In recent years, many critics have accused Honda of losing its way. The lightweight, fun-to-drive cars that helped build the Honda reputation from the 1970s through the early 1990s had given way to increasingly bland cars devoid of character. Chief of among the models that seemed to suffer was the Civic. First launched in 1973, the Civic wasn’t Honda’s first American model, but it really gave the brand momentum that picked up significantly a few years later with the debut of the Accord. The most recent Civic which debuted in 2011 seemed to epitomize everything wrong with the brand. Honda heard the complaints and tried to address them for generation 10 that goes on sale in November. However, hearing complaints and adequately resolving them are two different things and only time behind the wheel would tell us if Honda has been successful.
In their quest to reinvent the Civic, Honda’s engineering team decided to start fresh from the wheels up. In the late 1980s, Honda began diverging its highest volume models the Civic and Accord for different markets with those for North America getting bigger with more conservative styling. In recent years, the global automotive markets have been converging in their tastes as Ford has demonstrated with latest models that are now common around the world. The new Civic marks a return to a common Civic around the world which in part explains why we’ll soon get a five-door hatchback and eventually the next Type-R as well. But before those variants arrive along with the coupe, we’ll be the first to get the new Sedan.
Virtually nothing has been carried over from the previous generation model as Honda decided that they needed to aim higher than before to ensure that they have a car that will appeal to customers around the world. Instead of traditional competitors like the Corolla and Sentra, Honda took aim at higher-end European C-segment models like the Audi A3. Honda isn’t trying to compete directly with those cars but they are the benchmark for driving dynamics, fit and finish and refinement.
The Civic’s new attitude starts with the design. At three-inches longer, two-inches wider and 0.8-inches lower, this car has a whole new visual attitude. The cowl is 1.6-inches lower and the A-pillars have been moved back, giving it a longer, more distinct hood that the last two generations lacked. The roofline sweeps all the way back to the trailing edge of the trunk, emulating the coupe-like profile now so common among sedans. Overall, this is the most aggressive-looking Civic ever and given the competition in the segment, I think it’s a good direction for Honda.
Along with the body, Honda designers have also lowered the hip point of the Civic by more than two inches. Over the past 15 years, more and more drivers have been opting for crossovers in large part because they want the higher seating position they offer. Choice in the marketplace is a good thing because not everyone wants or needs the same thing out of their transportation. Personally, I prefer the lower seating position of a car and the improved dynamics that go with a lower center of gravity. Now that Honda has a full range of crossovers in every size from HR-V to Pilot, it makes sense to further differentiate the cars by making them more car-like for those of us that don’t want an SUV or crossover. I found the seating position of the Civic perfect for an everyday car. Now Honda, let’s talk about a wagon. I want another car with the utility of a crossover when I need it for the day when I replace the Jetta TDI wagon.
Inside, the Civic now has a clean and uncluttered appearance that returns to a more conventional instrument cluster with the primary tachometer/speedometer in the center, flanked by fuel and temperature gauges. All but the base LX trim level get a seven-inch touchscreen audio system that like the 2016 Accord, includes support for both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. I didn’t have a chance to try CarPlay, but Android Auto worked great just as it has in other applications I’ve tried. Once you connect the phone an Android Auto button appears on the main menu of the screen. Tap that button and the Android interface launches, providing access to Google Maps, your contacts and a variety of media apps including Google Play Music, Pocket Casts, Spotify, Pandora, Tune-in Radio, iHeartRadio and NPR One among others.
I still don’t like the touch controls to the left of the touch screen which debuted on the latest Fit and have since spread to other refreshed models. The volume controls in particular have always been finicky and remain so. Thankfully, each car with this setup also has redundant volume controls on the steering wheel and Honda has taken this a step further on the Civic. While the steering wheel switch can rock up and down like on other cars, the ridged switch also has touch capability built-in. If you swipe your thumb up or down across the switch the volume adjusts accordingly even without pressing the physical switch. If you opt for the EX-L or Touring trims, the system also includes a Garmin navigation systems which is OK but suffers from the same limitations on finding points of interest as any other embedded system. If you have an Android or Apple smartphone, you will almost certainly be happier with the Google or Apple solutions.
Along with an array of new Civics in various trim levels, Honda provided a pair of 2015 models and some competitors for comparison. We set out on the first drive loop in an EX-L powered by the all-new 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder. The stronger of the two new engines offered at launch delivers 174-horsepower and 162 lb.-ft. of torque.
Honda’s four-cylinder engines have long had a reputation for delivering lots of power for their size, but they’ve typically been somewhat lacking in torque. Turbocharging and direct injection give this new powerplant the same sort of beefy torque curve found in similarly configured engines from other manufacturers with the peak arriving at just 1,800 rpm and holding steady up to 5,500. Even with a new CVT derived from the Accord unit, the new Civic engine makes it eminently driveable in traffic and responsive when hustling down a curvy rural road. From a sound perspective, this isn’t the most refined four on the market, but by no means is it objectionable and it is fun to drive. Better yet, the programming of the CVT is vastly improved from what you’ll find in the previous Civic or the HR-V.
Speaking of those country roads, the 25-percent improvement in torsional rigidity of the new structure works in concert with the new multi-link rear suspension and front strut layout to provide a really fun ride. Even when the pavement was less than perfectly smooth through the curves, the Civic remained composed even when hustled down the road. Equally important, the steering felt solid and precise with good weighting. All of this bodes extremely well for the upcoming Si and Type-R variants.
By comparison the 2015 model felt dull and lifeless with over-boosted steering and no feedback. The broad, relatively flat seats of the older car have been supplanted by much more comfortable and supportive thrones that retain you in place during spirited driving.
The base engine in the new Civic is a direct-injected, normally aspirated 2.0-liter with an output of 158-horsepower and 138 lb.-ft., improvements of 15 and 9 respectively compared to the 2015 1.8 -liter. Both engines are now at the top of the compact class. The LX and EX trims get the 2.0-liter while the EX-T, EX-L and the new touring are powered by the turbo. Unfortunately, only the base LX is offered with a manual transmission right now although the Si and Type-R will probably get three-pedal versions.
I also tried out a manual LX and found the gearbox to be as slick as we’ve traditionally come to expect from Hondas over the years and the new 2.0 is well paired with it to provide more than adequate performance for most everyday driving. Even on the smaller 16-inch wheels and tires of the LX, the car demonstrated similar composure to the EX-L. Aside from the absence of Android Auto, I’d have no hesitation recommending this variant to someone looking for a compact sedan at a lower price point.
Traditionally, Honda and most other Japanese automakers tend to offer their products with very few stand-alone options. They might have anywhere from three to five trim levels that are pre-packaged with increasing levels of equipment. Customers simply select the color they want with the trim that offers the equipment they want. Anything offered beyond that is usually dealer-installed accessories. This reduces cost and improves quality for the manufacturer by limiting the possible build permutations in the factory to a few hundred or perhaps a few thousand combinations in the worst case. For many American brand vehicles, the number of possible build combinations frequently runs into the millions, the vast majority of which never actually roll off an assembly line.
For 2016, Honda is making an exception to their usual pattern on the Civic. The Honda Sensing package of driver assist technologies is being offered as a stand-alone option on all five trim levels from LX to Touring, meaning you will be able to choose a base 2.0-liter LX and add full-speed adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist, road departure mitigation, forward collision warning and collision mitigation braking with pedestrian detection. As I write this, Honda hasn’t revealed how much the Honda Sensing package will cost, but it’s great to see an automaker do this on one of its highest-volume and most affordable vehicles.
During our brief test drive, the ACC and lane keeping seemed to work well and in fact the former was better than what is offered on the new Pilot that just launched this past summer because the Civic is the first Honda brand vehicle to offer low-speed follow capability. Other current Hondas with ACC automatically disengage the system below about 20 mph limiting their usefulness in heavy traffic. Offering this capability in even the base Civic puts Honda at the head of the class in terms of active safety capabilities.
The one feature missing from this and other Hondas is blindspot information with cross-traffic alert. The blindspot warning systems used by most manufacturers relies on a pair of radar sensors in the rear corners to detect vehicles beside and behind the car. Honda instead uses Lane Watch which relies on a camera mounted on the underside of the passenger-side mirror to give you a view of what’s in the blindspot through the audio display. While this is OK, it doesn’t help with the driver’s side blindspot and backing out of a parking space in a parking lot can still be nerve-wracking if you are flanked by big SUVs or trucks on either side.
The combination of reduced weight, better aerodynamics and new powertrains have helped Honda boost the fuel efficiency of the Civic. The 2.0-liter CVT combination is EPA-rated at 31 mpg city, 41 mpg highway and 35 mpg combined. Even with the nearly 200 extra pounds that the Civic Touring carries compared to the 2,751-pound LX CVT, it still matches the city and combined numbers and bumps the highway mileage to 42 mpg with the 1.5-liter turbo.
The 2016 Civic sedan goes on sale in November with a starting price of $18,640 for the 2.0-liter with a six-speed manual gearbox plus $835 for delivery. The loaded Civic Touring will run up to $27,335 including delivery. The only Civic not available with the Honda Sensing driver assist system is the manual transmission LX. Adding the assist package to a CVT-equipped LX, EX-T or EX-L adds just $1,000 to the bottom line, about half of what similar functionality costs on most other cars. The Civic coupe, five-door hatchback, Si and Type-R will follow every few months during 2016 and into 2017.