COAL: 2008 Honda Civic EX – My Vanilla Pudding


(First posted 12/15/2013) To those living on the West Coast, imports have been a mainstay of the automotive landscape for decades with Toyota and Honda comprising the two most commonly represented manufacturers.  I’d been no stranger to that trend, with the vast majority of my vehicles having been import nameplates.  Strangely though, I had never owned a Honda…

I did participate in a car share program a few years earlier which left me impressed with the Honda that I was able to use during it.  When a new Honda Civic appeared for the 2006 model year, I was drawn to the styling, I felt it to be quite adventurous for what had become a fairly conservative segment.


Strangely the car this was replacing was my Mercedes 400E, which could not be a more different car.  While the Mercedes was a fantastic car, the issues I had (some realistic, some probably more in my mind) had to do with the fuel economy (admittedly not a real issue since I had a short commute), mechanical sympathy (can it be a good thing to fire it up, drive two miles, then shut it down again, then reverse in the evening?), and mainly the fact that nowadays the back seat of a W124 chassis is not very large especially when child car seats are considered.  And it had no cup holders.  But the reality is deep down I wanted to keep on trying different cars.  What can I say, it’s an addiction.

So I figured I wanted something good but not ostentatious, reliable, frugal, and not expensive.  At first I thought I’d want an Accord, but after looking at them and the Civic I realized that the Civic had grown to the point where it was larger than the Accord of just a couple of generations ago and actually felt larger inside in some ways than the Mercedes.


Shopping for it at first was a pain, involving typical dealer experiences that everyone dislikes.  So I took to the internet and solicited some online prices.  Of several dealerships that I approached, the only one that actually didn’t try to play games was in my old neighborhood in Oakland.  This was in April of 2008, gas prices were through the roof and anything small (or basically not an SUV) was selling like hotcakes.

I had narrowed down what I wanted to a very specific set of specs, namely an EX-level sedan with automatic without Navigation or Leather (yes, these were factory options on a Civic, how times had changed!). My first choice colorwise was Galaxy Gray with a gray interior but I was amenable to Atomic Blue as a second color choice.  The dealer had several in my preferred color on order and named his price which was significantly better than anyone else, so I decided to go for it.

On a Saturday morning at the beginning of May we drove over there, and actually watched them take it off the delivery truck.  I drove it around the block, declared it functional, we signed the paperwork and then waited for it to emerge from the detail shop.


Once it was handed over, I drove it back home to the other side of the Bay.  I know it’s stupid but it really is nice to drive a brand new car, no matter what it is.  The interior is a pleasant place to be with attractive colors and quality materials where everything falls to hand easily and works as expected.

The 2008 Civic was the third year of the eighth-generation Civic and still looked like the first year offering.  For some reason I generally like Honda’s styling when they are first introduced and then generally completely dislike the inevitable “facelift”  a few years down the road.


The grass is always greener, right?

In the U.S. we only had a choice between the coupe and the sedan, unfortunately we were never offered the 3 and 5-door hatchbacks that are available in Europe which I find to be even more interestingly styled.  Over here we had three standard trim levels, DX, LX and EX, with the Si sport model and the Mugen Si enhanced sport model on top of those.  A hybrid was also available.  The standard EX (as mine was) is the top trim level in the “normal” range, all of which offered the 1.8liter 4-cylinder generating 140hp@6300rpm and 128lb-ft of torque @4300rpm as the sole engine choice.  Backing that up in my case was a 5-speed automatic transmission.


I hate to resort to clichés but Honda engines really do remind one of sewing machines, so smooth is their operation.  All of the controls were fairly light but positive in their actions, the touchpoints felt good and overall it felt to be a good value.  The EX model has several features not available in the DX or LX – some of which such as a better grade of velour upholstery and steering wheel audio controls I very much appreciated, and others such as the moonroof I could have done without.  The 16” alloys were nicely styled and complemented the design well.

About that design – This Civic appears to have one of the shortest hoods/engine bays out there on a normal sedan, visually it seems like it is almost twice as wide as it is long.  The rest of the car was (to my eyes) quite a futuristic design, everything seems very well integrated and built to a very high standard.  Ubiquity breeds acceptance and nowadays I really don’t even notice them anymore since there are so many out there.  In fact the month I bought mine turned out to be the biggest Civic sales month ever, with 53,299 of them finding owners making it the most popular vehicle sold in that month (Yes, more than the Ford F150 even).  That number just boggles my mind, that is 1719 per DAY.

Mine was built in Alliston, Ontario and I will hand it to the Canadians, they seem to be able to assemble a car to an extremely high standard.  There was absolutely nothing wrong with the car when I received it, it was perfect.  Now, the design did leave a couple of things that could have been improved on, but that has nothing to do with assembly.


The first thing that most people will comment on is the two-tier dashboard.  It looks weird but it works quite well.  The lower tier of the instruments has a large rev counter, the gear indicator, odometer and all of the warning lights. The upper level has a large digital speed readout and bar graphs for coolant temperature and fuel level.  Very shortly after starting to drive one, you really only end up looking at the upper level as it has what you really need.  The design is a complete non-issue beside looking weird at first glance.

A bigger issue is the placement of the handbrake.  It is on the driver’s side of the center console and the end of it becomes the resting point for the typical knee position.  It is a bit annoying, over time it becomes acceptable and you kind of compensate for it somehow, but it is a definite flaw that did not have to be.  This is one car that could benefit from an electrically operated brake instead of this badly placed handle.


One of the things I really liked about it, weird as it seems, are the windshield wipers.  These days, most cars have two wipers that sweep in the same direction.  However, the Civic had them opposite each other, probably due to the size of the windshield.  The photo above shows them folded down and you can imagine how they almost double sweep a large part of the windshield and then go all the way over to the A-pillar on each side.

A couple of months after I got it, we took it on a trip to Palm Springs.  Despite only having about a thousand miles on it at that point, the gas mileage still averaged just under 40 for the trip which I found excellent.  We were not traveling slowly either, usually around 80mph.  The seats were comfortable for the entire trip which was just under 500 miles each way.  The car itself was very quiet, just some noise from the tires.  We forgot to pack more than one CD so were stuck listening to The Killers’ “Hot Fuss” over and over again.  Nothing wrong with that, but to this day when I start that CD it reminds both of us of that trip…

Other than that it was really just used around town and to and from work, we first had the Murano and then the Sienna for most of the kid-schlepping duties.  As usual I grew bored of it after about a year so at that point I advertised it for sale with under 6000 miles on it.  The beauty of a Honda is that the depreciation seems to be very linear without the large initial hit so I ended up selling it for only about ten percent less than what I paid for it.  Who bought it?  A young couple with a baby that had a ten-year old Civic with 150,000 miles on it and wanted something newer and safer but still familiar.  They could not have made a better choice.  By the way, did I mention I love vanilla pudding?  (2018 Update – I looked up the license plate in the California Smog Check registry and apparently it just passed another emissions check so is clearly still on the road, not that I would have expected otherwise.)