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NORFOLK -- Despite the increased competition in the compact car market from Hyundai, Ford, Mazda, Toyota, Chevrolet and Volkswagen, the 2014 Honda Civic remains remarkably popular. In fact, it's the second most popular car in Hampton Roads. That's quite an accomplishment.

But spend some time with this car and you'll understand its appeal, which starts from the moment you lay eyes on it. Up front, the car's chiseled hood and fenders sweep down to meet the handsome black honeycomb mesh grille that's edged in chrome. Its handsome, sporty appearance is classically Honda. Out back, the lighting and chrome trim give the car an upmarket impressive look.

The Civic continues to impress once you climb inside. Soft-touch materials adorn the doors and instrument panel. Large windows afford a good view in all directions and impart a feeling of spaciousness. There's plenty of room for four adults. The seats are surprisingly soft and comfortable

>Honda now offers a host of standard features in response to those offered on its competitors. Bluetooth, a rearview camera, USB/HDMI ports, Pandora interface, steering wheel-mounted audio controls, exterior temperature readout and a sliding center armrest are standard on all Civics.

The top-of-the-line Civic EX-L test vehicle features a new touch screen that controls audio, navigation, phone and other functions. Tapping the screen, which proves time consuming, carries out all tasks, even adjusting the radio volume. Thankfully, some redundant audio system controls are located on the steering wheel.

Choosing a new Civic means starting with the LX, and then jumping to EX, EX-L or Si. There's also a high-efficiency HF model, a gas-electric hybrid and a model that runs on compressed natural gas.

With all of the work on aesthetics, it's understandable that the Civic's power plants carry over unchanged. A 143-horsepower 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine mates to either a five-speed manual or continuously variable automatic transmission. A six-speed manual transmission is standard the performance-oriented Si, which also gets a 201-horsepower engine.

While fuel consumption is very respectable, with the Civic rated by the EPA at 30 mpg city, 39 mpg highway, performance is merely adequate, meaning you'll need to floor the accelerator to extract any performance. This lack of juice under the hood is exacerbated by the miserable continuously variable transmission, which gives the car a sluggish feel as it reluctantly spools up the engine.

By contrast, the steering is rather quick, although very light and numb in feel. The car is agile despite the noticeable body lean in corners. The ride is still firm, but there's an ample amount of bump absorption to keep everyone comfy. Yet in the final analysis, the Civic isn't as much fun to drive as the best cars in this group, such as the Mazda3 or Volkswagen Jetta.

But for the Honda faithful, the Civic's virtues good fuel economy, low price and a spacious interior will overcome any inherent personality flaws.

Stats:

Powertrain: 143-horsepower four-cylinder engine, continuously-variable transmission, front-wheel drive.

Wheelbase: 105.1 inches

Length: 179.4 inches

Weight: 2,930 pounds

Cargo capacity: 12.5 cubic feet

EPA fuel economy (city/highway): 30/39 mpg

NHTSA safety rating: Five stars

Base price, base model: $18,390

Base price, test model: $24,240

As tested: $25,030

Where to find it: Casey Honda, Newport News; Checkered Flag Honda, Norfolk; First Team Honda, Chesapeake; Hall Honda, Virginia Beach and Elizabeth City, N.C; Priority Honda, Chesapeake and Hampton; Williamsburg Honda, Williamsburg.

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