Performance

With just 140 horsepower, you'd expect the Civic's efficient four-cylinder engine to be a dud, but it offers a lot of pep. That doesn't mean it has street-racing speed, but it can merge into highway traffic just fine and pass without causing panic. The Mazda3 is probably the only one of the Civic's competitors that's more fun to drive, but of course it's also thirstier at the pump.

The Civic is nimble, with tight steering that also adds to the fun-to-drive factor. The ride is comfortable, but not as cushy as the Corolla's. I didn't mind it during highway commuting, though. Both road and wind noise were minimal for a car in this class.

Best of all for these days of sky-high gasoline prices, the Civic gets 25/36 mpg city/highway. That's near the top of the segment; the less powerful base Corolla is the only one that tops it, and even then it's only in city driving.

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