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car review

2013 Honda Civic CoupeTed Laturnus/The Globe and Mail

Not the most practical of body styles, coupes offer none of the practicality of a four-door sedan and sometimes lack even the most basic cargo-carrying capabilities found in hatchback or station wagon configurations. People usually buy a coupe because it's a matter of style over substance, and manufacturers don't sell them in the same volume as a four-door sedan or hatchback.

That appears to be the case with the Honda Civic Coupe. Pricier than its four-door stablemates (by about $3,000 to start), it has less passenger volume and a smaller trunk. Yes, you can get three adults in the back – apparently – but, to quote Bette Davis, it ain't for sissies. Honda is catering to an entirely different group of buyers here and – from a practical, bang-for-the-buck standpoint – you're getting less car for your money.

That said, the Coupe is pleasing to the eye. Honda did a mild restyling job on all its Civic models for 2013, and with the new front-end and rear taillight treatment, it's as good looking as anything else in this corner of the market. The Civic Coupe starts at less than $19,000 and, to my eyes, few similarly-priced competitors can match its sleek styling and visuals.

My tester, however, was a top-of-the-range EX-L with Navi and starts at $25,240 (there is also an Si model, but it has a different drivetrain), which puts it up against some serious competition, including Honda's own Accord.

Power is provided by a 1.8-litre four-cylinder that develops 140 horsepower and 128 lb-ft of torque. This is enough, but doesn't make the regular Coupe a road-scorner. Honda describes this engine as being "perky" and I see no reason to disagree with that. Step up to the Si, however, and you get an additional 60 horses, thanks to a larger engine – this version is a pocket rocket and a favourite of tuners everywhere.

That said, this little engine is a gem; thrifty, quiet, nicely balanced – Honda has essentially mastered the art of building tough, smooth small-displacement, four-cylinder engines.

Transmission choices for the LX and EX versions of the Coupe are either a five-speed manual or five-speed automatic. The EX-L, however, only comes with the automatic. I've driven both the auto and manual gearboxes and, like most Honda products, they are paragons of smoothness and refinement. If there's a slicker clutch/shift linkage setup than that found in the Civic, I'm not aware of it.

The Civic Coupe has an Eco button that allows you to regulate the car's performance to squeeze maximum kilometres out of every drop. This setup allows the driver to monitor his/her driving patterns and alter things accordingly. Booting it away from those red lights a little too enthusiastically? Prone to "jackrabbit" starts? This can help you slow things down. Since this version of the Coupe will deliver 5.0 litres/100 km on the highway, it's already near the front of the pack in terms of fuel economy and exceeded only by various hybrid models and maybe the Mazda3 SkyActiv.

This version of the Coupe is loaded. Standard kit includes the usual modcons – one-touch power windows, cruise control, climate control – plus a multi-angle rear-view camera, navi system, Sirius satellite radio, leather upholstery and heated front seats. No shortfalls here.

It's reasonably entertaining behind the wheel, too. Handling is prompt and responsive – to a point – and that elusive driveability factor that Honda has always managed to build into the Civic is in evidence.

A couple of minor complaints: the Civic Coupe has less headroom than its sedan counterpart – it's closer to the ground by 35 mm, and this means getting in and out of the thing is trickier than it should be. I also found the bucket seats to be a little on the hard side and felt crowded.

But these are minor gripes. The Civic Coupe is a stylish, state-of-the-art economy car. It's thrifty, responsive, nice to look at, easy to manhandle around town and has a good resale value. It also comes with one of the highest safety ratings in this corner of the market. The U.S. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety tags the 2013 edition as one of its Top Safety Picks.

Tech specs

2013 Honda Civic Coupe EX-L

Base Price: $25,240; as tested: $26,735

Engine: 1.8-litre, four-cylinder

Horsepower/torque: 140 hp/128 lb-ft

Transmission: Five-speed automatic

Drive: Front-wheel

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 7.1 city/5.0 highway; regular gas

Alternatives: Toyota Corolla, Hyundai Elantra, Nissan Sentra, Ford Fiesta, Mazda3, Subaru Impreza, Chevrolet Cruze, Volkswagen Jetta, Volkswagen Golf, Kia Rio, Mitsubishi Lancer

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