|Photos by Ulysses Ang|
The Honda Civic is in a very peculiar situation. Next to its other stable mates: City, Jazz, and Accord, it’s quite pedestrian in every sense of the word. Designed during the 2008 economic downturn, Honda banked that buyers would opt for a simple compact sedan with solid but unremarkable virtues: spacious, frugal, and reliable. Instead, all of its competitors moved in a completely different direction, offering cars with features a class or two higher. The initial supply problems (Thai floods) didn’t help things either. And though the Civic is still selling pretty well, it’s not anymore as lauded as its predecessor (at least for critics). Knowing very well that the compact segment is shrinking and the battle getting all the more competitive, Honda rushed in to refresh the Civic this year. The question is: is it enough?
Most of the changes to the 2014 Civic happen outside. The range-topping 2.0 EL now receive a complete MUGEN body kit straight from the factory. Although some have criticized this move as “ricey”, there’s no denying that the revised look fares much better, successfully lifting the Civic out of compact sedan mediocrity. The MUGEN kit gets you spoilers including one that sprouts out the back. All in all, it highlights the Civic’s angular styling better and creates a more lasting impression than the pre-body kit 2.0 EL. With all those MUGEN emblems, you will never, ever mistake it for a 1.8-liter model. Contrary to popular opinion, the MUGEN kit doesn’t reduce the Civic’s ground clearance that much. It can still go through the usual humps and steep driveways without much of a scrape. One criticism though: given Honda is adding that dash of MUGEN magic to the Civic, they should have opted for more aggressive alloys. Don’t get it wrong, the two-tone 17-inch alloys look good, but 18-inch rollers would have done it more justice.
Controversial yet familiar at the same time, the Civic’s interior has been largely kept untouched for this update. Say what you want about the two-tiered gauge cluster’s design, but it’s actually user-friendly. It makes deciphering through the different displays much easier since important once are at driver eye level while secondary ones are slightly below. Making full use of the i-MID multi-information display, Honda is debuting a new touchscreen panel system for the infotainment system. Though it has its roots in the Touch Panel display found in the City and Jazz, the execution in the Civic is decisively more aftermarket in feel. Though the response is snappy enough, the resolution of the screen itself is clearly a notch below. The same can be said with the rear parking camera where its low light clarity is lacking. Unlike the City or Jazz’s system, the system had to reboot twice without warning and for no apparent reason. And let’s not forget that unlike Honda’s sub-compact offerings, this range-topping Civic still doesn’t have a Smart Key push button start/stop or even three-point seatbelts for all occupants (the rear center passenger only has a lap belt).
So while the new touch screen display and lack of interior tech toys make this Civic not so convincing, at least the revised interior materials are welcome. Though there’s still a good abundance of hard plastics, they are better wearing and the color palette’s much more consistent. Finally, it’s an interior befitting a P 1.2-million-plus compact (P 1,368,000 to be exact). The awful rubberized plastics have been shown the door and are replaced by high-luster piano black accents. Like any other shiny plastic surface, they are prone to scratching, but at least they won’t peel off after just a few thousand kilometers.
Because Honda engineers opted to go for simplicity and familiarity rather than cutting-edge with the Civic, they’ve eschewed any sort of engine tricks or fancy gearboxes in favor of ECU tweaks to make the Civic performance comparable to its fancier competitors. Mechanically, the 2014 Civic retains the same 155 horsepower 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine and 5-speed automatic transmission with roots that can be traced as far back as 2004. And while paying a princely sum for what’s essentially a decade-old drivetrain sounds crazy, at least there have been some changes to improve fuel economy. The biggest is the new ECON button that changes the throttle mapping, shift pattern, and even climate control with just the push of a button. The 2.0-liter does 9.91 km/L with ECON on and 8.28 km/L with ECON off. These are great figures considering the more advanced Mazda3 2.0 R does 10.20 km/L with idle start/stop and i-ELOOP. New for the Civic this year is cruise control. Although unused during this test drive, this is a welcome change for those who drive long distances.
With the MUGEN body kit, one expects the Civic to handle like a hot sports sedan, but it’s actually more of a warm sporty family sedan. It’s largely unremarkable. This is welcome news for those who’re looking for a “set it and forget it” car, but the select few who want an engaging driving experience will be disappointed. Sure, it’s refined and comfortable with much better NVH but in the bends, it’s a humdrum performer that neither encourages nor rewards enthusiastic driving. The steering is much more stable but feels less energetic during turn-in while the suspension has been tweaked for comfort but feels numb through corners.
Everyone puts Honda in such high regard mainly because of its reputation for producing fun-to-drive and well-engineered cars. As such, the 2014 Civic can be seen as a hiccup—a car lost in translation between design brief and execution. Although it’s still a seller, it has lost so much of its defining character. The Civic is a Civic because of the sporty experience behind the wheel. Sadly, the new Civic simply doesn’t have this. Still, kudos for Honda for trying to turn the tide with this year’s update. Adding the MUGEN kit adds a sporty style and this is certainly a step in the right direction. Now, if only Honda updates the drivetrain and the Civic will develop into a winner.
2014 Honda Civic 2.0 EL MUGEN
|Ownership||2014 Honda Civic 2.0 EL MUGEN|
|Year Introduced||2012 (Facelift: 2014)|
|Body Type||4-door sedan|
|Engine / Drive||F/F|
|Under the Hood|
|Layout / # of Cylinders||I4|
|BHP @ rpm||155 @ 6,500|
|Nm @ rpm||190 @ 4,300|
|Fuel / Min. Octane||Gasoline / 91~|
|Dimensions and Weights|
|Curb Weight (kg)||1,272|
|Suspension and Tires|
|Front Suspension||Independent, MacPherson Strut|
|Rear Suspension||Independent, Double Wishbone|
|Front Brakes||Vented Disc|
|Anti-Lock Brakes (ABS)||Yes|
|Traction / Stability Control||Yes|
|Parking Sensors||No, Reverse Camera|
|Fog Lamps||Yes, Front|
|Steering Wheel Adjustment||Tilt/Telescopic|
|Steering Wheel Material||Leather|
|Folding Rear Seat||No|
|Power Door Locks||Yes|
|Power Mirrors||Yes, with Fold|
|No. of Speakers||6|
|Steering Wheel Controls||Yes|