By Paul Williams
Photos by Paul Williams and Greg Wilson
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2006 Honda Civic sedan. Photo: Greg Wilson. Click image to enlarge
Chicago, Illinois – At the recent press introduction for the 2006 Honda Civic in Chicago, Honda engineers and executives from Japan and North America carefully and comprehensively introduced and explained the new technologies and goals underpinning their all-new, eighth-generation car.
Honda Canada’s Vice President Jim Miller, followed by Toshiro Morita (Large Project Leader), Shoji Ota (CVT Project Leader), Greg Thomas (Advanced Product Planning) and others presented important details of the new model, which, even though it’s the best-selling-selling car in Canada, has seen sales slowly decline over the past few years.
You could tell they were all serious but very enthusiastic about the new Civic, and aware that this model must regain its cool status among younger buyers, while retaining practical appeal for older consumers.
The new Civic, said Mr. Ota, is designed to be, “The new benchmark of value and fun to drive.”
Honda has focused on four areas to achieve this goal. These are advanced and futuristic design, advanced safety and environmental responsibility, unexpected technology and exciting performance. And the company has sharpened the focus of each model.
The result is four models that Honda will begin releasing in early October: Sedan, Coupe, Hybrid sedan, and high performance Si coupe (sedans and coupes will be released first, Si in November; the Hybrid in December), each with a specific character and market relevance.
Common to all the new Civics is exterior styling that’s pleasing and distinctive, featuring flowing lines and smooth, rounded surfaces. The shape isn’t radical, but it looks modern and sleek for a compact car.
The interior may be regarded as controversial by some, or clever and interesting by others. Very close to the concept sketches, the front cockpit sweeps from pillar to pillar, producing a roomy and bright environment for front seat occupants. The bi-level instrument panel with digital speedometer is innovative and daring.
Engine size is increased from 1.7 to 1.8 litres and horsepower is up from 117 to 140, except for the Si, which receives a 197 hp version redlining at close to 8,000 rpm. For the past few years, Honda has been criticized for its comparatively low-horsepower base engine in the Civic (2006 Mazda3 is 150 hp; Kia Spectra is 138 hp, for example), and this horsepower boost makes the Civic competitive with all vehicles in the compact class.
Even though power is up, fuel economy is very close to the previous generation Civic (7.8/5.7 L/100 km city/highway, manual transmission). In real world situations, these cars may even beat official estimates (see Autos’s 50-litre Challenge). The engine uses intelligent variable valve timing (i-VTEC) and is an ultra-low emissions powerplant.
Furthermore, the car is exceedingly quiet at highway speeds, with the new five-speed automatic transmission helping to keep the engine speed down while cruising and numerous aerodynamic techniques (including a dramatically raked windshield) all but eliminating wind noise.
2006 Honda Civic sedan. Photo: Greg Wilson. Click image to enlarge
While classed as a compact, the Civic feels very much like an intermediate-sized vehicle when you’re driving or riding in the car. Honda says it is 35% more rigid than the previous model, and this rigidity and solidity is something that’s evident from the moment you close the door.
Once inside, the driver first notices the unusual instrument panel, then the original placement of the handbrake and shifter, which have been redesigned to rescue space now occupied by cupholders and a storage box (watch for other manufacturers to copy this). Several cubbies are built into the front seat area, including a thoughtfully located container for your cell phone, just below the power point. The seats are also redesigned for additional comfort and support.
Rear seat room is generous. There’s plenty of legroom, even with the front seats moved back to accommodate a longer-legged driver or front passenger. Likewise the trunk space is generous and the rear seat is split 60/40 (except in the Hybrid). The sedan’s wheelbase is increased 80 mm compared with the outgoing model.
Visibility all around is excellent, with big rear-view mirrors affording a good view of traffic beside and behind.
Consumers will benefit from Honda’s “Safety for Everyone” program, which makes anti-lock brakes, side airbags, side curtain airbags, electronic brake force distribution, electronic brake assist and active head restraints standard throughout the model range. A tilt/telescoping steering wheel is also standard on all models. The Civic Si and Hybrid feature speed-sensitive Electric Power Steering, while the Coupe and Sedan use a speed-sensitive hydraulic system.
Four trim levels are available. The DX sedan arrives with standard power windows, power mirrors, CD player with MP3 capability and front mudguards and speed sensitive volume control, and 15″ steel wheels with wheel covers.
The DX-G sedan adds air conditioning, keyless entry, power door locks and a centre armrest. The LX sedan is equipped with alloy wheels and an outside temperature gauge. The EX adds a rear centre headrest, 16″ wheels, steering wheel audio controls, floor mats and trim upgrades. The EX also receives four-wheel disc brakes.
Civic coupes receive a sportier suspension and seats, rear lip spoiler and programmable text and welcome screen for the audio system. The wheelbase is 50 mm (2.0 in.) shorter in the coupe, compared with the sedan.
Along with the 197 hp at 7,800 rpm engine, the Civic Si (coupe) differs from the other Civics by offering a six-speed manual transmission, 17″ alloy wheels, sport-tuned exhaust, sports seats, performance suspension and braking, optional performance (summer only) tires, revised chin spoiler, rear wing spoiler, 350 watt premium audio, ambient lighting and numerous technical, engine and appearance enhancements.
The new Si should receive an enthusiastic response from younger buyers who want a genuine performance vehicle right off the showroom floor. But Honda has also designed it to be readily customized and tuned, recognizing that this flexibility was initially what appealed to younger buyers and made the Civic a tuner favourite.
In contrast to the Civic Si, the Civic Hybrid features advanced technology with a different goal. Emphasizing environmental and fuel economy, the Civic Hybrid uses a new generation Integrated Motor Assist that enables the car to run on electric power only while cruising at low speeds.
Fuel economy for the Civic Hybrid is now rated at a miserly 4.7/4.3 L/100km city/highway while horsepower is up to 110 and torque increases to 123 foot pounds.
Complaints at this point are minor. The speedometer hood of the bi-level instrument panel tends to reflect in the windshield; the beige/brown interior is not pleasant; the new wheels of the Civic Hybrid are odd; the digital speedometer may be distracting for some. Unfortunatly, the navigation system, available in the U.S., isn’t planned for Canada.
But the sharp design, comprehensive standard safety technology, roomy interior, excellent fuel economy and strong five-year warranty, coupled with historically high resale values for Civics should justifiably place the 2006 model at the top of consumers’ compact car want-list.
Prices start at $16,800 for the Civic Sedan DX 5-speed, rising to $18,300 for the Civic Sedan DX-G 5-speed. Civic Sedan LX 5-speed is $20,300, and EX 5-speed is $21,800. Automatic transmission adds $1,200.
Prices for the coupe start at $17,000 rising to $23,000 for the EX 5-speed.
At A Glance: 2006 Honda Civic
- Type: Five passenger, compact car. Available as sedan, coupe, Si (performance) and Hybrid
- Notable: All new version of the Canada’s best selling vehicle. Built in Alliston, Ontario (except Hybrid built in Japan)
- Available: October 3, 2005