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car review

2009 Honda Civic SportTed Laturnus for The Globe and Mail

In 2009, Honda offered five variations of its best-selling Civic sedan in Canada. Adding the Coupe and hybrid models brought it up to 11 different Civics on the market, which was the most of any car in this category for this year.

The middle-of-the-pack Sport model, for example, replaced the LX. It featured 16-inch wheels and tires, front and rear disc brakes, a 60/40-split folding back seat, front power windows with one-touch-up/down controls, air conditioning, power sunroof, sporty exhaust and various interior bits and pieces.

Like most of its stable-mates, the Sport was propelled by Honda's tried-and-true VTEC four-cylinder engine. In this configuration, it developed 140 horsepower and featured four valves per cylinder and a single overhead camshaft. This powerplant was arguably the industry benchmark when it came to usable power, smoothness, thrift and linear power delivery. It felt more powerful than it was, and returned outstanding fuel consumption into the bargain.

Plus – and this has been true of many Honda engines for years – it'll probably run forever and can tolerate all kinds of abuse. Honda got its start manufacturing small auxiliary motors for bicycles after the Second World war – at one point using pine tar for fuel – and has turned the under two-litre four-cylinder engine into a virtual art form. They just do not come any better.

You could choose either a five-speed manual or five-speed automatic transmission, and either one worked fine in this application. Again, you'd be hard-pressed to find a more agreeable pair of gearboxes than these two; the majority of buyers opted for the automatic.

But nothing is perfect. The restyled, eyebrow-shaped digital speedometer atop the dashboard was cause for concern. Displaying speed, fuel level and engine temperature, it was ergonomically clumsy. The steering wheel rim obscured it and the whole arrangement made consulting the instrumentation more taxing than it should be. Both Honda and Acura adopted this interior feature on many of their models and it has received mixed reviews, to say the least.

Another drawback to this iteration of the Civic is its low roofline and resulting lack of headroom. This applies to all versions, and large people will find entering and exiting a little tricky. in addition, it can be snug in the back seat, and road noise is more excessive than it should be – a common problem with many Honda products.

But it doesn't matter. The Civic remains Canada's car of choice, and it continues to be the top-selling vehicle in Canada, year after year.

There is just one safety recall to report and it involves both 2008 and 2009 iterations of this car. The problem has to do with a possibly loose fuel hose connector, which could leak in the event of an accident. It is easily repaired, with a locking nut installed on the fuel feed hose bracket by dealers.

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has 14 technical service bulletins on file for the '09 Civic, and these range from the fuel hose clamp issue, to a horn that can randomly go off when turning a corner, to a "clunking, popping or clicking noise" coming from the front wheels, to a sketchy heater fan.

Nonetheless, Consumer Reports is glowing in its appraisal of the 2009 Civic. It gets this organization's coveted "good bet" designation and the highest grade possible for predicted reliability. With the exception of the braking system, it receives top marks in every area. Some comments from owners: "Seats could offer more lumbar support," "Nowhere to rest my right knee," "Great little car, would purchase again" and "Standard transmission works well." Excessive road noise is a common complaint.

Market research company J.D. Power is not quite as effusive in its praise of the 2009 Civic, giving it a just above average rating for overall dependability. High points include features accessories quality, body interior quality and overall mechanical quality, but according to this group, there's nothing outstanding about the 2009 Civic sedan.

You'll also be hard-pressed to find a deal here. Despite the fact that a brand-new 2012 Civic starts at less than $15,000, used models have held their value well. The Sport is priced in the mid-teens and even a base DX is valued in the low teens.

2009 Honda Civic Sedan

Original Base Price: $16,990; Black Book: $13,725-$17,350; Red Book: $11,125-$17,275

Engine: 1.8-litre, four-cylinder

Horsepower/Torque: 140 hp/128 lb-ft

Transmission: Five-speed automatic/five-speed manual

Fuel Economy (litres/100 km): 7.4 city/5.4 highway (manual transmission); regular gas

Alternatives: Toyota Corolla, Suzuki SX4, Mazda3, Hyundai Elantra, Nissan Versa, Chevrolet Cobalt, Ford Focus