Civic coupe offers good value but gimmicky styling

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The Honda Civic is a car I first admired back in the late ’70s when my then-girlfriend bought one for transportation around Vancouver Island. It was at the time the best value for a subcompact car. Her little Honda went with her as she moved back to Ontario and I suspect it served her well for many years.

The Civic became an automotive legend and drew legions of loyal owners. For 16 years the Civic has been Canada’s bestselling automobile.

Growing in size over the years and becoming less a basic economy car, the current Honda Civic Coupe is a far cry from what it was upon its arrival in the ’70s. For the 2014 model year the car has been tweaked a bit because competition is stiff and Honda wants to ensure its little Civic stays on top of the sales charts.

The latest (ninth) generation of the Civic was unveiled in 2011 for the 2012 model year, and it was updated again for 2013. Now the 2014 Civic Coupe resembles its sedan stablemate, but has been further refined with a more expressive grille, front fascia and headlights and new taillights.

My oldest daughter upon seeing the EX Coupe in our driveway one day called it “stylish.” Indeed, to the average person, the Civic Coupe may look stylish or trendy to them.

To me, the overall look is off, with the wheels too far apart for a two-door coupe. The phony air intakes on the front bumper cover look awful and I’m sure must dirty up the aerodynamics. The rear of the car is OK.

Inside, the Civic Coupe’s interior features new colours, upgraded seating materials and a lot of new technology. The interior themes are now more colour-co-ordinated and feature upgraded tricot soft weave. Black is the standard interior colour, with a choice of black or grey seats – boring to be sure, but that’s the way it is. A new display audio system is also found on the EX/EX-L trims.

I found the two-tiered dash annoying, with the tachometer placed down low and the speedometer up high. This gimmick may have some appeal with younger buyers who have grown up with video games and smartphones and get off with its super bright displays.

To be fair though, it seems this bi-level setup works at night. Another thing that bugs me about the Civic was the frustration in trying to link up my Android cellphone to the car. I just could not make it work. Yes, I followed the instructions. On other new cars, linking up by cellphone is a cinch.

An interesting gimmick, or call it a safety feature if you want, is Honda’s LaneWatch. Offered on EX trim and higher, LaneWatch first appeared on the 2013 Accord. It is a solution for lessening the chance of smacking into objects in your right-side blind spot. Turn on the right turn signal and a rear-facing camera on the right mirror brings up an image on the centre display. Perfect for checking on cyclists coming up on the right.

Mechanically, the new 2014 Civic Coupe rides on an upgraded suspension system that features revised spring rates, a stiffer rear stabilizer and larger 16-inch wheels with 205/55R16 tires.

Honda says this improves handling and responsiveness while flattening cornering. On the road, the new suspension tuning has transformed the Civic Coupe from a soft two-door econobox to a mildly sporty coupe. The car feels stable and less nervous over broken pavement.

The most significant mechanical upgrade is with the transmission, as Honda has fitted the Civic Coupe with an improved continuously variable transmission (CVT). The new CVT seems to give better throttle response and acceleration has a more linear feel.

Wheel-mounted paddle shifters (EX and EX-L trims) work in D-range and S-range, the latter simulating a seven-speed gearbox.

Honda has bumped the output of the 1.8 litre four-cylinder engine by three horsepower to 143. Torque has gone up to 129 foot-pounds with the help of a refined exhaust system.

Though not armed with huge horsespower, the Civic moves very well off the line and up to highway speed. The CVT felt like a good match to the engine’s output and power band. The performance should satisfy most Civic owners who will feel the amount of horsepower and torque is sufficient for their needs. Passing a semi on a two-lane highway might still be a white knuckle event. This means flooring the gas pedal and allowing plenty of time and space to get by. As an around-town commuter car it is very pleasant for that role.

Honda seems to be focused on value, offering the new Civic LX Coupe with a five-speed manual transmission at $18,840 MSRP. The price jumps to $20,140 when CVT transmission is selected. My loaded Civic Coupe EX-L trim with navigation and CVT priced out at $25,600.

I tested the Honda Civic Touring four-door last year and much preferred the looks of that model and the convenience of two extra doors.

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