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The first Civic concept was revealed at the 2005 Chicago Auto Show to mixed feelings. Generally though, the Si Coupe prototype displayed all the necessary visual accessories such as large wheel, a deep front fascia, a rear spoiler and a trendy paint job to please more than displease. I will admit that the first images I saw on the web made me long for simpler design days, however the pictures of the production-ready Si Coupe made me change my mind ever so slightly.
Only a few days after the arrival of the Civics in dealerships, I was given the occasion to take one for a quick stint on the road. I was handed the keys to a manual transmission equipped silver EX sedan and off I went. Before I describe my experience with the 2006 Civic, I must confess that I was not as enthusiastic about the test as I probably should have been. The last generation Civic (2001-05) left me with such a sour taste in my mouth after I drove it for the first time in 2001, again in 2003 and in 2004 that I almost lost faith in Honda's bread and butter car. The 1996-2000 was such a great package of handling, performance, comfort and reliability that I expected the world from the 2001. So, here I was getting into a 2006 Civic anticipating typical compact sedan behaviour although in an out of character bundle from Honda.
First off, the new Civic is longer, wider and its wheelbase has grown 81 mm. Although the exterior footprint is now larger, the interior volume is actually a tad smaller. From what was one of the largest cabins in its category, this slight reduction will not be noticed. The exterior design of the Civic sedan is very reminiscent of the Toyota Prius: the windshield is heavily raked and the hood seems to flow from it. The Prius has one of the lowest coefficients of drag on our market so Honda's decision to adopt this shape is understandable. A sleeker car will reduce wind noise and even improve fuel consumption numbers. The rear aspect of the sedan now has a decided Acura feel to it; it is less playful and more buttoned down.
There are many things that are striking when entering the new Civic. Whether staring at the NASA-inspired small-diameter steering wheel or at the divided instrumentation (top mounted speedometer and normally positioned tachometer) which are back-lit in a cool-blue color, there is no mistaking that this is a new direction for the common car's gauge layout. The protruding HVAC and audio controls and the vast expanse of dash confirm that this is the new 8th version of the Civic and that it is a far cry from the models of old. The words conservative and bland can no longer be used to describe this car. The plastics are quite nice as are fit and finish which is done in typical Honda fashion. The seats are firm and comfortable. The handbrake is located immediately to the left of the shifter and is nothing more than a small elbow-shaped lever. I guess Honda is working hard on novel handbrake lever designs; think of the 2002 and up CR-V. The shifter itself is very light but is short on precision when rowing through the gears.
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