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Fuel-mileage on 160-mile loop: Before taking final delivery on a new car, I always go on a 160-mile test loop to see if I find any problems with the steering, ride, engine, transmission, etc. (I started doing this after getting stuck with a Sable that had alignment problems that weren't apparent from the typical new-car test drive; those issues were never resolved.) This loop has the added advantage of alternating uphill and downhill portions, so it is great for gently breaking in green engines. The uphill portions are long enough to build up the cylinder pressure without overtaxing the new engine, followed by downhill portions to allow the engine to cool. Sections of this loop have high-speed corners (posted for 50, most vehicles can comfortably take them at 70-75); there is a short 5-mile section near the top with bumpy, low-speed hairpin turns. There is also a mild off-road portion near the top of the hill, but I didn't take the Civic on this section (the Ridgeline did well on this off-road portion when I took it on the loop). Overall, this road climbs 4000 feet over 80 miles, and is a great exercise for the grade-logic in the automatic transmission. I fill the tank to the brim at the beginning (see my section below on real fuel capacity), climb the hill and fill the tank again for a mileage reading, then back down the hill for a final mileage reading. Virtually every vehicle I've taken up this hill returns the EPA city estimate going uphill at about 72 MPH, followed by the EPA highway estimate going downhill. The downhill portion still includes uphill sections, but it is a net drop of 4000 feet stretched over 80 miles.
My 06 Civic sedan with automatic returned 32 MPG going up the hill, and 39.5 coming down; A/C was on all the way. These are great numbers from a brand-new engine, and convinced me this vehicle would indeed pay for itself as I had planned with its fuel savings compared to my truck. I have comments on other aspects of the engine and transmission later in this review.
Steering Wheel Switches & Audio System: The feel of the switches on the steering wheel, as well as the multi-function turn-signal lever, is slightly better than on the Accord and Odyssey (I realize this is a subjective opinion that you will have to confirm for yourself). The location of the steering wheel switches, however, is better on Accord/Odyssey. With the Civic, when my hand is on the spoke where it would normally be for driving, the switches are positioned too far outboard, so I have to lower my hand on the wheel to use the switches. The Accord/Odyssey steering wheel has the switches placed farther inboard from the rim, so when my hand is on the spoke, the switches fall naturally under my thumb. It's not a huge hand adjustment to use the Civic switches, but the Accord/Odyssey layout is noticeably better when driving the vehicles back-to-back.
I have included a picture of my Nissan steering wheel for comparison. Like Accord/Odyssey, the Nissan switches are placed inboard just enough to be convenient to use when your hand is on the steering wheel spoke. By comparison, the steering wheel on an 06 Camry (not pictured) has the switches spread out over such a large vertical area that it takes multiple hand movements along the rim to use them, almost eliminating the convenience of having steering wheel switches in the first place. Toyota learned from their mistake and has the audio switches grouped tighter on the 07 Camry, similar to the Accord/Odyssey/Nissan design.
One feature both Toyota and Nissan (and Mazda, I believe) have that Honda has still failed to include is a way to turn the sound system on or off from the steering wheel. Toyota does this by holding down the mode button. Nissan's design is best of all because they include a separate power button next to the mode button on the steering wheel, as shown in the picture. Switching off the stereo by holding down the mode button (Toyota) is better than no ability (Honda), but has a slight 1+ second delay. Switching the stereo off with a separate power button (Nissan) allows this switch to double as a mute button because it works instantaneously.
With the 06 Civic Honda has added some great features to the "CH" button, but they fell a little short of a home run. On non-navi Civics, holding the CH button for a second in either direction gives a beep, followed by the radio seeking the next station in the appropriate up or down direction. (Navi-Civics not having this feature seems to be an oversight.) In addition, during SCAN mode, holding the CH button for a second in either direction will stop the SCAN, a great addition. The SCAN mode itself now plays each station (or CD track) for 10 seconds (a little too long in my opinion), then fades out before scanning to the next station (or track).
Where Honda boo-booed was not including this multi-function capability of the CH button when playing CDs. It would have been great to include a FF/RW option when holding the CH button during CD playback. It would also have been nice to be able to stop CD SCAN by holding the CH button, similar to the way the radio now works. Instead, the CH button is a single-use track change button during CD playback, similar to other Hondas.
The 06 Civic is the first Honda I know of that gives album, track (song) name, and artist readout for appropriately encoded CDs; it even remembers your display preference when changing CDs. It's odd that Honda added data readout for CDs but didn't include RDS for the radio. As an aside, if Honda added RDS, then they could also add real-time traffic to the Navi. Garmin makes GPS units that get free real-time traffic from FM using RDS; Garmin also pulls traffic from XM if you subscribe. I know the 05 Acura RL pulls traffic from XM, but don't know if the 06 RL has added the capability to pull traffic from FM like the Garmin units.
The cruise control power button and CRUISE MAIN light seem like a waste, as I leave mine on all of the time. The CRUISE CONTROL light that comes on when the cruise control is actually controlling speed is all that is really needed. Interestingly, I recently spent time in an 06 Camry and discovered it did not have a light indication when the cruise control was engaged; the only way to tell it was working was to let off the gas. I like Honda's system with an engaged indicator light better.
Other Switches and Instruments: Adding separate switches on the dash for resetting the odometer, changing the display intensity, etc. is brilliant. It enhances safety because you no longer have to reach over/through the steering wheel to adjust the little knob or button that cars normally have. It also makes it easier to clean the instrument display since there is no longer a knob you have to wipe your rag around.
The instrument displays are typical top-notch Honda, with good illumination and readability day or night. As is the case with all newer Hondas with electroluminescent instruments, you can individually adjust the display brightness for day or night, and the system remembers your setting the next time you turn your headlights on or off. The balance between the level of instrument and center stack illumination at night is perfect. With many cars, either the instruments are too bright and the radio and center stack switches are too dim or vice versa, but Honda got it just right with the Civic.
Some have complained about the two-tier instrument display and digital speedometer. One drive on a twisty road and you'll wish your other cars had this, too, as it makes it much easier to check your speed going into and through a fast corner than with a conventional display; it's almost as good as the HUD in my friend's Corvette. The speedometer readout itself is filtered to prevent blinking between one digit and another when you're right on the edge between speeds. I confirmed this with my GPS unit that gives speed to the nearest tenth. I was able to change my speed by 1.0 MPH with no change in the digital speedometer readout; once I stabilized with a ~1.2 MPH differential, only then would the digital speedometer change digits. The speedometer itself reads less than Ĺ% low (I'm guessing the DX and Hybrid with 15" tires might read a fraction high), and the odometer is 0.7% high (shows 100.7 miles for an actual 100 miles traveled). Both of these tight stats are within the parameters I've measured on my Accord and Odyssey. By comparison, the speedometer on the 01 Silverado I used to own read 3% low, and the speedometer and odometer on my Frontier both read 3.5% low.
Another nice touch was moving the blinking red light for the alarm system high up in the instrument panel next to the digital speedometer readout. This makes it easy to visually confirm the alarm is set because you can see the light through any of the side or rear windows. This light is important to me because it confirms that all the doors, trunk, and hood are closed and lock. Yes, you can confirm the same thing with the horn, but there are times when you don't want the noise of the horn.
With the combination of DRL and electroluminescent displays, there is a potential to unwittingly drive at night with your headlights off. The 06 Civic, like other Hondas, uses the high beams at partial intensity as DRL. The high-beam indicator illuminates part way when the DRLs are on, but you won't notice this during the day.
The first picture shows the display with the headlights off and DRLs on. If you look closely, you can see the dimly lit high-beam indicator. The second picture has the parking lights and DRLs on, but no headlights. This is what you get if you rotate the headlight switch one click instead of two. It can deceive you into thinking your headlights are on because the dash lights dim and the green Lights On Indicator next to the blue high beam indicator turns on. Your only indication that your DRLs are on but your headlights are off is the dimly lit high beam indicator. Once you turn your headlights on, the high beam indicator goes blank unless, of course, you actually select the high beams as shown in the third picture. Notice how much brighter the high beam indicator is with high beams on vs. DRL. As a technique, if you can see the partially lit high beam indicator, it's probably dark enough to turn on your headlights. Of course, automatic headlights would be even better, but Honda didn't include that feature on the Civic. Honda did include the feature, like other Hondas, whereby the low beams stay on whenever the high beams are on, greatly improving nighttime illumination on dark roads. All manufacturers should include this simple safety feature.
The Civic includes a dash readout for the gear selected with the automatic transmission. Accord and Camry have this feature, too, but Corolla does not.
The Civic includes the Maintenance Minder system that is making its way into all newer Hondas. This system would be even better if it included miles remaining before service as well as a percentage of oil life remaining, similar to the display choices GM provides with their maintenance minder system.