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Honda Civic has lots of appeal

The Honda Civic coupe looks slick, drives tightly and has a well-executed interior.

Prices range from $14,810 for a DX to $21,260 for an EX with automatic, navigation and satellite radio. The test car was a loaded EX. Options such as Honda's excellent voice-activated navigation system are unusual for a vehicle in this segment.

This athletic two-door has a surprisingly high level of fit and finish. Tight panel gaps, an energetic interior design and a high level of standard equipment indicate that the EX looks, feels and drives like a car that costs thousands

The Civic coupe has a fashionable low-nose, high-deck wedge shape with short front and rear overhangs and a large, steeply sloping windshield. The wheels fill the fenders nicely and the sloping rear deck has a distinctly European look.

Honda is courting the 18- to 34-year-old segment with its marketing for the Civic, but this car should appeal to any age. Because the 197-horsepower Si coupe is so fast and agile, I expected the EX and its 140 horsepower to feel rather anemic, but that was not the case. The 1.8-liter, four-cylinder engine uses Honda's i-VTEC valve control system that gives the performance of a larger engine and the fuel economy of a smaller one.

The base engine produces 128 pound-feet of torque at fairly low revs, so the car steps out nicely from a stop. Fuel economy, with the automatic, is rated at 30 miles per gallon in the city and 40 on the highway.

It used to be that an automatic transmission zapped the power of a small engine, but that is no longer the case. The test car was quite lively and I found myself enjoying the automatic, especially in city traffic.

Even though the Civic remains an entry-level vehicle, it is larger inside and only marginally longer outside. The wheelbase has grown 3.2 inches to 104.3. Overall length is up by 1.4 inches. Track width is up by roughly an inch in front and 2 inches in back.

The body structure is 35 percent more rigid, and the suspension has been tuned to be responsive yet comfortable. MacPherson struts are still used in front, but the rear is an all-new, multi-link, double-wishbone design.

Anti-lock brakes are standard. The Si and EX models have disc brakes at all four corners, while the other models have rear drum brakes.

The Civic's cabin is distinctively sporty. The instrument panel wraps around the driver and into the center console. Instruments are arranged in a unique two-stage fashion with a digital speedometer up high, just below the driver's line of sight, and a tachometer down lower. The only downside to this arrangement is that the steering wheel sometimes blocks the information window below the tachometer.

The coupe's front seats are nicely shaped and have firm padding and good lateral support. It would be nice if the driver's seat had a top-mounted release to facilitate putting things into the back seat. The passenger's seat tilts and slides forward for ease of entry.

Headroom and legroom in the back seat are not great, but smaller adults can be comfortable there for short drives.

The navigation system is compact, and its buttons are small. The sound quality of the audio system was underwhelming.

Safety has gotten a lot of attention as well. The body structure has been optimized to provide protection in frontal and side impacts. Side-curtain airbags are standard, as are dual-stage front airbags and seat headrests that move forward in rear-end collisions.

The base price of the EX test car was $21,260. Transportation brought the sticker to $21,855.

The warranty is for three years or 36,000 miles, with a five-year, 60,000-mile powertrain warranty.

Engine: 1.8-liter, 140-horsepower four-cylinder

Transmission: five-speed automatic

Wheelbase: 104.3 inches

Curb weight: 2,698 pounds

Base price: $21,260

Price as driven: $21,855

MPG rating: 30 city, 40 highway

To reach Tom Strongman, send e-mail to .

St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Honda Civic has lots of appeal
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