What’s happened to my Honda? Things just aren’t the same anymore.
Let me explain. I like Honda products. Have done for years. If I look around at my family and friends, I can count at least half a dozen Accords and Civics, some of which I have recommended. And when anyone asks me what to buy – new or used – I have invariably replied: the best Honda you can afford. I like the driveability, ergonomics, peripheral visibility, and cast-iron reliability of Honda products, and, for my money, no other manufacturer builds better small displacement engines. The Civic, in particular, is a masterpiece of efficiency and comfort. Don’t take my word for it….it’s been the best selling car in Canada for at least two decades.
But lately, things have been changing….and not for the better. Over the past few weeks, I’ve driven a variety of Honda – and Acura – products, and I’m not as enthusiastic about them as I used to be.
Let’s start with the Civic. As of 2014, if you want a Civic with an automatic transmission, you get their “stepless” CVT, whether you like it or not, as opposed to the traditional planetary gear set-up, which has served them well for decades. This is an industry trend and I don’t like it. There was nothing wrong with the old gearbox and despite Honda’s claims that the CVT improves efficiency, it’s a step backwards.
The problem is that Honda’s CVT “deadens” the vehicles driveability. There is a disconnect between car and driver that really comes into play when you need reserve power for passing or acceleration. The drivetrain doesn’t kick down or respond as promptly as it used to, and in some circumstances, the Civic is a slug. The old drivetrain was well coordinated and durable; the new set-up is just annoying. With the CVT, the Civic’s likeable liveliness and sporty overtones are gone. Now it’s just another turgid econobox.
As for fuel economy. According to Natural Resources Canada, a 2013 Civic with the former automatic transmission will return 8.3 L / 100 km in town and 6.0 on the highway. A 2015, with the CVT, is good for 7.9 and 6.1, respectively. So, slightly thriftier in the city but actually a titch thirstier on the highway. All things considered, buyers are advised to consider getting a manual five-speed….it may be slightly thirstier, but you won’t find a smoother clutch and shift mechanism and it’s just as straightforward to drive as an automatic
Moving on to the Pilot. It has a couple of things that drive me nuts. First and foremost, the settings for the driver’s seat and outside mirror do not obey the driver. You can set them until you’re blue in the face, and you still have to re-set every time you slide behind the wheel. The problem is that the system automatically slides the seat back as far as it can go for improved access. OK. But it doesn’t come back until you re-adjust. Day-in and day-out, this is infuriating. As for the outside mirrors….well, they have a mind of their own and will not “memorize” themselves to your driving position, no matter what.
And for 2016, the Touring version of the Pilot has a nine-speed automatic transmission. Again, it is not well executed, and doesn’t “shake hands” with the V6 engine, resulting in vague performance punctuated by sudden bursts of acceleration when you give it some welly. All Pilots have a variable cylinder management system and the nine-speed doesn’t seem to want to get along with it. Annoying, and given the vehicle’s $52,000-plus price, completely unacceptable. If you’re in the market for this vehicle, my advice is to stay with the six-speed and save yourself some money in the process.
Last but not least, switchgear and ergonomics. Like all upscale Honda products, the Pilot Touring has an audio touch screen, which makes finding radio stations and audio settings much more complicated than it needs to be. Half the time, you can press the screen and it simply doesn’t respond. Clipping along a busy freeway in bumper to bumper traffic, at 100 km/h, this is the last thing you need: to be futzing around with radio controls. This complaint also applies to all Acuras, as well.
I still like Honda products, and the Civic remains a contender in terms of driveability and fuel economy. But Honda appears to be disregarding the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” rule, and, among other things, hasn’t perfected the CVT just yet.
To paraphrase George Harrison: all things must change. But sometimes, not for the better.