After spending a few days last week driving the diesel-powered European version of the Honda Civic, I can tell you that if we Americans have to drive smaller cars in the future, it won't be a bad thing.
Not if the cars we get to choose from are like this swoopy Civic. In Europe, good enough doesn't cut it like it does here. Over there small cars have to be great cars, with high-quality interiors, nifty innovations, attractive styling and frugal but powerful engines.
The 2007 Honda Civic i-CTDi I tested has all that and more. Honda may have been late to develop its diesel technology, but it is catching up quickly.
The 138-hp Euro Civic I drove has a smooth-running, turbocharged, 2.2-liter four-cylinder diesel engine that delivers 0-60 acceleration in about 8.6 seconds, according to a recent British road test. The fuel economy it delivers is enough to make you forget the word "hybrid" and the technical complexity that goes with that.
Driven sensibly, the Civic i-CDTi gets around 43 mpg in city driving and 55 on the highway. And those are honest and consistent economy ratings — not like those in a hybrid, which vary widely based on traffic and other factors.
The Euro Civic's space-capsule styling is radical compared to the conservative, buttoned-down Civic we get. The instrument panel, with its deeply inset dials and gauges and cool blue lighting, comes from the Flash Gordon school of design.
But it's the engine and six-speed manual transmission that makes this car. The Honeywell turbocharger deserves special mention. Touch the accelerator and the sensation of increasing speed is not unlike the smooth rush of power you feel when a jet blasts down the runway.
There is no turbo lag in the Euro Civic. The engine, which generates an impressive 250 pounds-feet of torque, is louder than a gasoline engine, but it's not bothersome. If you're in the proper gear, the Civic can easily zip past slower traffic on the highway.
But the car's price is something that might cause some heartburn. At today's exchange rates, The Civic i-CDTi would be about $24,000.
* You may e-mail Richard Truett at [email protected].