A Cut Above

We recently compared the Civic with two competitors, the Toyota Corolla and Nissan Sentra. Time and again, editors marveled at how the Civic simply felt like a richer car. The turn-signal and wiper stalks move with exacting precision, and the gearshift moves from Park to Drive just as cleanly. The climate controls' well-crafted buttons operate with astounding quality. The Corolla's clumsy air-conditioning controls are to the Civic's what a Guitar Hero prop is to a Gibson Custom.

Cabin materials are mixed. The headliner is a nice woven cloth material, but the door handles are made of dullish gray plastic. But Honda deserves praise for investing where it counts. Affordable cars can't have expensive finishes everywhere, and too many competitors pad the dash while resorting to cheap, hard paneling on the doors and armrests. The Civic has it the other way around — and given your elbows and arms end up everywhere but the dash, I think Honda got it right.

The driver's seat adjusts far enough back for those 6 feet or so tall, helped along by the standard telescoping steering wheel. The front seats are firm but comfortable, and the bottom cushions provide good thigh support — something few small cars do well. The gearshift sits low enough to allow your knees to spread wide.

Indeed, the cabin is an exercise in space efficiency: Passenger volume for the sedan is less than 91 cubic feet; that's just shy of the Corolla but some 6 to 7 cubic feet short of the Sentra, Kia Forte and Hyundai Elantra. Yet thanks to a cockpit that falls away from you at all angles, the Civic doesn't feel as cramped as its numbers suggest.

The sedan's rear seat sits low to the ground, so adults may find their knees in the air, but headroom and legroom are adequate. The Civic coupe, in contrast, loses 4.3 inches of legroom in the backseat, to uncomfortable effect. Coupes can still seat three in back, but no one will enjoy the ride.

EX, EX-L and Si models get a 60/40-split folding rear seat; lower trims have a seat that folds in a single piece. The sedan's trunk volume, at 12 cubic feet, is on the low side for the segment. Civic coupes have just 11.5 cubic feet.

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