the styling and suspension updates for 2014, while all models got more interior upgrades. The revised 1.8-litre four put out 143 horsepower and 129 lb-ft. of torque, working through an optional continuously variable (CVT) automatic transmission in place of the previous conventional slushbox.
DRIVING AND OWNING THE CIVIC
Despite the critics, consumers largely found the Civic to be composed and agreeable. The wee engine worked hard, but smoothly, to keep up with traffic.
The Civic exhibits some handling prowess, yet the electric steering is overboosted and too quick, resulting in tiresome darty behaviour on the highway. The suspension was judged too soft and numb in 2012, but nicely improved in the newer models.
Part of the Civic’s appeal among Canadians is its ability to sip rather than guzzle. Owners report mileage in the 7.5 L/100 km range in mixed driving and even better under optimal conditions.
Mechanically, the ninth generation Civic upholds the nameplate tradition and runs long between service appointments. However, there are a few nits to pick.
The CVT in the 2014-15 models has been known to fail. NHTSA recall 15V-574 prescribes a software update to reduce transmission stress.
Honda’s manual transmission is notorious for its crunchy master and slave cylinders. There have also been reports of the electric steering system shutting down while driving.
Other weaknesses include short-lived batteries, faulty air conditioners, poor-wearing Firestone Affinity tires, chipping paint and annoying interior rattles.
What’s Hot: Efficient runner, minds its manners, Honda lightness of being
What’s Not: Seats don’t suit some riders, noisy at speed, CVT may not be durable
Typical GTA prices: 2012 — $13,500; 2015- $17,500
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