Destination: Portland, Oregon
Where: On the Willamette River, northern Oregon
From Vancouver: 506 km
Calgary: 1,255 km
Edmonton: 1,547 km

Atractions en route:
Space Needle, Seattle, WA
EMP Museum, Seattle, WA
Olympic Club, Centralia, WA
Kimpton Monaco, Portland, OR
Pearl District, Portland, OR
Portland Breweries, Portland, OR
Fancy Sock Place, Portland, OR
Oregon Museum of Science, Portland, OR

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Comparison Test: Compact Cars
Road Trip: 2012 Volkswagen Tiguan
Driving Destination: Harrisburg/Hershey, Pennsylvania

Manufacturer’s Website
Honda Canada

Review and photos by Brendan McAleer

Photo Gallery:
2013 Honda Civic

If you’ve any doubt about what Canada’s favourite car is, just take a look around you. It’s a hair past seven PM on a Wednesday night and as the last dregs of Vancouver’s rush-hour ebb back into suburbia, we find ourselves unexpectedly in a convoy. No fewer than six Honda Civics of varying years, colours and trim levels surround my 2013 tester – a top-level Touring sedan.

With 64,962 new owners on the road for 2012, the Civic marks fifteen years of being top of the list for car sales; this is a very important car. As you’ve likely read in any recent review of the refreshed 2013 model, it’s also a bit of a reset for the big H. A complacent Honda seemed to coast into 2011 with a mildly updated and somewhat decontented model – one that promptly received a critical drubbing.

Competition in the compact class is cutthroat these days. Like a high school honours student getting their first big fat “F” in university-level calculus, Honda found itself surrounded by keenly aggressive competitors and had to put a little more effort in.

2013 Honda Civic Touring
2013 Honda Civic Touring. Click image to enlarge

I picked up my tester at the beginning of the week, and initial impressions were slow in coming. Curbside, the Touring’s new, more aggressive front fascia and machined-face alloys add back some of the edge that was dialled out of the 2012, and the interior is certainly a nicer place to be. Even so, short commuting isn’t really showing much in the way of dynamic improvements, though Honda notes several changes to the suspension.

To find out if Honda’s update has really put the Civic back in its place as star pupil, we need a little better test. Time to load up and head out on the highway to Portland, where they say the dream of the ‘90s is still alive.

Day 1: North Vancouver to Seattle
While I initially cut to the chase with us already on the road on Wednesday evening, let’s roll back the tape a bit and talk about packing. One thing Honda hasn’t changed with their new model is the interior spacing or trunk size.

As father to a five-month old, I can tell you that while babies are small, they come with accessories. Lots of accessories. Thank goodness at least my wife is organized, as our road-trip supplies (stroller, spare clothes, diaper-bag, crib) soon overflowed the Civic’s 353 L trunk and spilled into the back seat.

2013 Honda Civic Touring
2013 Honda Civic Touring
2013 Honda Civic Touring. Click image to enlarge

Good thing I spent all those hours as a kid honing my Tetris skills. An annoyance though: Honda still puts only a single-piece folding rear seat in base models – as opposed to 60/40 split available in LX trims and higher. With a child seat in situ, the inability to put the smaller section down to deal with long objects could be a problem.

On Canadian highways, smoothly tarmac’d, the Civic performs admirably. To get to the border, you first have to navigate Vancouver’s busy upper-levels highway, then thread across town through the most densely populated sections of the Lower Mainland. Luckily, we’ve got a late start, and traffic is easing up. Doubly lucky, my wife spent a bit of time doing house calls in this area, and is happy to provide navigational support. Completing the trifecta, the kid’s off to dreamland without a peep.

This is a comfortable car, relaxing, and fairly smooth for a compact. With the Econ button depressed, it’s not in any way quick to react, but ground fog rising up from the Fraser Delta has me watching my speed anyway. Moments from joining Highway 99, the benefits of cruise – and self – control show themselves: we move over to let a tailgating Ford Fusion past, and as it speeds off into the orange fuzz of the sodium-lamp-lit mist, an undercover police car lights up the red-and-blues and nabs him.

We sail on past, smoothly through the Peace Arch border crossing with minimal wait, and into America, land of the mid-sized sedan and super-sized soft drink. After stopping off for a quick and questionable burger, we breeze into Seattle’s outskirts, where we’re staying with friends for the night.

Day 2: Seattle to Portland
I’d like to say we get an early start, but by the time our little Civic Conestoga wagon hits the Oregon Trail, we’ve all got Seattle coffee and pastries under our belts – except for my daughter, obviously. It’s just around noon, and the roads are busy.

If you’ve ever rattled down the I-5, you know how loud America’s concrete roads can be, and while Honda certainly seems to have dialled down the road-noise with their Civic’s redesign, it’s far from quiet in here. Crossing a bridge, the Space Needle is off to our right, as well as the EMP (Experience Music Project), a brightly coloured building that’s supposedly designed around the cacophony of a smashing guitar. It’s not quite that bad in the cabin, but this is no mini-Accord.

2013 Honda Civic Touring
2013 Honda Civic Touring. Click image to enlarge

Dicing up traffic, we’re soon in the high-occupancy vehicle lane and making good distance. Stopping in Centralia, the aptly named midway point, there’s time for a quick burger at the kitschy Olympic Club. This place is a McMenamin’s establishment, one of a series of historical buildings throughout Portland and Oregon that’s been bought up by a microbrewer that decorates the places with a unique folk art style. Well worth a visit.

We also brim the Civic’s fuel tank; living in expensive Vancouver makes the $3.69/gallon ($0.97/L) price seem cheap. Using some quick math, we’re averaging close to 7.0 L/100 km, not bad considering the stop and go that the Civic’s run through at the beginning of the week.

To get back on the highway, a full-throttle run from a dead stop to 70 mph (112 km/h) is required; loaded up with three people and plenty of stuff, the 1.8L four-cylinder engine needs every whinny of its 140 hp. Well, I say “whinny”, this four-cylinder sure shouts about how hard it’s working.

However, at speed, the little Honda’s five-speed auto settles into the groove, keeping its powerplant spinning at around 2,500 rpm. Wind noise isn’t bad, the worst offender being the roar of the tires.

Economy mode – press a big green button to the left of the steering wheel to engage – keeps the five-speed upshifting early and dulls throttle response back to the point that you really have to stomp on the gas to make the transmission kick down. Cruising along, this isn’t really a problem. Need to pass a slower car? Make sure you flick it off before you wander out into the fast lane and just sit there blocking traffic.

2013 Honda Civic Touring2013 Honda Civic Touring2013 Honda Civic Touring2013 Honda Civic Touring
2013 Honda Civic Touring. Click image to enlarge

As we approach Portland, time to fire up the Civic’s navigation system and punch in the hotel address – or at least, that’s the plan. Honda locks out most of the touchscreen functions, preventing a co-driver (my increasingly frustrated wife) from entering the address. No problem, let’s use voice commands.

Well, you might as well be issuing voice commands to a cat. Not only does the system query with a “Pardon?” every third command or so, it requires that I spell out “Portland” letter by letter, having to touch the voice-command button twice to do so each time.

Honda is reportedly going to put Apple’s Siri system into some of their models. Can’t happen soon enough.

Day 3–5: In Portland
Navigating Portland’s maze of one-way streets requires good visibility and a bit of nimbleness: good news, then, that the latter has returned to the Civic. Forward visibility remains the same, slightly compromised by the way that extremely sloping front windscreen pushes the thick A-pillars forward.

2013 Honda Civic Touring
2013 Honda Civic Touring. Click image to enlarge

This is a cycling town, and you also need to keep an eye out for the trams that run at street level through the city. We’ve met up with friends at our hotel (the Kimpton Monaco, highly recommend it – free wine and doughnuts in the evenings), and even fully packed with four adults and the child seat, the Civic is quick enough to keep up with traffic; it makes for a good city car.

Bombing around town to visit the historical Pearl District, picking up beers from one of the dozens of excellent local micro-breweries or visiting a shop that only sells fancy socks (don’t ask), I find the Civic to be a perfectly competent little car. The steering’s a bit numb, but there is a little less roll in the corners over the old model. My passengers, none of whom are really interested in cars, declare the interior “nice”.

Day 6: Portland to North Vancouver
Doing the trip back in one straight shot reaffirms all my notes from the trip down. I’ll climb out of the Civic at the end of this seven-hour drive without stiffness, and with minimal tiredness.

2013 Honda Civic Touring
2013 Honda Civic Touring. Click image to enlarge

As the miles pass, I’m thinking back on all the interesting cars I’ve seen on the trip: a chromed GT-R, a seafoam green ’55 Chevy, the electric Nissan Leaf that had place of pride outside the Oregon Museum of Science. At the top of my mind: a mid-’90s Civic hatchback that buzzed past us and zoomed off down the road, slammed to the ground on a race suspension.

I can’t see anyone wanting to do something similar to this car; it’ll never be hot-rodded up, and just plain doesn’t have that zippy, lightweight, chuckable spirit that Soichiro Honda seemed to will into even the most basic Honda products.

But, as we coast into the driveway having covered well over 1200 km on just about two tanks of fuel, it does have long legs. Comfortable too, as the baby asleep in the back seat might tell you – and speaking of which, the Civic carries a “Top Safety Pick” rating from the IIHS.

If you want a little of that old Honda zip, take a good look at the Fit. If you just need a small, practical, efficient family car, then good news: the Civic feels like it’s back.

Pricing: 2013 Honda Civic
Base Price (DX):
Base Price (Touring): $24,840
Freight: $1,495
A/C Tax: $100
Price as tested: $26,335

Crash test results
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS)

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