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The Civic is built in Alliston, Ont. (M.Hirata)
The Civic is built in Alliston, Ont. (M.Hirata)

2009 Honda Civic Sport

Affordable, reliable: What's not to like? Add to ...

There's no denying the Civic is Honda's most prized possession. It is Canada's best-selling car and has held the top spot for 11 straight years.

The small car is reliable, fuel-efficient and value-packed for the price. The four-door sedan version ranges from $16,990 to $26,680, while the two-door coupe costs between $17,190 and $26,680.

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When it comes to the sedan, there are several models to choose from, including a gas-electric hybrid for $26,350. My tester is a new trim dubbed "Sport" that costs $21,780.

For that, you get a plethora of standard features such as a leather-wrapped steering wheel, 16-inch aluminum alloy wheels, power windows, doors and locks, air conditioning, cruise control and a USB device connector along with a number of safety features - ABS with electronic brake distribution, front airbags, front side airbags, curtain airbags, active front seat head restraints, child proof rear door locks, and lower anchors and tethers for children (LATCH).

Unfortunately electronic stability assist with traction control isn't available on the Sport or lower model trims; it's only on the EX-L, hybrid and top Si models, which cost a few thousand more.

Another selling point is the Civic's impressive crash-test results. The 2009 Civic received a Top Safety Pick designation in the small car category from the U.S. Insurance Institute of Highway Safety. It scored "good" in front, side, and rear-impact crash tests - the highest possible safety rating.

The styling of the Civic, which is built in Alliston, Ont., is conservative, yet attractive. It has flowing clean lines, sharp angles, a low roofline and sloping front end. But the design does fall under the radar simply because there are so many Civics on the road that they blend in - especially if you're driving a silver-coloured sedan. At least there are more vibrant colours available like tango red or neutron blue to add some pizzazz to the exterior.

Inside, however, the Civic is bold and stands out from the competition thanks to instruments arranged in two tiers. It looks distinctive and adds a modern, youthful feeling to the cabin.

The digital speedometer on the top tier is huge and easy to read. It's impossible to miss so you'll never get away with telling a cop you didn't know how fast you were going. The digits are positioned directly in the driver's line of sight so you never have to take your eyes off the road to check your speed.

The dashboard is laid out intuitively - all gauges are simple to use and easy to find, even in the dark. The windshield wipers are a little distracting for me - they sweep across the entire windshield in opposite directions instead of together.

My tester comes with a 160-watt AM/FM/CD audio system, four speakers, and MP3/WMA compatibility. The top Si trim gets a 350-watt AM/FM/CD premium audio system with seven speakers and MP3/WMA compatibility.

Small, handy storage compartments are everywhere - there's a spot to hide cellphones, loose change, sunglasses, maps or pens. Covered front cup holders create a clean, uncluttered look in the cabin.

The cloth front seats are comfortable and supportive; the rear seats could use more padding and space. Shoulder- and legroom is tight for three adults riding in the rear; two passengers are more comfortable.

The trunk is deep but the opening is narrow, so awkward-shaped items may be tricky to get inside. With 340 litres of space, there's sufficient room for groceries and other goodies. But if you need more room, the 60/40-split rear seats fold down for extra flexibility.

Fuel efficiency is another bonus - the Civic sedan averages 8.2 litres/100 km in the city and 5.7 on the highway using regular gas. The Civic hybrid numbers are even more impressive: 4.7 city/4.3 highway.

Powering my tester is a 1.8-litre, four-cylinder engine. It works well, pumping out 140 hp and 128 lb-ft of torque. A five-speed manual transmission is standard, but my tester is fitted with an optional five speed automatic, which costs $1,200. The transmission is smooth and responsive; the ride steady and refined.

The Civic's compact size also makes it a breeze to park in tight spots quickly and easily. On the downside, road and engine noise seeps into the cabin at all speeds. And the acceleration isn't the fastest, either - getting up to speed takes time and patience. But at cruising speeds it's confident and controlled.

If it's power and performance you crave, go for the top Si trim ($26,680). It has a 2.0-litre, four-cylinder engine with 197 hp and 139 lb-ft of torque. But it takes premium fuel and is thirstier. It averages 10.2 city/6.8 highway.

It's no wonder the Civic is a hit with cash-conscious Canadians - it's an affordable, reliable, value-packed small car. And it shows no signs of giving up its top-spot status any time soon.

pgentile@globeandmail.com

2009 HONDA CIVIC SPORT

Type: Four-door compact sedan

Base Price: $21,780; as tested, $22,958.90

Engine: 1.8-litre, SOHC, inline-four

Horsepower/Torque: 140 hp/128 lb-ft

Transmission: Five-speed automatic

Drive: Front-wheel-drive

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 8.2 city/5.7 highway; regular gas

Alternatives: Toyota Corolla, Ford Focus, Mazda3, Nissan Sentra, VW Jetta

****

Like

  • Funky dual instrument panel
  • Price
  • Impressive crash tests
  • Fuel efficiency

Don't like

  • Slow acceleration
  • Electronic stability assist with traction control not available on Sport or lower trims
  • Rear seats tight for 3 adults

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