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2014 HONDA CIVIC COUPE: Fixing up a favourite

New coupe a coup of an update

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Honda sharpened up its uplevel Civic Si Coupe with a more aggressive grille and new headlight design.

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2012 Honda Civic EX for $0

2012 Honda Civic EX

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ORLANDO, FLA. - In spite of a minor misstep -- the revamped 2012 Civic had to be reworked again in 2013 because of the lacklustre response to its refresh -- the Honda Civic remains Canada's favourite car and it has been that way for 16 years.

In 2013, the Civic handily outsold the Hyundai Elantra and Toyota Corolla, which finished second and third respectively in the car sweepstakes.

The 2014 Civic Coupe adopts the basic styling cues of its four-door sibling, but sharpens things in all areas. Key changes include a more aggressive grille, front fascia, hood and headlight design, as well as a reworked rear fascia and new tail lights. All in all, it's a handsome take on things from Honda.

The uplevel Si is bolder yet, featuring a more prominent lower front bumper, larger rear deck lid spoiler and distinctive diffusers front and rear. It also earns one-inch larger 18-inch wheels for 2014.

The Civic's interior takes several significant steps forward, including some new materials and a seven-inch screen that houses the audio and navigation functions. The screen is exactly like an iPad mini in the manner in which it's finished -- the piano black surround blends seamlessly into the screen, which lends an upscale air to the look and installation. If there is a nit to pick it is that there is not a traditional volume knob. Just like its Apple counterpart, the volume control is a touch thing.

The rest of the cabin stays put, which means the two-tier dash (the digital speedo residing in the upper tier with the tachometer in a binnacle below) remains the defining interior element. The only other comment is the seats are still about the best in the compact segment. There is plenty of support and they proved to be very comfortable on the drive, which pleased my aching back to no end.

The neat feature, and it really is very cool, is the addition of Honda's LaneWatch blind-spot monitor. Pushing a button on the end of the turn signal or activating the right signal activates a camera on the right mirror and displays the view on the seven-inch screen. It shows what the right side mirror would, but in more detail, and it covers a much wider angle.

The upshot is less of a head turn to the right when changing lanes. It is a significant enough piece of technology an argument to make it standard could be made very easily.

The Civic's powertrains have also been tweaked to improve performance.

The engines remain unchanged, although the horsepower and torque for both the 1.8-litre and the Si's 2.0L rises marginally, thanks to a freer flowing exhaust. In this case the 1.8L engine, with its two-stage VTEC system, produces 143 horsepower (up three) and 129 pound-feet of torque (up one).

On all models except the EX-L, a five-speed manual is standard. The improvement in efficiency comes courtesy of a new continuously variable transmission (optional on all except the EX-L). It replaces the previous five-speed automatic.

The bonus, in this instance, is the inclusion of paddle shifters. In drive, holding the paddle back drops the transmission a couple of cogs and holds it for a while. On the drive this feature was perfect for using engine braking to set the Civic Coupe up for a corner.

The better news is found in the S range. It adopts seven preset ratios and functions exactly like a conventional manumatic. On the drive, it proved to be effective enough even I (and I have made no bones about my dislike of continuously annoying transmissions) could live with this transmission very easily.

The S range imparts a sportier feel to the drive and, more importantly, it quells the monotonous motorboating under hard acceleration that is the bane of just about all other CVTs.

It is so much easier on the rider's ears!

The new Civic also boasts better city fuel economy -- it drops from 7.1 litres per 100 kilometres to 6.7 L/100 km, which is a six per cent improvement.

The Si's motor, which, sadly, was not available for testing, will remain the unit of choice. The 2.0L engine gets four more horsepower and four more pound-feet of torque, which means 205 hp and 174 lb-ft. It promises to be a fun car to drive because of the manner in which the engine begs the driver to use the entire rev range. And, based on the current engine, it should retain its composure even as the tachometer sweeps to within one rev of the limiter. The Civic Si is only available with a six-speed manual gearbox.

When compared with the sedan, the new Coupe gets a tauter suspension, which brings a flatter attitude through a corner without feeling harsh when loafing along. Factor in the perfectly weighted steering and you have a car that goes where it is pointed with more composure than many of its peers.

Then there's the Si. The performance-oriented Coupe earns even higher spring rates, new dampers and a stiffer rear stabilizer bar to go along with its P225/40R18 tires. As with the engine, this setup promises to be the best of the lot, remaining flatter through a turn and more responsive to driver input. If it is half as good as the Civic Type R I tested in Japan last year it will be a mighty fine ride.

Typical of Honda, the 2014 Civic Coupe is an evolutionary move, but that is not to say it is an insignificant one. The style is sharper, the interior has more refinement and the new CVT transmission works well enough it should not dissuade a potential buyer.

The Coupe LX with a manual transmission starts at $18,840 and tops out at $25,200 for the Civic Coupe EX-L with Navi and CVT. The Civic Coupe Si has an MSRP of $26,655.

-- Postmedia Network Inc. 2014

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