It’s hard to find a more competitive new car market than the compact class. And it’s more than just price, as the number of entries has skyrocketed in recent years.
Honda once led the class, in every measure that mattered, from performance to price to quality to pizzazz. And just as important image-wise, Honda led the hot, sport compact niche. In fact, many credit Honda with unknowingly creating the sport compact craze with the Civic CRX.
In recent years, however, the four-door Civic, the sedan that carried the water for the company, has been more bland than beautiful, more efficient than exciting.
No more. With the redesigned, restyled, rejuvenated 2006 Honda Civic models, the company has returned to the fray with renewed energy.
Across the line, there’s more power, improved ride and handling, and better people packaging. There are more choices as well: a sporty new Civic Si coupe, a fully populated tier of coupes and sedans with new engines and transmissions, and a more efficient and effective Hybrid sedan. The jury’s still out on some of the more ambitious styling ventures, but overall, the new swoopy look turns heads and generates smiles.
If the 2006 Civic’s exterior is new, the ’06’s interior borders on shocking. First impression of the instrument arrangement is of a video game. Controls are for the most part where they should be, but not necessarily as they should be. There’s little symmetry in organization or shape of features and interfaces. It’s not an unpleasant look, but one that requires some acclimation. Ironically, perhaps, the interiors are indistinguishable across the full line, with only minor differences necessitated by the different powertrains.
Splayed across the top of the seemingly unending dash in front of the driver is a hooded opening with a digital speedometer between LCD coolant temperature and fuel level gauges. Down below, in the more common place for the instrument panel, in the half circle formed by the top half of the steering wheel, that is, there’s a large, round, analog tachometer. To each side of this lower IP are large, irregular vent registers. Centered in the dash above the climate control panel is either an LCD window combining the navigation display and audio settings and, in the Hybrid, a selection of graphic depictions of the hybrid system’s functions and status or a stereo control head with the pertinent accoutrements. To the right of this squished pod-like arrangement, the dash curves away from the front seat passenger and houses two, more horizontally oriented vent registers, again neither of which matches the other. A wide, but not especially deep glove box rests below a cabin-wide, clam shell-like notch dividing the upper and lower halves of the dash.
There is no center stack to speak of tying together the dash and the drive tunnel. Below the climate control panel is a shallow storage bin with a power point and an audio input jack on the left side. Forward of the metallic-trimmed block of plastic serving as a base for the hand brake and shift levers is a good-sized, rectangular storage bin. Another, shallow cubby is tucked in between the shift lever housing and a pair of seat bottom-level cup holders under a sliding cover. Aft of this is an abbreviated, padded armrest covering another storage bin, inside of which is a second power point. Each door has a hard plastic map pocket. A magazine pouch is on the rear of the front passenger seatback. Architecturally busy interior door panels could be friendlier to fingers in terms of grips and pulls, but armrests provide good support at the right level.
The trunk is fully finished, although Honda blew a perfect chance to make points with owners in slushy snowbelt states by neglecting to mold an inside pull-down into the lining under the trunk lid. A thoughtful touch is a spare tire well large enough to hold the full-size tire the compact spare will replace temporarily in the event of a flat.
The 2006 Civic siblings are easily competitive with other cars in their classes when it comes to interior room. Oddly, however, despite adding more than three inches to the sedan’s wheelbase (the distance between the front and rear tires) and more than in inch in overall length vis-a-vis the 2005, front seat leg room is the same and rear seat leg room is actually less, by more than in inch, in the 2006. Hip room does increase in the ’06, however, by almost half an inch in front and by more than in inch in the rear. Almost oversize rear doors provide easy rear seat access. Cargo space, again oddly, drops by almost a cubic foot and trails the class leaders by a couple cubic feet; the Hybrid gives up another 1.6 cubic feet to battery and such. The coupes’ wheelbase grows by more than an inch over the 2005, from 103.1 inches to 104.3, and loses about half an inch in overall length, to 174.8 from 175.4 inches, with much the same result for occupants. As in, there’s about the same front seat leg room and less rear seat leg room, by almost three inches, but more hip room by around three inches front and rear.
The Honda Civic is back. Not that it ever left, but it had fallen behind the curve a bit, and not just because the competition had expanded and improved. With the 2006 lineup, however, the car that for years set the quality and performance standard for the affordable, compact car market has returned, and now with the style to match the specifications.
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