Though we are often left wondering why some things achieve immense popularity (Justin Bieber? Crocs?), sometimes folks get it absolutely right. Witness the 2011 Honda Civic. Ever since Ronny Reagan ran the country, the Civic has been the go-to small car choice for consumers, not only due to its legendary quality and reliability but also because of its fun-loving driving dynamics. The fact that it is offered in a range of flavors that would do Baskin-Robbins proud doesn't hurt either.
Through the years the Civic has grown, with today's version being about as big as a Honda Accord from 15 years ago. And it is no longer Honda's littlest car, as the petite Honda Fit and the hybrid Honda Insight are both smaller. But the character of the Civic remains unchanged; it's still agile, comfortable and efficient. Our only significant gripe regards the unavailability of a few desirable features on lower trim levels (notably the volume-selling LX), such as Bluetooth, stability control and rear disc brakes. And the styling within the cabin might not appeal to everybody, as the bi-level instrument panel combines digital and analog gauges into a self-consciously futuristic presentation.
A few quirks are forgiven in light of the Civic's impressive all-around character. As far as the aforementioned flavors, there's something here for everyone from the fuel-sipping Civic Hybrid and clean-burning natural-gas Civic GX to the high-performance Civic Si.
The sporty Mazda 3 is the Civic's strongest rival, offering performance that only the Civic Si can top, along with greater sophistication and the convenience of a hatchback model. The Volkswagen Golf and Jetta also perform well, offering more refinement even though their fuel economy (diesel excepted) is nothing to brag about. The Hyundai Elantra, Kia Forte and Subaru Impreza are also worth considering. And if you want a hybrid, we'd suggest the Toyota Prius over the somewhat pricey, slower and less functional Civic Hybrid.
But really, you can't go wrong with the justly popular Honda Civic.
Body Styles, Trim Levels and Options:
The 2011 Honda Civic is a compact car available as a sedan or coupe. For both, there are five main trim levels: DX, LX, EX, EX-L and Si. On the Civic sedan, Honda also offers the DX Value package, the LX-S, the Hybrid and the GX.
The DX comes with just the basics, including 15-inch steel wheels, power windows, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel and a height-adjustable driver seat. It doesn't even have a stereo, though the DX sedan's optional Value package includes a four-speaker CD/MP3 audio system, an auxiliary audio jack and air-conditioning. The LX adds 16-inch steel wheels, keyless entry, cruise control, full power accessories, center console with a sliding armrest, a folding rear seatback and cruise control. The LX-S sedan tacks on alloy wheels, a chrome exhaust outlet, a rear spoiler, front sport seats and a leather-wrapped steering wheel.
Going with a Civic EX gets you 16-inch alloys, a sunroof, a six-speaker sound system (coupes also feature an exclusive subwoofer) with steering-wheel-mounted audio controls and a USB input, ambient console lighting and a 60/40-split rear seatback with a fold-down armrest. The EX-L comes with heated exterior mirrors, leather upholstery and heated front seats. The sporty Civic Si has most of the EX's features plus a more powerful engine, a sport-tuned suspension, 17-inch alloy wheels with high-performance tires, foglights, sport seats and special interior trim.
As for the efficiency-minded Civics, the GX has a feature list similar to the LX's, while the Hybrid is comparably equipped to the EX but adds automatic climate control.
Options are limited to a navigation system with Bluetooth phone connectivity (the only way to get Bluetooth on a Civic) and satellite radio. It's available only on Si, EX, EX-L and Hybrid models. Heated leather seats can be added to the Hybrid.
Powertrains and Performance:
The front-wheel-drive 2011 Honda Civic lineup offers a variety of available engines and transmissions. DX, LX and EX models are powered by a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 140 horsepower and 128 pound-feet of torque. A five-speed manual transmission is standard, and a five-speed automatic is optional. With an automatic transmission, the Civic sedan goes from zero to 60 mph in a class-typical 9.6 seconds. Manual-transmission models are notably quicker.
The GX also has a 1.8-liter engine, but it's fueled by compressed natural gas and makes 113 hp. It has a cruising range of only 200 miles, but a refueling machine can be installed in your garage. The GX is also America's cleanest mass-production internal-combustion-engine car in terms of tailpipe emissions.
The Civic Hybrid uses a gasoline/electric hybrid powertrain to maximize fuel economy. Its 1.3-liter four-cylinder engine makes 110 hp and is paired to a continuously variable transmission (CVT). For the Civic Si, Honda installs a 197-hp 2.0-liter engine and a limited-slip front differential; a six-speed manual is the only available transmission. The Civic Si zips from zero to 60 mph in 7.1 seconds.
Nearly all Civic models boast above-average fuel efficiency. Civics fitted with the standard 1.8-liter engine earn EPA estimates of 25 mpg city/36 highway and 29 mpg combined (26/34/29 with the manual shifter). The GX posts similar 24/36/28 mpg ratings. The Hybrid tops the Civic lineup with fuel mileage of 40 city/45 highway and 42 combined. Civic Si models have 21/29/24 mpg estimates.
Every Civic comes with front-seat side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags and active front head restraints. Antilock brakes are also standard; however, only EX and Si models have four-wheel disc brakes, while the rest have rear drums. Stability control comes on EX-L, Hybrid and Si trims but is unavailable on the others.
In government crash testing, the 2011 Honda Civic earned a perfect five stars for its protection of occupants in frontal impacts. Side-impact tests resulted in a four-star rating for front passenger protection and five stars for protection of rear passengers. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the Civic sedan its top rating of "Good" for the car's performance in frontal-offset and side-impact tests, but the Civic coupe drops to "Acceptable" (second best) in side impacts.
Interior Design and Special Features:
The Civic's dash features an unusual gauge layout. An analog tachometer is in the traditional location behind the steering wheel, but a digital speedometer and gas gauge reside at the base of the windshield. Some of our editors find the two-tier display distracting, though others say it makes quick visual checks of speed easier.
Otherwise, the Civic's controls are well laid out and easy to operate, and materials are of acceptable though not outstanding quality. Seats are comfortable front and rear, and the rear floor is flat all the way across, increasing the middle passenger's legroom. Rear passenger space is quite good for this class. Regular Civic sedans have 12 cubic feet of trunk space, but it drops to about 10 for the Hybrid and 6 for the GX.
The 2011 Honda Civic handles more confidently than the average compact car, but it's not as capable on a curvy road as the class-leading Mazda 3. Still, for most drivers the Civic's handling will be just fine, and for enthusiasts the Civic Si's sporty suspension tuning and high-revving engine should satisfy. Ride quality is smooth enough, but not as cushy as that of the Hyundai Elantra. In typical Honda fashion, road noise is elevated even at moderate speeds. The Civic Hybrid and natural-gas GX are quite slow; we're inclined to forgive the uniquely powered GX but not the Hybrid, as the Toyota Prius is quicker and cheaper.