Good For: Excellence in front-wheel-drive. Most commuters know the Civic to be efficient, inexpensive, and reliable transportation, but when I sat down Civic I was pleased to see that Honda was still catering to me, an enthusiast. A big tachometer takes center stage in the dashboard, and the speedomter has been digitized and moved up to a new second tier display - a great design. Handling feels excellent - the steering rack is quick, and at 2641 pounds for the LX they have kept the weight in control, unlike the rest of the field. All controls are driver-centric - the audio/comfort stack are angled toward the driver with the shifter and e-brake close to the action. The driving position is close to the pavement, and the chassis transmits plenty of tactile and audible feedback - things that I love and most people hate. The seats on even this basic trim Civic have side bolstering that you would usually find in a sporty car. The lighter car has decent performance with just a 140 hp 1.8L motor. Fifth gear's ratio is 0.525 on the automatic transmission, and it works well at cruising effortlessly below 2000 rpm on the highway. Fourh gear is also overdriven (0.721), but step on the gas and the beautiful engine sounds cheer you on as you run to the 6800 rpm redline. If the base Civic is this good, the Si with a 6-speed manual, hot rod motor, and limited slip differential, must be FWD compact heaven.
Compromises: The Civic behaves like Toyotas in one way - the remote won't lock the car if any of the doors are open. There isn't even a warning chime - the car just sits there in refusal.
Overall reaction - Thumb up: The front-wheel-drive compact sedan might be fundamentally boring, but Honda has made the most of it. It is also priced competitively with Nissan and Toyota's boring offerings. Also, Honda proves you don't have to abandon enthusiasts to pursue high volume - the Civic makes the top 10 sales list in the United States quite often, and manages to fulfill the mass market's needs without turning it into a boring machine.
Wednesday, 20th of July, 2011
Good For: Classic Chevrolet commuting. Chevrolet has an interesting habit of continuing the produce the older generation Malibu as a rebadged "Classic" when a new generation is introduced. The 2013 Malibu is not out yet but I will go ahead and stick the Classic badge early. Fuel economy seems to be the top priority with this car, and GM threw in the classic trick to make this car sip gas - a 2.77 final drive and a 6-speed automatic with tons of tall gears. In the passenger cabin, not too much has changed from the last 6th generation Malibu I drove - we still have the classic foot pedal parking brake, a narrow body, and HVAC that has a mind of its own. GM has also canned the innovative Maxx hatchback configuration, and the classic sedan is the only choice.
Compromises: The 2.4L I4 has enough torque to rumble around nicely in the tall gears, but when it's time to get up and go there aren't enough gears to put the engine into the power band. This car has the widest spaced gears I've experienced since driving a 3-speed automatic. Furthermore, the transmission seems to have power control issues on launches, though starting out in M fixes it. Also, the stock Firestone FR710s are garbage (probably optimized for efficiency.)
Overall reaction - None: The Malibu inherits nice GM features that transcend the entire line (Onstar, driver information computer, lane-change blinkers) but the old transmission tricks to boost fuel economy seem so ancient compared to more modern ways to improve consumption.
Tuesday, 12th of July, 2011