Driver's Seat: Honda Civic EX-L not bad at all

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2014 Honda Civic 4 Door EX-L with navi vs. 2014 Toyota Corolla LE Eco: Boredom in battle.

First up: Honda Civic EX-L

Price: $24,240 (base EX-L with navi)

Marketer’s pitch: “Start something special.”

Conventional wisdom: Special? Seriously?

Reality: Not as boring as you’d think.

Ahead of its time? The Honda Civic experienced some growing pains over the last couple of years. Its 2012 redesign was not universally loved, which was the baseline Honda had grown to expect over the last 20 years or so. So Honda made a few tweaks and things got better, and now I like it more each time I try it (having tested the 2013 in the interim as well).

I’ve come to the realization that perhaps Honda was just more advanced than us reviewers.

Two-part dashboard: This first struck me as odd when I sat in the 2012. There’s a close-up pod that shows the tachometer and other information, and then a faraway segment that’s low and wide and tells how fast you’re going, how much fuel is being consumed and a variety of other details.

It’s not perfect — it still is hard to see some of the info lights behind the steering wheel, particularly cruise control and other info — but I don’t mind it as much as I used to. I even looked up old photos to make sure it was the same, and it sure was. Obviously I’ve changed, not the Civic.

Cool stuff: A nice tidbit Honda has added to its higher-level cars is a sideview camera that activates with the right turn signal. Drivers get a nice view of the far rear corner, a great assist for passing and changing lanes. It doesn’t come on for left turns — much head-twisting involved there — I wish there were a way to make that work. I’m not usually sold on technological advances, but this one really helps.

Tuning in: The stereo “source” button is clever. Press the steering wheel button, and the upper dashboard display highlights the mode you’re in and shows you can slide left or right to a different mode. It’s a nice way to keep a driver from having to hear, “The waiting is the hardest …” click! “…we jumped, never asking why…” click! “…turn down for what…” click! and then finally get to “now time for traffic on the 7s.”

The screen itself is not as well done. No buttons are available outside the touch screen so it can be difficult to change sources while in map mode, unless you use the steering wheel button.

Shiftless: Civics come with a six-speed manual or a CVT (which replaces the old five-speed automatic). I would highly encourage Civic buyers to learn how to drive a stick. I’ve come to terms with some CVTs and actually found a few I thought were just fine. But the Civics kept the rpms higher than I wanted for longer than I wanted during some less-than-full-pedal startups.

The extreme cold during my January test may have been a factor, but I still was concerned about the transmission taking its time to pop into Drive or Reverse. This would happen not only when first moving, but also within the first mile or so, so pullouts could take a moment. Still, for a small car with an automatic transmission, it wasn’t the worst I’ve endured.

On the road: Handling was not bad for a small Honda. It’s somewhere between the laissez-faire of the Toyota and the small-but-sporty offerings from Mazda. Spring for the Si for a rollicking good time. The EX-L got up to speed in fine time but offered nothing to write home about.

Keeping warm: Heater controls are nice — temperature and fan dials, and then mode is on a button.

Driving position: The leather seat was extremely comfortable. The lumbar was a little more than I would have liked — as most Hondas are.

Friends and stuff: The rear seat feels a little tight but not terribly for its size. It folds down, of course. Headroom and foot room are tight, but the legroom is not too bad. The seating position is fairly comfortable for a back seat. The console holds a couple CDs, but not much more.

Fuel economy: Thirty mpg in a rather slow wintry weather week of driving.

Where it’s built: Greensburg, Ind.

How it’s built: Though it’s recommended by Consumer Reports, the Civic only gets a predicted reliability of average.

In the end: It’s not bad, but I’m not sure I’d be inspired to spend a lot for one.

Next week: The Toyota Corolla.

“Wheels,” a special advertising supplement, appears inside today’s Post-Gazette.

Scott Sturgis, a freelance auto writer, can be reached at

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