Honda Civic EX-L: Sensible rubber meets the real-world road

We danced between the storms, missing the worst of their fury. But we were greeted by their icy remains when we took to the road again.

It would have been unpleasant driving had we not been in the 2014 Honda Civic EX-L coupe. This is a tightly built, confident front-wheel-drive compact car. It was motorized peace of mind on snow-packed roads.

Honda is to be congratulated for coming up with a formula that delivers ingeniously safe, reliable and affordable automobiles, of which the Civic is a primary example. The car’s front fascia and rear end have been restyled for 2014, giving the entire piece a sporty look. The interior, long the target of critics who apparently think an economy car should have luxury insides, has been smartly updated to address their complaints.

But what I love most about the new Civic is its quality/value equation. It is an expertly built car loaded with standard equipment, especially in terms of safety. With available advanced electronic safety options — a passenger-side Honda LaneWatch system that uses a center-console-mounted screen to display nearly all of the right-lane driving environment on right turns, a HondaLink emergency communications system, Honda HD Digital Traffic monitoring that gives real-time alerts to local traffic conditions, and one of the best onboard navigation systems available anywhere at any price — all for a price tag under $25,000.

I’ve been getting a lot of grief from fellow automotive journalists lately for pushing the value theme in automobile reviews. I’m not “car guy” enough, they say. I’m not a real automobile expert, whatever that is. I’m a “conservative” — imagine that! — who does not love cars.

It is silly stuff made even sillier by the finances of most automotive journalists who routinely extol the virtues of high-end, high-performance automobiles — Aston Martin, BMW M5 sedan, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Porsche 911 GT3. Unless some of my peers are hiding personal wealth, I can’t think of one of them who can afford such a car.

Nor are those cars affordable — in terms of purchase and operation costs — by the majority of U.S. residents who will buy most of the 15 million new cars and trucks expected to be sold in this country this year. They will shop for value — here defined as safe, reliable, fuel-efficient cars and trucks that offer as much “fun to drive” as they do peace of mind.

The Honda Civic, available as coupe and sedan, does that, which is why Honda vehicles in general are among the nation’s most popular brands.

On another front, some of my friends were surprised when I told them I really like the way the Civic EX-L coupe behaved on snow-packed roads. They opined that the little front-wheel-drive car did not have enough traction to avoid being skittish. My opinion is that they are just bad drivers in inclement weather.

Snow and ice mean slow down. They mean make nice with compromised surfaces. Gunning the engine under the circumstances will only spin the drive wheels. Slow down. Drive patiently. Make nice.

Dry weather and dry roads will come soon enough. When they do, the Civic EX-L and their brethren will be ready. The car is perfect in the city — easy to maneuver in tough traffic, easy to park. Equipped with a 1.8-liter in-line four-cylinder gasoline engine, it delivers 143 horsepower and 129 pound-feet of torque transmitted through a continuously valuable automatic transmission. That is not enough to go zoom-zoom. It is enough to get you where you are going at a reasonable pace. And the new Civic EX-L coupe does that at 23 miles per gallon in the city and 38 mpg on the highway using regular gasoline.

It is an enjoyable, wonderfully sensible automobile. It gets both thumbs up here.

NUTS & BOLTS: 2014 Honda Civic EX-L coupe

Bottom line: The Honda Civic, available as coupe or sedan and offering gasoline, gasoline-electric hybrid or CNG (compressed natural gas) power systems, is easily one of the best small-car buys available. It offers top quality, safety, reliability and fuel economy at a reasonable price.

Ride, handling and acceleration: The tested EX-L coupe gets good marks in all three. “Good” means it is a pleasant, very competent driver on highways and dry roads. It is a safe, steady driver on snow-packed roads when driven the way all vehicles — four-wheel-drive, all-wheel-drive, front-wheel-drive — should be driven over snow and ice: SLOWLY!

Head-turning quotient: Pleasant, acceptable. It is not a flash-mobile. It is a Civic.

Body style/layout: The Civic is a front-engine, front-wheel-drive compact car available as a coupe or sedan. It is offered in five trim levels — the base LX, the mid-grade EX, the up-level EX-L and EX-L Navi, and the extra-fuel-efficient HF sedan.

Engine/transmission: It comes with a 1.8-liter, 16-valve in-line four-cylinder gasoline engine with variable valve timing. A five-speed manual transmission is standard.

Capacities: Seating is for five people. Cargo capacity is 12.5 cubic feet. The fuel tank holds 13.2 gallons of gasoline (regular grade is recommended).

Mileage: I averaged 21 mpg in the city — lots of traffic congestion — and 38 on the highway.

Safety: Standard equipment includes four-wheel disc brakes (ventilated front, solid rear); four-wheel anti-lock brake protection; emergency braking assistance; and electronic brake-force distribution.

Price: The base price of the 2014 Honda Civic EX-L coupe with continuously variable automatic transmission, heated front seats, and onboard navigation with rear-view camera and Honda LaneWatch is $24,040. Dealer’s invoice price for that model is $22,331. Price as tested is $24,830.