Fuel-efficient and peppy engine, user-friendly controls, roomy interior, large trunk.
Controversial gauge design, rear-folding seat not split.
Not many relationships can last 35 years. Yet Americans are still in love with the Honda Civic, a car that debuted in the 1970s and has gone on to be one of the best-selling cars in the U.S. Sure, the Civic hasn't often been the flashiest of the economy sedans out there, but it has always boasted the most desirable attributes of a successful long-term partner: reliable, safe and economical. And the Civic has still managed to keep its youthful look over the years thanks to occasional reworkings and face-lifts. The most recent redesign dates back to 2006 and includes dramatic exterior styling and a futuristic dash design.
We decided to test a 2008 Honda Civic to find out how well this latest Civic is faring in the marketplace. Our test car was a four-door, five-seat Civic LX sedan — a step above the base model. It comes standard with many features that are pretty much expected these days, such as antilock brakes, side and side curtain airbags, a CD player and an auxiliary audio jack. These features, along with impressive build quality, a fuel-efficient and peppy engine and plenty of cargo space make the 2008 Honda Civic LX a great all-around economy sedan.
Don't think of using the Honda Civic LX as a getaway car — it isn't going to blow the doors off any highway patrol vehicles. But the 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine, which makes 140 horsepower and 128 pound-feet of torque, still has plenty of power for just about any other situation. Our five-speed automatic-equipped Civic accelerated from zero to 60 mph in 9.6 seconds, which is quite respectable for a small sedan; for comparison, a Mazda Mazda3 with the 2.0-liter engine we recently tested got to 60 mph in 9.8 seconds.
One nice attribute about the Civic was its frugalness — for the time we spent with our 2008 Civic LX tester, we averaged 27 mpg. The EPA gives the Civic a 25 mpg city rating and a 36 mpg highway rating, both of which rank near the top of the economy sedan segment.
Braking, while mostly on par with the class and price point, leaves a little to be desired. We found significant ABS noise and shudder during the braking test, especially up front. The Civic also has a tendency to wander slightly under full braking.
These aren't issues that will likely come up during less stressful driving, of course, and it was here that the Civic shines. The steering is accurate and the handling, though modest in terms of absolute limits, is sporty enough to make the car fun to drive on twisty roads.
The 2008 Honda Civic LX is particularly roomy for a small car. There is plenty of headroom and legroom in both the front and the rear. The fabric front seats in the Honda Civic LX are comfortable, but in a hang-out-on-the-sofa kind of way, as opposed to a stay-awake-and-drive-all-night kind of way. While soft, they lack any bolsters or reinforcements for additional support. The manual adjustments offer a broad range of seating positions, and a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel comes standard. Some of our taller staffers remarked that the Civic's driver seat doesn't go back as far as those on some other models we've tested, such as the Toyota Corolla. The backseat sits three adults relatively comfortably, and the completely flat floor in back saves the middle rear passenger from having to navigate any uncomfortable humps.
The Civic's small, yet reasonably thick steering wheel feels good in our hands and reminds us of those found in sportier cars. Overall visibility from the driver seat is just fine, but the positioning of the Civic's pillars and headrests create a couple of blind spots.
While driving, we experienced a good deal of wind and road noise, but it wasn't uncomfortable or overly distracting. (Hondas in general aren't particularly known for their quiet ride.)
It might be a stretch to call the 2008 Honda Civic controversial, but one of the styling cues that seems to cause quite a stir among drivers is Honda's split gauge cluster design. A traditional tachometer is in the usual spot behind the steering wheel, while the digital speedometer and fuel gauge sit higher up in the dash, above the sight line of the wheel. While this seems strange at first, we find that the placement makes it easy for us to check our speed and fuel levels without having to take our eyes very far off the road. And the icy blue lights on the black display are very pleasing to look at. Other controls, such as those for climate, are simple and easy to use.
The 160-watt, four-speaker AM/FM/CD audio system doesn't shake anyone's windows while we wait at red lights, but it does an adequate job of playing our tunes. Auxiliary audio jacks are a must-have feature these days, and the Civic LX comes standard with one. We noticed how a tray in the center console between the gearshifter and the cupholders was the perfect place for our MP3 player to sit while plugged in.
Trunk space is impressive, as we were easily able to fit a large suitcase and two sets of golf clubs horizontally, with a bit of room to spare. Our only complaint is that the folding rear seat only comes down as one unit; it's not split.
Design/Fit and Finish
The fit and finish of our 2008 Honda Civic LX is impressive, and we generally think the Civic is one of the best in the segment in this regard. On the outside, body panel gaps are tight and consistent. On the inside, a mix of colors and textures keep the car visually interesting without being garish. Materials are of decent quality — the seat cloth, for example, is one of the nicest in the price range (but we would avoid getting the light color our test car came with). Overall, the Civic's interior gives the impression that you're driving a more expensive car than you actually are.
Who should consider this vehicle
A student, retiree or small family who wants a well-performing economy car. Alternately, a road-weary commuter who's ready to ditch the big SUV for better gas mileage and a lower cost of ownership.