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2014 Honda Civic Test Drive Review
The 2014 Honda Civic drives like a more refined and capable vehicle than either its price point or competitive set might indicate. Sophisticated, refined and utterly capable, there are few dynamic flaws in this vehicle.
Proving that you don’t really need to spend more than $25,000 to obtain a safe, reliable, fuel-efficient, technologically advanced and even luxurious sedan, the 2014 Honda Civic exudes refinement in terms of quality and the little details that matter. It’s not a perfect car, but it might just be perfect for you.
Look and Feel
Out of 10
Consider the 2014 Honda Civic to be Exhibit A in the argument against buying “more car.” It’s also an example of just how important the Civic is to Honda, because for the third year in a row, this lineup of compact coupes and sedans gets another re-boot in order to remain as competitive as possible.
From a styling standpoint, the Civic Coupe (covered separately) gets a new look, while the Civic sedan carries over with nothing more than new wheel designs for the EX-L and Si trims. Under the hood, most 2014 Civics are making extra horsepower and torque, and the best-sellers are equipped with a new continuously variable transmission (CVT). Upgraded technology is along for the ride, too, in the form of HondaLink connectivity and services, Smart Entry with push-button ignition, a LaneWatch system showing what’s in the car’s right blind spot and a new 7-inch touchscreen display for most models.
The 2014 Honda Civic lineup hasn’t changed, though the version that runs on compressed natural gas gains a new variant equipped with leather seats, navigation and more. That means the Civic continues in LX, EX, leather-lined EX-L, sporty Si, fuel-efficient HF and Hybrid, and Natural Gas trim levels. The Civic sedan is available in all, the Civic Coupe in the first four.
At this point, we’re going to focus our attention on the Civic sedan, the version we tested. Prices start at $19,180 for the Civic LX, but that’s with a manual transmission. The new CVT adds $800, bringing the sticker price to an Andrew Jackson short of 20 grand. But, the Civic LX CVT includes everything you really need, unless what you really need is a set of aluminum wheels. And if that’s what you really need, the Honda dealer will install a set of 16-inch or 17-inch wheels and tires for less than $1,700.
Or, you can spend an extra $1,900 and upgrade to the Civic EX ($21,880), which includes aluminum wheels. It also includes automatic climate control, a power sunroof, two USB ports, a security system and automatic headlights. New for the 2014 model year, the EX adds a LaneWatch system, a Smart Entry system with push-button ignition, a 7-inch display screen with an upgraded audio system and HondaLink connectivity and services.
For a more luxurious Honda Civic, get the EX-L ($23,530). It includes leather seats, an 8-way power driver’s seat, heated front seats, heated side mirrors, foglights and 17-inch aluminum wheels. For another $1,500 on top of that, it adds a navigation system with voice-recognition technology, HD Digital Traffic, HD Radio, satellite radio and a multi-angle reversing camera. This is the model that I reviewed, painted Kona Coffee Metallic and priced at $25,030.
Early in 2014, the Civic HF, Hybrid, Natural Gas and performance-tuned Si models are delayed while dealers clear lots of the 2013 versions. For 2014, the Civic Natural Gas lineup gains a model with a leather interior, navigation and more. The Civic Si receives a revised suspension, slight increases in both horsepower and torque, and larger 18-inch wheels.
In terms of look and feel, the 2014 Honda Civic is an acquired taste, but one that’s easy to get used to due to the car’s excellent value and ubiquity on American roads. There’s no getting around it: This is a weird-looking car. It has been since 2006, and I’m not a fan of the exterior design, though the new 17-inch wheels installed on the EX-L model in the photos sure look good.
To the uninitiated, a Honda Civic’s cabin comes across as dated and futuristic at the same time. My dad had a Pontiac 6000 STE when I was in high school. The Civic’s two-tier dashboard and digital upper display zone reminds me of it. The new 7-inch tablet-style center control panel takes a good deal of acclimation, and I found it to be very distracting, just as using an iPad while driving would be very distracting. Once I had retrained myself to use the steering-wheel controls that correlate to the system’s simpler functions, and to use the integrated Siri Eyes Free technology, it became easier to perform basic tasks such as changing radio stations, adjusting volume, making phone calls, etc.
There’s no question that the Civic’s interior quality is exceptional for the compact car class. Go ahead. Look through the 2014 Honda Civic EX-L with a magnifying glass. In comparison to other small cars, you’re going to have a very hard time finding something egregiously cheap in terms of look or feel.
Out of 10
For 2014, the Civic’s most popular engine, the one installed in my test car, gets an imperceptible bump in power. This year, the 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine generates 143 hp at 6,500 rpm and 129 lb-ft of torque at 4,300 rpm. Those represent increases of 3 hp and 1 lb-ft, respectively.
The engine is equipped with a new continuously variable transmission (CVT) for 2014, raising the combined-driving fuel economy rating by 1 mpg. The CVT offers Sport and Low settings in addition to Drive and is calibrated to feel as much like a traditional automatic transmission as is possible. The EPA says that a Civic sedan with this powertrain combination will get 30 mpg in the city, 39 mpg on the highway and 33 mpg in combined driving. During a week of driving, I averaged 31.9 mpg while spending lots more time on the freeway than I usually do.
Engine power is adequate, and though plenty of noise enters the cabin when it revs, this 4-cylinder is a model of refinement. Unless you’re climbing a hill or flogging the car to merge into fast-moving traffic, you’re barely aware that it’s whirring from beyond the dashboard.
The new CVT also behaves in a fashion in keeping with the refinement theme. I picked this car up and put almost 75 miles on it before remembering that it even had a CVT—that’s how unobtrusive it is and how natural it feels from behind the wheel. Rarely do revs hang at steady-state rpm. Rather, revs climb as speed gathers, and as soon as the driver releases the accelerator, revs fall. Honda has built artificial “gear changes” into the software to help make the transmission sound and feel like whatever the driver just traded in. A Sport mode holds the engine at higher revs when desired.
The Civic’s electric steering is almost faultless. On rare occasions it feels a small step behind the driver, or slightly too light in terms of effort level, but it unfailingly delivers precision, and the small-diameter wheel is a joy to hold. Likewise, the brakes are expertly calibrated, robust and capable, drawing virtually no attention to how they operate regardless of the driving situation.
Ride quality is on the taut side, but the Civic never beats you up. It simply communicates what you need to know about the road surface. If you decide to travel faster than the posted speed limit, the Civic is a willing conspirator—to a point. Then the stability control system rudely interrupts the fun. But that limit is remarkably high, and in advance of reaching it the Civic is tossable, precise and genuinely fun to drive.
My Civic EX-L’s larger wheels and tires certainly have something to do with this. However, plenty of road noise makes its way into the cabin, and in combination with the occasional engine racket and highway wind noise, the resulting cacophony can make the Civic a tough place to hold a conversation.
Overall, the 2014 Civic drives like a more refined and capable vehicle than either its price point or competitive set might indicate. Sophisticated, refined and utterly capable, there are few dynamic flaws in this vehicle, and they’re largely limited to the amount of noise that makes its way into the cabin on certain kinds of pavement and under certain driving conditions.
Form and Function
Out of 10
One big reason the 2014 Civic Sedan makes a strong argument against buying “more car” is because it is surprisingly roomy and comfortable inside. The driver’s seat is excellent, wrapped in decent leather, providing commendable thigh support and giving the driver soft places to rest arms on the upper door panel, the door panel armrest and the sliding center armrest. The small-diameter steering wheel is comfortable to hold, and the Civic feels spacious thanks to thin windshield pillars, large side mirrors and expansive windows.
The front passenger’s seat is nearly as comfortable as the driver’s. It doesn’t offer height adjustment, but it sits tall enough off of the floor to deliver good thigh support and an expansive view of surroundings.
Passengers relegated to the rear seat are unlikely to complain, either. The bottom cushion sits high with great thigh support. There’s lots of room for big feet under the front seats, and a carpeted panel is designed to reduce the possibility of shoe scuffs. The soft front seatbacks are kind to knees on the infrequent occasions when there is contact. Plus, it’s easy to get into and out of the rear seat. If I have a complaint, it’s related to what I perceived to be a hint too much lumbar intrusion in the backrest. But that’s nitpicking, really.
Need to carry some junk in this car’s trunk? It measures 12.5 cubic feet, which is not huge, but the space is usefully shaped. The rear seats fold down in order to expand room when necessary.
Aside from the distracting tablet-style infotainment system, the 2014 Civic’s control layout is refreshingly simple and intuitive. In my EX-L test car, illuminated steering-wheel controls helped me to adjust stereo volume, select sources of media, activate the Siri Eyes Free technology and scroll through the driver information display’s screens. Normally, I find steering-wheel controls to be less helpful than dashboard controls, but not in the latest Civic. The opposite is true.
With the addition of Honda’s Smart Entry system with push-button ignition, there is another new wrinkle in the Civic’s traditional ergonomic goodness. On several occasions, I accidentally activated the hazard lights rather than the ignition button, but I think most owners will quickly acclimate to the layout.
Out of 10
With the arrival of the 2014 Civic, Honda kicks the car’s technology up a notch. As was true last year, the Civic LX includes Bluetooth connectivity and music streaming, text messaging support, a USB port and access to Pandora Internet radio. The Civic EX, however, gives people several more reasons to upgrade thanks to a standard Smart Entry passive entry system with push-button start, as well as next-generation HondaLink smartphone pairing and services.
The Civic EX also includes the new 7-inch infotainment display screen in the center of the dashboard, one that supports Siri Eyes Free operation when an iPhone is paired to the system and which responds to screen pinching, swiping and tapping, just like a smartphone or tablet computer. Oddly, as a devotee of everything Apple, I often found myself staring blankly at Honda’s display, trying to figure out which menu might house a specific command or control. Also, I didn’t find the screen’s tablet-style controls to be particularly sensitive to my fingertips, and the collective result was frustration and distraction, especially if I tried to use the system while driving.
Look, I realize that this kind of technology is going to be ubiquitous in every car. But some systems are definitely better than others, and my current favorite is Chrysler’s Uconnect 8.4 system. Not only is that system super-easy to use and responsive to touch, but it offers actual knobs for volume and tuning, just like one of them old-fashioned radios your grandpappy used to listen to.
The new HondaLink technology takes a leap forward in terms of functionality. It offers four primary applications that provide the system’s user with pathways to associated content: Connect App, Navigation App, Aha App and Launcher App. Notably, the Navigation App gives Civic owners access to turn-by-turn navigation service without opting for the pricey hard-drive navigation system that is optional for the EX-L model. The new technology also includes new HondaLink Assist service, which includes emergency assistance in the event of an airbag deployment. Additional highlights include access to social media feeds, global Internet radio stations and the ability to find and add third-party apps to tailor the system to individual preferences.
Despite my trouble with the infotainment system’s display, I’m rating the Civic highly for technology, because my experience won’t necessarily be your experience. The fact of the matter is that a 2014 Civic delivers an impressive level of tech for about $25,000.
Out of 10
When it comes to small cars, the Honda Civic is one of the safest cars you can buy, thanks to a 5-star overall crash-test rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and a Top Safety Pick rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The Civic Hybrid even gets a Top Safety Pick Plus rating thanks to its standard Forward Collision Warning system, which is inexplicably unavailable on any other Civic trims. Honda also offers a Lane Departure Warning system only on the Civic Hybrid.
The Civic’s crash-test performance is due, in large part, to its Advanced Compatibility Engineering body structure, which is designed to help the car better protect occupants in crashes with a wider variety of other vehicles in addition to dispersing crash energy around the passenger cabin. An expanded-view driver’s side mirror, a reversing camera and SmartVent front side-impact airbags are standard for all 2014 Civics, in addition to the usual safety-related suspects.
The Civic EX and higher trim levels are equipped with a LaneWatch system that displays a camera view of traffic on the right side of the vehicle, and which I think is more distracting than a traditional blind-spot information system. Models with the optional navigation system add a multi-angle reversing camera with a 180-degree view of what’s behind the vehicle.
Out of 10
Unless you’re leasing a 2014 Civic, you’ll pay a premium to buy one. There are two reasons for this. The first is that Honda typically does not offer rebates or other incentives to consumers aside from low-rate financing (though dealers often earn extra money on the back end of the deal). The second is that Honda is, as this review is written, still clearing out inventories of the 2013 Civic. Until those are gone, you’ll need to pay at least invoice price for a 2014 model, according to TrueCar.
Don’t get too fixated on up-front pricing, though, because ALG says that the Honda Civic is expected to retain a big chunk of its value over time, and Consumer Reports data reflects astounding reliability for this model combined with low expected costs of ownership. While Intellichoice and J.D. Power are not quite as effusive with their ratings for the Civic, this Honda remains a good bet in terms of trouble-free ownership combined with a minimum of investment over time.
As is common, the Civic’s EPA fuel economy rating appears to be a bit inflated. Granted, I did not drive the car with the Econ mode engaged. But I did spend lots of time on flowing freeways and averaged 31.9 mpg after a week of driving, short of the EPA’s estimate of 33 mpg.
Christian Wardlaw has nearly two decades of experience reviewing cars, and has served in editorial leadership roles with Edmunds, Autobytel, and J.D. Power and Associates. Chris prefers to focus on the cars people actually buy rather than the cars about which people dream, and emphasizes the importance of fuel economy and safety as much as how much fun a car is to drive. Chris is married to an automotive journalist, is the father of four daughters, and lives in Southern California.