For six million years, the Honda Civic has been Canada's best-selling car. Just kidding.
Actually, the Civic has been the top dog in passenger cars for 12 years running now - even though in 2009, Civic sales were down 13.5 per cent. (Note: the new-vehicle market overall was down 10.7 per cent, so the Civic managed to beat the market in exactly the wrong way.)
Make no mistake about the made-in-Canada Civic; it's a very good compact car. Let me count the ways:
- Excellent crash test scores (a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety);
- Top-notch resale value (Automotive Lease Guide ranks the Honda brand second overall here);
- Outstanding quality (Consumer Reports argues that only the Hyundai Elantra is a better-rated small car overall with an automatic transmission; and the Civic is tops among small cars with manuals).
In all the right rational ways, the Civic is a very good runabout. Except on pricing. Honda tries hard not to discount its vehicles with sales sweeteners and the like and that means you will likely pay more, feature-for-feature, to buy a Civic than most rivals.
Take the $23,475 (freight included) Civic Sport sedan I just test drove. It does not come with any sparkling "deals" - no incentives that I could find, according to the pricing service www.carcostcanada.com.
Now compare that with the Hyundai Elantra, a direct rival and the fourth best-selling car in Canada last year. Elantra sales were up 151 per cent in Canada in December. This is in no small part because the Elantra comes with a $2,850 factory-to-dealer rebate, says carcostcanada.com. The Elantra already starts at a lower price, too.
Or the Ford Focus, No. 8 in sales last year. If you take advantage of the Extended Term Finance Allowance, the factory-to-dealer rebate is $4,000. The Focus is an older design, but it's still a recommended pick from Consumer Reports.
The Civic? You buy this car on its own merits. The so-called "deal" is not what Honda pushes here - unless, again, you factor in the strong resale value and the fact that, last November, Honda Canada cut the Civic's price by $1,000.
That price cut applied to both body styles - coupe and sedan - and all five trim levels. The Sport version is one of them and it replaced the previous LX. As Civics go, it lands right in the middle of the range.
The name "Sport" generally implies performance, yet under the hood is the same 1.8-litre, four-cylinder motor in all the other Civics, save the Si (197 hp). Transmission: five-speed manual or automatic.
Frankly, that's more than enough power. The Sport weighs only 1,226 kg, so there isn't much bulk to move. Obviously, fuel economy is good, too - 8.2 litres/100 km city and 5.7 highway.
What does make the Sport sportier are 16-inch alloy wheels (versus the 15-inch on lesser Civics) and P205/55R16 all-season tires. They are reasonably grippy. Honda says the disc brakes have been upgraded, too, with anti-lock standard.
For a bit of visual flair, body-coloured door handles are standard and there is a different exhaust outlet. The side mirrors are heated and a power glass moon-roof is standard. But you get the latter at the cost of 34 mm of headroom.
What's missing? Standard electronic anti-skid system.
But there is other standard stuff, and the list runs longer than on the base Civic: 60/40-split/folding rear seat with centre armrest, leather-wrapped steering wheel, variable intermittent windshield wipers, remote entry system with electric trunk release, auto-up/down driver's power window and iPod plug-in. The extra dough for a Sport also gets you map lights, an outside thermometer and rear cup holders.
But if you want a better sound system, you need to spend more. The stereo in the Sport is the same four-speaker affair sold with base Civic models.
All those details aside, there is no denying that the Civic is a really fine little car. No other car in this class has crisper steering, better brakes or superior ergonomics.
For a small car, the cabin is comfortable and roomy. The seat cushions have dense foam that makes a long drive palatable. Aside from the odd-looking, two-level instrument cluster, the controls and readouts are perfectly sensible, too.
Honda may not be throwing around the deals here, but I'd bet that even six million years from now, most buyers would say, in 2010, they got good value for their money.
2010 Honda Civic Sport sedan
Type: Compact sedan
Engine: 1.8-litre, four-cylinder
Horsepower/torque: 140 hp/128 lb-ft
Transmission: Five-speed automatic
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 8.2 city/5.7 highway; regular gas
Alternatives: Hyundai Elantra, Ford Focus, Kia Forte, Chevrolet Cobalt, Toyota Corolla, Mazda3, Volkswagen Golf, Nissan Sentra, Dodge Caliber, Mitsubishi Lancer