Pour a gallon into the Honda's tank and it'll swish it and swirl it, and eke it out for 36 miles on the highway. Fill up its 13.2-gallon tank and it'll run for 480 miles - that's from Tampa to The Big Easy - before it needs topping. And that's with the regular Civic LX sedan I've been driving. Opt for the gas-electric Civic Hybrid and you're looking at a miserly 45 highway miles to the gallon.
But highway mileage isn't everyday mileage, I hear you say. That's why I brimmed the tank on my Civic LX four-door tester and spent a week and 250 miles zipping around the Bay area. The result? A real-world average of 29 miles to the gallon. Such fuel economy is one of the reasons Civics have been selling like Oscar Mayer wieners on the Fourth of July. Of course, it helps that the Civic is priced like it's on a Wal-Mart Rollback. You can get into a base Civic DX two-door coupe for $14,810 plus tax, tag and destination charges. Or a DX sedan for $15,101. Our nicely-equipped LX sedan with a 5-speed automatic - surprisingly, the automatic version is more economical than the 5-speed manual - stickers for $17,760. What I love about the Civic, apart from its meager thirst, is its styling. With that ski-slope windshield, its cat's-eyes headlamps and cute, stubby tail, it looks like it's doing 100 mph standing still. The Civic looks fresh, modern and youthful. George Jetson would love this car. It's brilliantly built, too, with bank-vault solidity, terrific quality and the kind of upscale interior that wouldn't look out of place in a car costing twice the price. Honda always has made awesome engines, and the little 1.8-liter four-cylinder powering my Civic LX is no exception. Though it conjures up only 140 horsepower, it punches the Honda away from stoplights faster than Britney Spears escaping the paparazzi.
It's also got the muscle to zip by slower traffic on Interstate 275, and will cruise with hardly a whisper at 75 mph-plus. And as you'd expect of a Honda, it's greener than Kermit on a rolling cruise ship, being classified as a ULEV-2, or Ultra-Low Emission Vehicle. It's a blast to drive, too, with scalpel-sharp steering, low-roll cornering and plenty of sticky grip from the 16-inch rubberware at each corner. While opting for the 5-speed manual gearbox will save you $800 and let you shift gears like Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Daytona, for me the sweet-shifting 5-speed automatic is a better option. If all this praise isn't enough to win you over, take a look at the Civic's safety credentials. Standard equipment on all models includes must-have side-curtain airbags, front- and front-side airbags, antilock brakes, tire pressure monitoring and injury-reducing front head restraints. Inside, there's plenty of space for four to stretch out in comfort, with generous knee room, even in the back. Pop the trunk and there's the kind of load space Tony Soprano would love. Yes, the funky dashboard layout takes a little getting used to - the two-tiered instrument display is straight out of the Starship Enterprise. But there's nothing complex here. As for standard features, the mid-range Civic LX has more toys than an FAO Schwarz store at Christmas-time. There's a standard 160-watt AM/FM/CD stereo with MP3 capability, airconditioning, power windows and locks, cruise control, fold-down seatbacks and a tilt and telescoping wheel. All this, coupled with great gas mileage, is guaranteed to give you real pride of ownership. I suppose you could call it Civic pride.