Review and photos by Jil McIntosh

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2006 Honda Civic sedan
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When it came time for Honda to redesign the Civic, it had to be very careful. This is a car that occupies an unusual position in the marketplace: it’s one of the very few that appeals to a wide demographic, with drivers from 17 to 70 finding it equally engaging. The remake would have to be sufficiently updated to find favour with the new-and-improved crowd, while still remaining familiar enough, and packing enough value into the envelope, to keep practical buyers on board.

Just as its predecessor did, the all-new eighth-generation Civic walks this line. The swooping body, which Honda calls its “one-motion form” styling, looks more Acura than Honda, while the performance and driving dynamics are pure Civic, with nimble steering and a smooth, responsive engine.

The Civic Sedan comes in four trim lines: the DX, DX-G, LX and EX (ranging from $16,800 to $23,000), all powered by a new 1.8-litre four-cylinder with i-VTEC, Honda’s “intelligent” variable valve timing system. The new engine makes 140 hp, a substantial leap from the 115 hp (127 Si sedan) generated by the 1.7-litre engine in the 2005 sedan.

2006 Honda Civic sedan
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The engine uses numerous lightweight components, including an aluminum block, a composite resin intake manifold, integrated exhaust manifold and “cracked” connecting rods, which are forged from high-strength steel as a single unit and then cracked apart at the cap, creating rough edges that custom-fit without bolt pins. Honda claims the design creates a lightweight rod that’s 50 per cent more resistant to fatigue, for longer life. The engine also features a drive-by-wire throttle control that’s instantaneous, without the lag that some engines experience with similar systems.

The result is a very smooth and quiet engine that gives this car excellent performance, while still returning a respectable 7.3 L/100 km (39 mpg Imperial) in combined driving for me. A five-speed automatic can be added to all models for $1,200, but my tester came with a five-speed manual that features a buttery-smooth clutch and shifter.

2006 Honda Civic sedan
Click image to enlarge

The new Civic is larger than its predecessor, including a track that has been widened by 25 mm in front and 64 mm in rear for improved stability; MacPherson struts handle the front, while a multi-link double wishbone suspension looks after the rear. All models come with anti-lock brakes, although only the top-of-the-line EX has rear discs. Steering is speed-sensitive hydraulic rack and pinion; electric power steering is reserved for the sporty Civic Si and the Hybrid. It’s all controlled through a small, soft-touch steering wheel that’s perfectly sized and feels just right in the hands (and is quite attractive as well, with mesh inserts in the spokes); the Civic is nimble, as always, and tightens up nicely for confident manoeuvres at higher speeds. It’s a solid, smooth performer on the highway as well, although you have to move up a trim level to the LX to get cruise control. In a world where economy cars are often just driving appliances, the Civic is actually a lot of fun to drive: it’s peppy, agile and responsive, and you find yourself looking for places to go with it.

2006 Honda Civic sedan

2006 Honda Civic sedan

2006 Honda Civic sedan
Click image to enlarge

Inside, the new Civic is quite roomy up front, and with sufficient leg space for rear-seat passengers and a completely flat rear floor, but the seats are economy-car hard and get even harder on a long drive. With its spacious dash and considerable legroom, the first impression is that you’re really in the larger Accord.

The dash is the Civic’s most noticeable new feature, and it has its share of fans and critics. The driver faces a two-tiered affair, with a digital speedometer in the top half, and a tachometer in the lower portion. On one hand, it does offer an immediately accessible view of one’s speed — kind of a poor man’s head-up display — but on the other hand, it isn’t as easy to sweep your eyes from speedo to tach as you can when they’re beside each other, and digital dashes really should have gone completely extinct the last time around. The video game crowd will probably like it, but I expect it’ll turn off the older traditionalists, who might find it a bit too futuristic. The rest of the dash continues in a more mainstream approach, with radio and climate buttons that are big and extremely easy to use.

There’s a ton of small storage space, including three open cubbies, a deep console box, two driver’s side cubbies and covered cupholders, as well as the glovebox and door pockets. The inside handles could be better, though; they’re narrow and pointed, and you can only slip a couple of fingertips under them to open the door.

2006 Honda Civic sedan
Click image to enlarge

Even the base Civic DX comes with a number of features, including side and curtain airbags, power mirrors, power windows, tilt and telescopic wheel, CD/MP3 stereo with speed-sensitive volume control and 15-inch wheels; my DX-G added air conditioning and power locks with keyless entry. Equip the Civic fully at the EX level, and features will include a power sunroof, wheel-mounted audio controls, rear-seat armrest, two power outlets and a 60/40 split folding rear seat.

On other models, the rear seat only folds as a single unit, but it expands the trunk’s length from 100 cm to 170 cm, forming a sloping cargo area.

2006 Honda Civic sedan
Click image to enlarge

The Honda Civic has already started racking up awards: it received Motor Trend magazine’s coveted Car of the Year designation. It was also named Best New Economy Car in the Automobile Journalists of Canada (AJAC) Canadian Car of the Year voting, which puts it in the running for the association’s top Canadian Car of the Year award as well, to be named early in 2006. (Honda also scored top marks at AJAC for its Civic Si, which snagged Best New Sports Car, and the Ridgeline, which won Best New Truck.) All Canadian-market Civic sedans are built in Ontario.

The Civic’s new design is well-executed, and its driving dynamics are better than ever; this is a vehicle that richly deserves the awards it has won. It remains to be seen whether the company went a little too far with its ultramodern dash, which may reduce its appeal among older buyers, but it should win legions of new fans with its improved engine and distinctive styling. It’ll hurt to see the first one done up on a bare-bones tuner budget, with a tomato-can exhaust and an aluminum wing screwed to the trunk, but hey — that’s the price of success.

Technical Data: 2006 Honda Civic Sedan

Base price $18,300
Freight $1,225
A/C tax 100
Price as tested $19,625 Click here for options, dealer invoice prices and factory incentives
Type 4-door, 5-passenger compact sedan
Layout Front engine/front-wheel-drive
Engine 1.8-litre inline 4, SOHC, 16 valves
Horsepower 140 @ 6300 rpm
Torque 128 lb-ft @ 4300 rpm
Transmission 5-speed manual
Tires P195/65R15
Curb weight 1199 kg (2643 lbs)
Wheelbase 2700 mm (106.3 in.)
Length 4489 mm (176.7 in.)
Width 1752 mm (69.0 in.)
Height 1435 mm (56.5 in.)
Cargo capacity 339 litres (12.0 cu. ft.)
Fuel consumption City: 7.8 L/100 km (36 mpg Imp)
  Hwy: 5.7 L/100 km (50 mpg Imp)
Warranty 3 yrs/ 60,000 km
Powertrain Warranty 5 yrs/100,000 km

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