Honda’s made quite a few of my favorite cars. So I was stoked to see how far they’d come since the last Civic I’d driven; a ‘99 Si that of course ended up in a river at the hands of high school car enthusiasts. The 2015 Honda Civic SE is more advanced, but I don’t know about “better.”
(Full Disclosure: A Honda store lent me this Civic while my TL gets a shiny new OEM oil filter.)
Besides my old friend’s EM1 (a ‘99-2000 Civic Si), may it rest in peace, there was one other Honda that had a big role in formative years. That was a first-gen (first-year) 1995 Odyssey minivan. With the six seats, four “traditional” doors and some plucky 2-point-something from an Accord the original Odyssey was not quick, but it did alright on fuel and had a remarkable knack for swallowing cargo.
When mom was done with her errands I’d quick-release the center seats, throw a leopard-print rug over the latches they left behind, plug in my Spencer’s Gifts strobe via power inverter, and pick up my buddies to plug in their guitar amps and jam out while we rolled to the beach.
There was not a lot to do in my town. Where was I going with that story anyway?
Right; the Odyssey. Ours was a basic one with an optional sunroof and CD player. Kind of like the Civic SE; one notch above the base with a cloth interior and a few more features.
You feel a sort of technological reverence for the new Civic as you climb behind the steering wheel. Or should I say, behind its very business-y bank of display screens.
Four distinctly separate but decidedly large monitors are pointed toward the pilot like you’re in War Games or that guy in Accounting with the supercool cubicle.
At least you don’t have to look at Excel while you’re driving the Civic, but it sure is hard to sit behind that dash and not worry you’re about to see a passive-aggressive email about cleaning out the break room fridge.
A big full-moon tachometer beaming you in the face, a digital speedometer and fuel gauge tucked onto a shelf like a stock ticker, another photo-size screen dedicated to reporting the current radio station, and an enormous infotainment hub floating above the shifter all compete for your attention.
But even with a whole Staples aisle worth of info screens updating me on the car’s speed and current radio selection, the flimsy-ass door cards and cheap dash plastic make me lean toward the word “cheap” instead of “inexpensive” to summarize the experience.
I can already hear your comments; “it’s a $20,000 SE! There’s no comparison to the thrice-expensive King Ranch Rover F-Sport you usually drive!” To which I bring back my comparison to my Odyssey that would have been two decades old this year if I hadn’t dumped it in a river. (Just kidding that one we pawned off on some random guy at a gas station I think.)
The Odyssey had robust door panels that didn’t quiver when they got slammed them or cave when you leaned into them. The cloth trim was taut, while the Civic’s looks tacked-on and deforms with a push.
When you roll the window down the interior panel literally deforms. I thought I was imagining things as it shifted slightly on my knee, like an early “massaging office chair” from Brookstone circa 1998. But no, repeated experiments confirmed the plastic actually pops out a little when the glass gets sucked into the door. Weird.
The new Civic’s seats feel like felt stretched over one of grandma’s old pillows, the window switches are awkwardly light, and you can jiggle the mechanical levers for trunk and fuel filler release way too much.
The turn signal stalks though, are firm and authoritative. So points back there.
The dash on the ‘95 Odyssey, which was about as expansive as the Civic’s entire windshield, felt thick and solid. The Civic’s is thin with some weird faux-leather stitched into it.
But by many measures, the 2015 Civic SE is a fine form of transportation for twenty grand worth of new car. Honda squeezes perfectly reasonable acceleration and almost 40 MPG out of a 1.8 liter 143 horsepower engine. Road noise is minimal, steering is compliant. The “Lanewatch” feature activates a camera for your blindspot when you turn on the blinker, which is neat, and even the CVT doesn’t suck.
And of course as you know or might have guessed, a 2015 Civic has way more toys and safety tech than its 20-year-old littermate.
Is the added cost of those features cutting into the “nicer interior panel” budget? Are automakers just learning where they can cut corners and the least people will notice? Or am I just remembering the old Odyssey far too fondly because it was my high school pimpmobile?
I know Honda’s getting better lately; one need only look at the new Civic Type R or the NSX to see that. And an all-new Civic is coming for 2016. I just hope it’s a little closer to how things used to be; or at least, how I remember them. Hindsight’s 20/20, and all that.
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