Going & Stopping

Though the Civic's standard four-cylinder has unremarkable specs — 1.8 liters, 140 horsepower — it feels peppy enough thanks to a responsive accelerator and a well-mannered five-speed automatic transmission. It upshifts smoothly and isn't afraid to kick down on the highway; it doesn't take much to coax fourth or even third gear in the passing lane. The Mazda3's five-speed automatic behaves similarly, but other automakers' four-speeds largely fall short.

Typical for this class, pushing the Civic hard or loading up with passengers reveals the drivetrain's limited reserves. The engine drones loudly, but its modest torque will leave lead-footers wanting more. One option: Get the manual transmission. Available in every trim save the GX, it makes the most of the engine, and its precise shifter is one of the better ones in this league.

Four-wheel-disc brakes go on EX and higher trims, with rear drum brakes installed on lesser trims. Antilock brakes are standard. Our test car didn't exhibit the best braking linearity; you have to push the pedal a few inches before the brakes really bite down, but overall stopping power is strong enough.

Civic Si models have larger front disc brakes to complement their drivetrain: a 2.0-liter, high-revving twin-cam four-cylinder that makes 197 hp. Paired with a six-speed manual, the Si revs smoothly and packs its strongest punch at high rpm; our friends at "MotorWeek" hit 60 mph in 7.2 seconds in their last Si — much quicker than the 1.8-liter automatic Civic's 9.8 seconds.

Unfortunately, the Si requires premium gas and returns a middling 21/29 mpg city/highway. The 1.8-liter Civic returns a respectable 25/36 mpg with the automatic, or 26/34 mpg with the manual. Here's how those figures compare: EPA Combined Mileage Compared Automatic Manual Kia Forte 28 - 30 28 Toyota Corolla 29 30 Honda Civic 29 29 Hyundai Elantra 29 29 Nissan Sentra 29 27 Ford Focus 28 28 Chevrolet Cobalt 27 29 - 30 Mazda3 27 28 Mitsubishi Lancer 26 25 Subaru Impreza 22 22 Source: EPA data for 2010 sedans with base engines. Ranges are due to fuel-efficiency options.

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