ASSOCIATE EDITOR GRAHAM KOZAK: Maybe it's just me, but I feel like anyone who goes out of their way to buy a coupe version of a car better known as a sedan -- like this 2014 Honda Civic EX-L, for example -- is expecting something fun, sporty and perhaps just a little frivolous. You need to get something in exchange for abysmal legroom and general inconvenience for any back seat passengers, right?
So it's disappointing that the Civic could only muster the adequate performance we've come to respect from sensible compacts. As with the Toyota Corolla, this is more about the car not meeting my expectations than it is about the car not meeting the expectations of its target demographic -- namely, people who care more about forgettable reliability than they do automotive character.
With the CVT, performance is adequate (a word I can't seem to escape here); there's little to write home about, but there isn't anything to complain about, either. Naturally, you can only get the manual gearbox with the most basic trim level, where you don't even have the option of adding navigation. Steering feel was lacking, but the car didn't want to wander all over the road. In these respects, it's very Corolla-like; a quick glance at the vital stats reveals that weight, output and fuel economy are all more or less equivalent as well.
Where this Civic sets itself apart is styling. In coupe form, the Civic is attractive -- a little bit racy, even, hence the earlier comments. Inside, the swoopy dash is probably what gets the most attention. It's loaded with multicolored lights and it's funky-looking, like the control console of a shuttlecraft or something (if shuttlecraft have steering wheels).
But it works. When you're sitting in the driver's seat, everything is visible without ever really having to move your eyes more than a few degrees from the road. It's not quite a heads-up display, but it's the next best thing. So I'm willing to give Honda credit for this design feature, even though the rest of the interior is, again, adequate.
If you want to stick with the two-door configuration and stay within this segment, you're limited -- you could get a Kia Forte Koup or a Hyundai Genesis Coupe or, if you don't plan on having adults in the back seats ever, a Subaru BRZ or Scion FR-S. Since you're basically resigning yourself to roughly 30 inches of rear legroom, or less, by chopping the two doors, I'm not sure why a practical non-enthusiast would opt for this particular body style in the first place. And I'm not sure why an enthusiast would choose a CVT-equipped Civic coupe over, say, the BRZ.
I'm eager to test the updated Civic Si coupe. Here, though, the inconvenience that comes with losing two doors is really worth it from an appearance perspective, let alone a performance perspective. Perhaps that's why so many automakers have simply dropped two-door options from their volume-seller lineups.
ROAD TEST EDITOR JONATHAN WONG: It's strange, but in the past month or so I've had two people ask me about the Honda Civic coupe, which I guess proves that there is some interest in smaller coupes. Obviously, sedan versions of the Civic make up the majority of the Civic's sales numbers, but it does seem like Honda must move a respectable amount of two-doors, too. When the latest generation Accord launched a year and half ago, Honda spokesman made it a point to talk about their continued commitment to the coupe version of the Accord. They said coupes represented the sportier side of the model range and they weren't going to abandon the segment like many of its competitors have. I'm guessing it's the same with the Civic coupe, but to an even bigger extend with a lower price point to appeal to a younger demographic than the Accord that don't mind giving up some function in the name of form.
And I have to admit, this Honda Civic EX-L Navi coupe does look sporty. For 2014, the Civic coupe got some exterior updates including a more aggressive-looking grille, redone hood, bumpers, front fenders, side mirrors, headlight housings and taillight lenses. From the front three-quarters view, it does remind me an awful lot of the Kia Forte Koup, though.
The interior is leaps and bounds better than the hard plastic disaster this generation Civic debuted with for the 2012 model year. The plastics are much better looking, with storage compartments that have rubber bottoms so stuff like cell phones and MP3 players won't slide around and make a bunch of noise during the drive. Soft-touch material can be found on the majority of the door panel surfaces and front part of the main dash, with decent-looking accent stitching. It's just a much better trimmed space now, which is a very welcome site.
I am not a fan of the center touchscreen that handles the infotainment functions. It's not that it's complicated to use, but it's not very responsive to inputs. It takes a good, forceful press to adjust the volume. Thankfully, there are steering wheel-mounted audio controls, but there are some things that should be adjusted with an old-fashion rotary knob, and volume is one of them, as is radio tuning.
In drivetrain news, if you don't get your Civic coupe with three-pedals, it means you'll have a continuously variable transmission. The CVT replaces a five-speed torque converter automatic gearbox for 2014. There is also an ever-so-slight bump in power to the 1.8-liter four-cylinder that now produces 143 hp (up from 140) and 129 lb-ft of torque (up from 128). What has me scratching my head is that the EPA fuel economy ratings didn't improve a whole lot. In fact, the highway rating dropped. The 2013 Civic coupe with the automatic had fuel economy ratings of 28 mpg in the city and 39 mpg highway. For 2014, the CVT-equipped model gets 29 mpg city and 38 highway. So it's up by 1 mpg in the city and down by 1 mpg on the highway cycle.
That's not a huge improvement in efficiency with the “upgrade” to the CVT, which is part of Honda's Earth Dreams portfolio of greener equipment. To be fair, the engine is carryover and isn't an Earth Dreams model with direct injection. There is also a weight gain between the 2013 and 2014 model year with the new model weighing in 48 pounds heavier than last year's car when you compare coupe models with navigation. Some of that weight could have come with added equipment or the new body pieces.
I think you can tell that I'm not exactly thrilled with the CVT in the Civic, but that's the enthusiast in me talking who doesn't like the whine at wide-open-throttle. However, the majority of drivers probably won't even notice the change in gearboxes. If you're just light-footing it around town, it is fine and the CVT will change ratios sort of like a gear change. However, if you need to get going in a brisk manner it does get buzzy. I don't think there is any way around that when you have a CVT mated to a lower-power engine. Power is made up higher in the rev range -- that's where the gearbox is going to keep the engine turning when you're trying to pick up speed quick. I will say, when CVTs are paired with more potent four-cylinders (like in the Accord) or V6s, they aren't half bad nowadays.
Besides the altered drivetrain behavior, the Civic coupe remains the familiar handling vehicle. It feels light on its feet with quick and communicative steering that has a smidge of weight tuned into it. The suspension keeps things tidy around corners with a respectable grip on the 17-inch Michelin Pilot HX MXM4 all-season tires. Of course, if you decide to have a little fun and push the little Civic, the front end will wash out but the handling limits of this coupe are more than enough for normal driving. If you need more grip, you probably will overlook the base model Civic anyway and go straight to the Civic Si. There's a well-damped ride quality that softens most impacts from bumps and potholes and brakes are grabby to confidently slow things down.
As Graham mentioned, there aren't many coupes in this class for the Civic to compete with. The Hyundai Genesis coupe and Subaru BRZ/Scion FR-S he mentions are rear-wheel drive, but the Kia Forte Koup is a closer comparison. The problem with the Kia is that it has a torsion beam rear suspension that is a little jumpy compared to the Honda's multilink setup out back. The Forte is a better-looking car and packs a fair bit more power from its base 2.0-liter direct-injected four-cylinder with 173 hp and 154 lb-ft of torque with a traditional six-speed automatic transmission option if you don't go for the manual.
2014 Honda Civic EX-L Navi coupe
Base Price: $24,830
As-Tested Price: $24,830
Drivetrain: 1.8-liter I4; FWD, continuously variable transmission
Output: 143 hp @ 6,500 rpm, 129 lb-ft @ 4,300 rpm
Curb Weight: 2,916 lb
Fuel Economy (EPA City/Highway/Combined): 29/38/33 mpg
AW Observed Fuel Economy: 27.2 mpg
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