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Honda is rolling its redesigned Civic coupes into dealerships now, a few months after the 10th-generation sedan made its debut.

Based on a day behind the wheel it burnishes the two-door's reputation for affordable sportiness.

The Civic is Canada's top-selling car for 18 straight years; about one in 10 go out the door as two-door coupes.

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The sedan and coupe, both built in Canada, share most components but the coupe gets a separate front subframe that allows repositioning of the engine and suspension, said John Hwang of Honda Research and Development Americas, who led the engineering work.

Reacting to consumer complaints that the previous generation's driving position was too high, Honda dropped the cabin floor by about 20 millimetres to allow for lower seating attachments.

The Touring, the trim made available for the test drive, is equipped with a turbocharged 1.5-litre direct-injection dual-overhead-cam engine that runs on regular gas.

The entry-level LX with a 2-litre engine costs about $500 more than last year and gets a six-speed manual gearbox. A gearless continuously-variable automatic transmission is optional. The CVT box, which features seven simulated gear ratios, is standard on the EX-T and, surprisingly, the sportier Touring.

The three-pedal Touring won't be available until next year. As a consolation, the CVT comes standard with column-mounted paddle shifters, which Honda says is a Canadian exclusive.

Driving enthusiasts normally loathe CVTs for their rubber-bandiness under heavy throttle. That doesn't apply to the Civic.

Driving British Columbia's Sea-to-Sky Highway, the transmission seemed to find the sweet spot consistently in the turbo motor's broad power band, its peak torque available low as 1,700 rpm and up to 5,500. There was no discernible turbo lag and the only hesitation came when the CVT was hooking up the power as we stomped the peddle at a stop light.

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Honda said about 30 per cent of Civic coupes in Canada are sold with manuals, three times the industry average. We briefly sampled a manual LX and found the cable-actuated shifter light but vague. The CVT actually may be a better choice.

The coupe's electric power steering felt surprisingly natural, quick and communicative without being artificially heavy, with decent road feel considering its drive-by-wire nature. The chassis also delivered on its sporty promise, feeling well planted and with no unpleasant body motions on the swoopy, undulating mountain roads.

Honda worked hard to banish road noise from the cabin but some still seeped in from the back. The turbo also gives the Civic's engine note a moaning quality not everyone will like.

For those who want a harder-edged car Honda, of course, has an Si coupe coming but won't say when.

You'll like this car if ... You want a coupe that's sporty but not intimidating, nimble and is reliable and miserly on fuel.

TECH SPECS

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  • Base price: $19,455; as tested, $27,555.
  • Engines: LX, EX: 2-litre four-cylinder; EX-T, Touring: 1.5-litre turbocharged four-cylinder
  • Transmissions/Drive: Six-speed manual/CVT automatic with manual paddles
  • Fuel economy (litres/100 km): Manual 6.9 combined; CVT 6.7 combined
  • Alternatives: Scion tC, Kia Forte Koup, Mini 3-door, VW Beetle, Ford Mustang V-6

RATINGS

  • Looks: A recognizable Civic coupe silhouette but with contemporary harder lines and a more sporty stance accentuated by shorter front and rear overhangs. Cabin greenhouse is pushed inward to emphasize muscular rear fenders.
  • Interior: Redesign enhances the coupe-like ambiance thought missing from the previous generation. Front bucket seats (cloth on LX and EX-T, leather on Touring) are supportive and comfortable. Recessed gauges in the dash minimize glare. Seven-inch colour display centred high on the dash handles infotainment and many HVAC functions.
  • Performance: Base LX’s 2-litre, 158-hp engine seems fine but Touring’s 174-hp turbo motor is better and works well with the CVT, especially shifting manually with paddles. Some hesitation from a stop but responsive once rolling.
  • Technology: Turbo motor with i-VTEC mated to surprisingly good CVT is a responsive, flexible package. Well-sorted steering and suspension add up to go as well as show. Full array of electronic driver aids, infotainment features.
  • Cargo: Large, well-shaped trunk reportedly swallows three golf bags, split fold-down rear seats adds more luggage space.

The Verdict

8.5

Driving fun that won't break the bank.

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