You’ll recall that shortly after the 2012 Honda Civic landed on our collective consciousness like a half-pound bucket of Play-Doh dumped onto a tabletop—soft, amorphous, just lying there, and with even less play value—the company hastened a refreshed 2013 model. We characterized the compact sedan’s exterior and interior styling upgrades and tautened steering and suspension as baby steps that made the Civic “28 percent closer to the car Honda should have built in the first place.”
It turns out Honda didn’t think the job was finished, either, so we have a 2014 Civic sedan with further alterations. Changes are most extensive for the performance-oriented Si model that didn’t benefit so much last year. Still, the sedan range (base LX, HF, EX, EX-L, and EX-L with Navi—Honda regards the Si as a separate model) gains three useful if not particularly dramatic enhancements: A freer-flowing exhaust squeezes three more horsepower and one more lb-ft from the 1.8-liter i-VTEC four-cylinder (now with 143 horses and 129 lb-ft); a CVT replaces the aged five-speed automatic to eke out a bit more fuel efficiency; and a new, more capable seven-inch touch-screen audio and navigation system takes center stage on the dashboard. The latter allows you to talk to and, for all we know, fall in love with Siri, provided the Bluetooth device you’re linked with is an Apple iPhone 5 or newer.
Amendments don’t stop there. Sedans get upgraded seats with more adjustments, as well as less cheesy interior door trim. An expanded-view mirror on the driver’s side is joined by a passenger’s-side camera that puts a view of your blind spot on the new big screen when the right turn signal is activated. Finally, Honda adds a proximity-detecting key fob and pushbutton start, and wheels on the top models grow from 16 inches to 17. It’s hardly a return to old-school annual redesigns, but neither is Honda sitting pat just because the Civic tops the sales charts in its segment.
We tested an EX-L sedan, its $23,530 price unsullied by optional add-ons (the only one that might tempt us is remote start, at $399), which gave us all the factory goodies on offer. The new CVT is standard on all sedans except the base LX, where it’s an option over the five-speed manual (the Si is the only other Civic sedan you can shift for yourself). Offering the CVT in the $19,980 LX puts it one up on the new-for-2014 Toyota Corolla, which got a new paddle-shifted CVT this year with seven discrete “gears.” But Toyota makes the entry-level Corolla customer endure a four-speed automatic evocative of the 1980s. At Honda, the old five-speed slushbox survives only on the limited-availability natural-gas model.
Getting the Civic in Gear
Compared with the five-speed automatic, Honda says the CVT weighs less, has less internal friction, and offers a 22-percent-wider ratio spread, all contributing to hike the EPA city rating from last year’s 28 to a nice, advertising-friendly 30 mpg. The highway rating stays at 39 mpg, so the combined rating (the large-font number on the sticker) rises by one, to 33. In C/D’s version of real-world driving, we recorded 28 mpg through nasty winter weather and associated congestion. We’d expect the CVT to do better in conditions less evocative of the White Walkers in Game of Thrones.