Nevertheless, my Civic Coupe tester was the LX model, which is essentially one step up from the entry-level Civic DX, thanks to standard air conditioning, air filtration, power locks, keyless entry and an armrest; call it well-equipped for an economy car, but nowhere near loaded. Of course loading it up with all the bells and whistles would defeat the purpose if that purpose is to own a thrifty, relatively inexpensive, highly spirited econo-box (or econ-wedge? - Ed.), which is exactly what the Civic Coupe is... and
While assessing my test cars qualities and detractions, I had to keep my expectations in perspective, repeatedly reminding myself that I was evaluating an economy class compact, not an Acura RSX or BMW 3-Series coupe. It was easy to allow the Civics athleticism, solid build quality and sporty design to delude me into thoughts of grandeur rather than thoughts of temperance.
A number of folk espying my silver-bullet tester were surprised to learn that the sleek, eye-catching coupe before them was an entry-level Civic. That astonishment intensified once they climbed into the co-pilot seat and absorbed the unique interior surrounding them. The loudest "ahhh" went to the bi-level instrument cluster, which places a large analogue tachometer where the speedometer normally resides while replacing the conventional speedometer with a large digital readout situated further ahead, just below the base of the windshield. This avant-garde arrangement is quite discussion inducing. In practical terms, it works. The vehicles speed is readily available without casting ones eyes from the roadway. Also beneath the arched canopy housing the speedo is an engine temperature gauge and a fuel gauge. I noticed at night on an unlit road that the blue glow from these LCD readouts is captured on the windshield, however, this annoyance is easily corrected by lowering the illumination setting.
From a very supportive, height adjustable drivers seat - unfortunately sans lumbar support - all of the Civics switchgear is intuitively situated and easily reached. The use of large dials for HVAC and audio settings along with larger than typical audio buttons is refreshing. Too often compact cars suffer from needlessly compact switchgear, difficult to use with gloved hands or without distraction. While the instrument panel may be within easy reach, head and legroom up front hasnt been compromised to make it so; the same cant be said for rear seating positions where real estate is noticeably absent.
When squeezed into the rear cabin my head scuffed the roof liner, and without positioning the front seat forward my tibias were in jeopardy of mutilation. If more than one adult-sized passenger is routinely carried in your travels, the Coupe is not for you. That said, its trunk is larger than it appears from the outside and the folding rear seat opens the cargo-hold up significantly. Oddly, though, the rear seatback in my tester was a solid piece, not split in the usual 60/40 configuration; so again passenger carrying ability suffers, but moving upscale to the EX model reverses the curse. EXers receive a split rear seat as standard equipment. For the extra few cents, why not make them all split?
However if passenger requirements are minimal, climb into the Coupes unique cockpit and marvel at the view out its expansive front windshield. This heavily raked acre or so of glass combined with the Civics short nose is wonderful for reducing wind friction while providing tremendously good forward visibility. Regrettably, wide A-pillars that become even wider at the base can impede peripheral vision, making it difficult to see pedestrians while sweeping into a turn. Apart from the A-pillar issue, visibility is very good for a coupe - and thats most welcome given the fun Hondas stylin, econo-coupe brings to the tedium of driving.
At the heart of the entertainment is a 1.8-liter (110 cu in), SOHC, 16-valve inline four-banger fortified with Hondas i-VTEC, variable valve timing technology. This high-spirited mill produces 140-horsepower at 6,300 rpm and 128 foot-pounds of torque at 4,300 rpm. Its capable of motivating the Coupes 2,621 lb curb weight with gusto that not long ago would have been unheard of in an entry-level compact. Its lively output was funneled to the front wheels through a 5-speed manual gearbox, which made cog rowing effortless thanks to a light-touch shifter and smooth, progressive clutch take-up.
Although Honda has worked hard to improve the operational refinement of the Civics drivetrain, there is no mistaking the cars four-cylinder roots. When pushed hard the little engine makes its presence known, although in a much more composed manner and with less frenetic energy than once accompanied four-bangers hitting full tilt. If lusting after harder-hitting performance, buyers can opt for the hotter Si version of the Civic Coupe, which replaces the 1.8-liter heater with a 2.0-liter, 197 horsepower inferno. The Si also receives a 6-speed stick and sport-tuned suspension to put the extra heat to good use.
Although bereft of the Sis additional BTUs and extra-taut underpinnings, my LX tester didnt disappoint on twisty roads. In fact anything stiffer in the suspension department would simply be overkill for a vehicle whose main purpose in life is frugal, yet sporty commuting, not road rallying. Honda has a long history of lively chassis design, and the Civic Coupe is an excellent example of that. Cornering is stable, flat and free of surprises albeit feedback from the Coupes heavily boosted electronic, power rack-and-pinion steering system is meager at best; yet turn-in response is very good as is the Civics tight turning radius. Nonetheless, if I were to own this vehicle as a daily driver, Id be prepared to trade off a smidgen of its athleticism for a smoother overall ride. The final performance dynamic to examine is braking.