Car Reviews


2017 Civic Hatchback EX-L Navi

Today I plopped my lady bait into the new 17 Civic Hatch.  This model is the “nearly the most loaded you can buy” model.  The “L” in the EX-L means “Leather”, and by “Leather” of course Honda means Naugahyde.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s a good look and a good feeling faux leather, but it is faux nonetheless.  I once had a Honda Techline Agent tell me that this is real leather, farmed from Naugas.  Some mystical beast with super thing, super vinylish feeling flesh.  I had to bury my face into my palm.  Moving on, the “Navi” means it is equipped with Navigation, but I rather think this to mean it is equipped with a large touch screen instead of a slightly smaller screen with manual buttons, I confess I did not use the navigation system.  Your phone is undoubtedly better and faster at it.

My first impression as we walked up to the car, the outside looks nice.  Gun metal grey looks good on just about everything.  Nobody is going to kick the front of the car out of bed, I think the rear end might be a bit polarizing but I like it.  It is certainly a more bold and aggressive style than the last… every Civic ever.  This is a good thing in my opinion, I think Honda has tried to walk that line where they don’t turn anyone off, but they don’t turn anyone on either with their styling.  Take a chance I say!  The public at large seems to agree with me.  The only real gripe I have with the outside is the rims, the rims are terrible ugly.  Black and silver, with a design that looks like you are looking into the business end of a blender.  I do not like them, but it wouldn’t stop me from buying the car, I am not a rim guy anyways…  I give the exterior styling 7.5/10.

On the inside.  Plenty of room, comfortable seating in the front.  I was able to get in and out of the rear with no issue and plenty of leg room as well, I am 6 feet tall and I have fidgety legs so that was a plus in my column.  The first thing I noticed was the gauge cluster was completely digital, very sharp and crisp, I like it.  The gauge cluster lights with a nice cool blue that is easy on the eyes.  The middle of the dash is where I start to get lost.  The touch screen is fine, it’s big and bright.  I would turn the brightness down a bit if I were to drive it long term.  And while the steering wheel controls are nice and intuitive I thought the touch screen was not.  You need to try to navigate to the proper menu and then try to swipe around an not-super-responsive climate control screen if you want to turn the blower speed up.  You might as well be texting and driving for all the attention you are able to give the road while doing this.  Maybe it’s just Old Man Joe falling behind the times, but I thought the controls for the interior via the touch screen left a lot to be desired.   I give the inside 7/10, not bad, but it didn’t blow me away either.

Some new interior technical stuff.  They put a lanewatch camera on the right-side mirror that you can either turn on full time with a button on the end of the turn signal stalk, or it will come on automatically when you flip the right hand turn signal on.  This is brilliant, a large clear image of the lane immediately to the side of you comes on the center display.  It is so fascinating that I worry I would have the stalk button pressed at al times and I would live in that camera display, watching the scenery whoosh by in HD glory like a learning-disabled child.  Until the head-on collision that is, I love it.  This car has a push button start, and you all know how much I hate those.  This one does not warn you when it does not see a key, the dash just does nothing.  It does not warn you when the vehicle is started and the key finds it’s way outside the vehicle either, this is a major software flaw.  Points lost there.  Honda has seen fit to put an electronic parking brake on this model, since they did they can also include a “brake hold” feature at pretty much no cost since both systems use the same parking brake control module.  My advice on this system, do not use either unless you want one day for it to inevitably seize up your rear tires.  Leave both the parking button and the brake hold buttons alone, does your foot really get tired holding the brake pedal in traffic?

Moving on to the test drive.  Since this puppy had a turbo charged 1.5 direct injected engine with a CVT transmission slapped on it’s ass I was very curious to see how it did when I put the hammer down.  At first… not much… then slowly, like an old dog getting up from a nap the Civic started to pick up some momentum.  That CVT really wants to keep the engine rpm in a fuel efficient and emissions friendly range, it took some coaxing to get the R’s up.  At higher RPM with the itty bitty turbo doing some work this thing moves pretty good.  The engine is rated at 174 horsepower, not a ton but it’s not a heavy car, and it’s a damn bit more than the previous Civic (143 hp) had.  It gets up and moves alright, but I am not fond of how the CVT responds, that’s not the Civic’s fault though.  CVT’s in general just feel passionless to me.  The handling and braking was superb, the Civic hug curves like a tight pair of jeans on a leggy blond.  The electric power steering was effortless at low speeds and did not seem to steal the road feel from you at higher speeds.  The suspension was stiff, but gentlemanly with bumps.  Road noise was muted.  Powertrain noise is almost non-existent, the turbo whine is hardly discernible.  At a stoplight you can’t even tell that the engine is running.  For a daily driver all of this is a good thing.  I don’t want to be tempted to beat on it, I don’t want to be haunted by a thrumming power plant.  Just give me a nice, quiet, comfortable ride into work damnit, and the Civic does this very well.  8/10.

Engine/transmission tech.  This model had the 1.5 liter, 4 cylinder, turbo charged and direct injected engine.  I have several concerns.  A turbo charger puts a load on the engine and the lubrication system, people do not do a lot of preventative maintenance on their cars and this spells trouble.  If the oil gets low and dirty the turbo doesn’t get lubricated properly, if that turbo starts to throw metal around you are going to pay a hefty price for your tardy oil change.  Direct injection has come a long way, but it still has the issue of carbon buildup on the intake valves, there is no fuel spraying on the back of them like in the good old days.  Honda has not had an issue with this yet, but they have only had direct injection for a couple years, so time will tell.  The transmission on this puppy is a CVT, continuously variable transmission.  It consists of a driven pulley and a drive pulley, coupled by a steel linked belt.  These pulleys change diameter to change the gear ratio.  It’s a neat idea, plenty of vehicles are going this way, but it is not a historically reliable setup, not yet.  The same as with direct injection, the industry is still trying to work out the bugs.  The rest of the stuff on the engine is pretty mundane, nothing exceptional about the cam timing, or the ignition system.  Other than the three concerns I listed this should be a solid platform.  Unfortunately they are 3 pricey concerns if they do have a problem.  Time will tell if I am making a mountain out of a mole hill or not.  Food for though.

The price point, the Civic as it was equipped for me rings in at about 26,000 clams.  You can get a stripped down version and get into the 18-19k area, much more comfortable.  This price point might seem at first blush to be a bit higher than it’s competitors, but Honda has usually held on to their resale value for much longer, historically speaking.



2016 Dodge Grand Caravan SXT 3.6

My wife recently had her car in the body shop, this gave us the opportunity to have a rental car for a few days. As the wife headed off to the body shop I chimed in with a “Rent anything Asian please!”. I wanted to have some known good stuff on a car I had not had the chance to study. She promptly came back with the Caravan, swing and a miss Babe.

I have been wanting to get into the car review game for some time now, I suppose this is as good a one to start on as any. Now before any of you can accuse me of being a Honda fan-boy I want to get something straight, I respond to quality. Pure and simple, quality. I would likely review a Volkswagen highly on a driving experience, even if I wouldn’t own one myself. This car was judged on how the average driver might find it.

That being said this is probable going to be rough for Dodge… buckle up ya’ll.

From the outside, the Caravan is fine, looks like a van. Not much I can say I like better or worse about the body vs other vans. It’s not as sleek at the Nissan Quest, not as bad as the Volkswagen Routan, somewhere in between. One note was that the fuel lid is the old school manual version, just a little dent in the lid that you can fish your finger under, flip and it’s open. What’s to keep someone from siphoning your tank? Well maybe it’s the flex fuel standard yellow cap suggesting you try a tank full of E-85? The thug draining your tank might stop and think “Man, I don’t want to put ethanol in my Buick Roadmaster! Think about the trims! The long term trims! That car will lean out like a damn cholo!”

On the inside, this is where things get rough for me. They have that quasi smart key system where there is a plug in the dash that you stuff your fob into, it fits about as good as a thumb in an eye socket, and seems about as painful for the car to have it there. The second fob on the loop the rental place gave us kept hitting my knee, I was constantly worrying about the fob falling out of the dash. There is of course interlock measures to keep this from actually happening, I yanked on it on the highway pretty hard just to make sure. But the insecurity is still there. They really need to crap or get off the pot. They are a handful of RFID antennas away from making this a full fledged, big boy, smart key system. Let us keep our fobs in our purses Dodge!

There are unlabeled buttons on the back of the steering wheel, kinda where the paddle shifters would be on a manual shift automatic transmission (more on this later). These buttons are for the radio, one button changes volume up and down, and has a mode change function. The other side has a seek up and down button. Trying to use them almost guarantees you will hit the wrong one and instead of jamming up the volume on “You Gotta Have Faith” by George Michael you will change the station instead to “Ice Ice Baby”. Which then you will also need to jam the volume up on, wash, rinse, repeat.

The manual shift function. You know the one, on the Dodge commercials they have the guy futzing the shifter up and down to make the engine notes make classic rock music. This shifter is supposed to manually select a gear for you, and indeed in this mode you will see a gear position pop up on the dash. But that’s all it does, like a cartoon, there was not obvious difference in output gear ratio. Might have been I was asking too much of the system…

The instrument cluster is a garish white and red affair that looks like bloodshot eyes, which is apropos because they will make your eyes sore and bloodshot just looking at them. Trying to distinguish whether or not the cruise control is on was rather difficult as well. There is a minute likely cartoon speedo dial that shows up when you turn the cruise main switch ON. Then when you press the SET button there is a super itty bitty little arrow that points to the tiny little speedo (my favorite beach wear btw) at around the imaginary 55 mph mark. Very hard on the eyes, this cluster. More like a cluster f…

The seating in this thing is adequate as far as vans go, you can haul a ton of brats in it, that’s for sure. One thing I didn’t like was the stow-and-go system. The third row tucked in very nice, and they had handy numbers on the straps indicating what order they were to be pulled in. The second row however does not actually stow away, and it cannot be removed from what I can tell. I didn’t break out the owners manual, cause I am a man. But I think if you can spend 10 minutes on a stow-and-go setup and not figure it out then the engineers missed the point entirely anyways.

That’s enough griping about the inside. Performance, here we go! This bad boy 3.6 puts out 283 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque, all going out of a 6 speed transmission. Impressive-ish numbers, although the reality was it was a sluggish ride compared to similar vehicles. I even turned off the ECON mode and floored it, torque steer abound, but the acceleration was lack luster. The wind noise at highway speeds was rough, and so was engine noise at higher rpm. That 3.6 Pentastar engine is supposedly one of their better platforms, I cannot vouch for it’s reliability first hand but they seem better than the Caravans of yor.

Some good points, the price is very fair compared to the Odyssey or the Sienna for example, the SXT rings in at 28,600, but you can get a stripped down version for a wee bit under 23,000. The base model Odyssey starts at nearly 30,000. So the up front savings is clear. I can tell you though that the resale value plummets on the Dodge, the Odyssey hangs on to it’s resale value like Uncle Rico hangs on to his high school football glory, or Rainman hangs on to the Judge Wapner schedule.

Overall I would say if you are a family man on a budget, it would be hard to go wrong with one of these. Unfortunately it would be hard to go right as well.