Metro Weekly

Civic Responsibility

2006 Honda Civic

Everybody knows the Honda Civic.

Chances are, you’ve spent a lot of time in one, whether you owned one as your first grown-up car, or spent a lot of time bumming rides from a more responsible friend who drove one, likely for years and years.

I’m one of the latter. One of my best friends in college had a late-’80s Civic that seemed hip and sharp at the time, although he regularly terrified me by driving it just a little shy of 100 mph on Interstate 81 for weekend trips to D.C. (I was totally unsurprised that the little trooper met its untimely demise in a 16th Street crash rather than becoming an automotive senior citizen.) But through all the frenetic driving, it always seemed a solid little car.

I’d been eager to spend some time behind the wheel of the newly redesigned 2006 Civic. Honda’s economy-car-that-could has long been a near-perfect new car for first-time car buyers. It’s cheaper than a Volkswagen, it comes with all the “quality” expectations expected from Japanese compacts, and it looks just nice enough without getting so stylish that it puts off the more conservative buyers. And that’s one of the reasons I’m fairly taken with the 2006 model: It’s the best looking Civic to hit the streets in years.

I’m not saying it’s an eye-popping exercise in style, and I don’t think it’s nearly the boy racer car that so many other critics seem to think. But the sharp nose and tightly designed taillamps bring a needed up-to-date look. Looking at the oddly stacked instrument panel — the digital speedometer grows like a small hump from the dash directly above the enormous tachometer and other gauges — you can’t miss the homage to videogame design. Appropriate, given Japan’s predominate role in the gaming world. The Civic’s dash and design remind me a bit of early Wipeout and some of the later clones of that futuristic racing game. Although lifting some design cues from a Playstation 1 game on the eve of Playstation 3 may not qualify as all that cutting edge.

Regardless, it looks nice. The sedan I drove garnered some appreciative oohs and aahs from some (admittedly Honda-loving) friends. Although I haven’t driven the 2-door coupe, I think it looks a little sharper and is more definitively targeted at competition such as the Scion tC, a pretty fine and popular little car in its own right.

On the value front, at first glance the Civic sedan I tested may seem a bit on the pricey side for an every day economy car. But that price actually includes some nifty options, in particular a full navigation system that you would normally expect to find only on the higher-end models. I know some people question the need for navigation systems in the age of Mapquest, but it’s the type of techno gizmo that will quickly become the most indispensable thing you’ve ever owned.

2006 Honda Civic
MSRP: $20,560
MPG: 30 city/40 highway
Highlights: Nice design, great mileage and reasonable price make for an excellent daily commuter or first new car.
Lowlights: The videogame-inspired dash gauges risk looking outdated within a few months.

Until they invent something better. But we’ll just worry about that when the time comes.

I drove the standard dino-fueled model, although the Civic is also available as a fashionably green gas-electric hybrid. I can vouch that the mileage in the sedan is very respectable even without an assist from Reddy Kilowatt. I drove all over, all week, without making much of a dent in the tank’s supply. Given the impending sense of doom over gas prices, the abstentious use of fuel is a major plus.

As for fun, the dashboard may look like you’re the head driver in an otaku racing paradise, but looks are where things stop. Comfortable, fairly stylish and sensible are the qualities you get from Civic. And if that’s what you’re looking for, it ain’t half bad.

Sean Bugg is Editor Emeritus for Metro Weekly.