As an 80’s baby, going through high school in the late 90’s, there was a growing trend in the automotive enthusiast world that exploded with the release of one movie, The Fast and the Furious. I owned an ‘88 Civic hatchback and – not long after that – an ‘88 Acura Integra, and was very much into the Japanese car scene that was growing on the streets of America. That’s right…it wasn’t just in California; even on the streets in and around Texas we were falling in love with small displacement, lightweight Japanese cars. I loved the Integra with its 1.6-liter DOHC 16-valve engine, pushing just 75-horsepower and matched up to a 5-speed manual transmission. It wasn’t that it was fast, but it was light and nimble so it felt quick on the back country roads around Granbury, where I grew up. After The Fast and the Furious blew up these little cars began to gain even more popularity. And that, inevitably, let to people ruining them with park bench-sized wings, body kits, and turbos larger than the engine.
When txGarage grew large enough and Honda was finally ready to let me drive their new 2011 Civic, I was really excited. I hadn’t driven a Civic in a long time, and never really forgot the way my first two cars made me feel and the driving dynamic they brought. If you go back that far in our archives and read my thoughts on the 2011 Civic you’ll quickly see that – from my perspective – the Civic had definitely lost its luster. Honda was more about fuel efficiency and building a car to a price point than focused on building an enjoyable, dynamic car. In the four years since that review I really haven’t driven a Civic that excited me, and when hearing they were dropping off the new 2016 Civic I really didn’t pay it much attention. Would it be just another disappointment from Honda… or had they done something with the all-new 10th-generation Civic that could spark some life back into both the platform and the brand? Let’s do a lap around the new one.
EXTERIOR: First, let’s take a look at the new design. One of the things they seemed to do with both the 8th and 9th-gen car was to keep tweaking the design, hoping it would bring some life into the vehicle. This new car absolutely had to be more than just a redesign, and thankfully it’s a great looking car. The front end boasts many aggressive lines, with LED headlights that could have come from an Acura. The front fascia, from the right angle, looks to have a completely flat nose, much like the aggressive and sporty designs of Mazdas these days. And from the side this sedan has a much more coupe (or sport hatch) profile. The new LED taillights are sharply angled, giving the rear of the Civic 4-door a more compressed, athletic look. I really like what they’ve done with the exterior, and this isn’t even their most aggressive option. I can’t wait to see what they do with the Si or Type R, which should be coming to the US as well.
INTERIOR: This is an area that needed a lot of work. The previous gen felt too cheap, while the electronics were busy and felt outdated. This new car, though, suffers from none of that. The leather inside is of really nice quality and spreads from the seats to the armrests, door panels, and along the dash. The steering wheel is also leather, and a good size – it really feels good in the hands. It was easy to get into the seat, which had a nice, low seating position, and to position the wheel in a good, comfortable position.
You have new buttons on the wheel with touch-sensitive controls. You could turn the volume up and down with just a swipe of your thumb. Thankfully, they also could just be clicked like normal buttons as the touch feature seems mostly gimmicky; as demonstrated by Honda’s infotainment system a touch-only surface just isn’t as good as a physical button while driving a car. Above the wheel is the new instrument cluster. Honda has gotten rid of the stacked cluster from previous generations (which we’ll applaud), instead incorporating a more traditional setup. You get a temp gauge on the left, a fuel gauge on the right, and a big rpm tach in the middle with a digital speed readout in the middle of that. One really cool aspect of the new digital gauges is the Civic’s startup animation. It’s a nicely implemented feature that conveys a more premium look/tech touch.
In the middle of the Civic dash is a 7-inch touchscreen display controlling your navigation, audio, backup camera and just about everything else. This is a decent system, although I do still wish the buttons to the left were just regular buttons and not touch-sensitive ones. To see your climate controls you have one simple button reading out climate. When pressed it changes whatever is currently displayed on your screen to give you climate controls. Press it one more time and you’re back to where you started; simple. You have two USB ports and a nice storage area with cable management built in. No matter what you think about the interface of the infotainment display it can always be changed. I took some time to play with Honda’s integration with Apple’s CarPlay and it was really impressive. I’ve also played with the Android equivalent (Android Auto) in other cars and like both systems and what they’re doing for in-car infotainment.
Our Touring-level model also was equipped with heated seats in the front and rear, radar-guided cruise control, a lane assist system, push button start, keyless entry, and a slew of other great features you’d expect from an up-spec, modern car.
UNDER THE HOOD: Powering this newest-gen car is a new – although optional – generation engine. Honda offers either a 2.0-liter naturally aspirated engine or, as our new Civic was equipped, a 1.5-liter turbocharged engine. The smaller turbo is the premium option and it pushes 174-hp and 162 lb-ft of torque. In this car you can only have a CVT, although a manual trans remains available with the 2.0-liter engine. This means the car suffers from the same fun-killing side effects as most CVT-equipped vehicles, but most drivers won’t really notice the difference; Honda has done a great job with programed shift points to make this setup work. If you’re an enthusiast and super bummed that you can’t have a manual with the 1.5-turbo engine, don’t worry – this should be the package to expect out of the upcoming Si, and we’ll see what Honda has in store for the Type R.
SUMMARY: Dynamically, the car brought back a lot of memories of why Civics were just so good. You get a lot of pep on the low end with the small displacement engine. The car is lower, wider and longer than the previous generation, but also has the wheels pushed out closer to the corners of the car. It feels planted and handles itself extremely well through corners. It didn’t take long after driving the car to tell that the engineers at Honda really wanted to get this one right, returning to some of their ‘fun-to-drive’ roots.
Our Touring trim – with all the bells and whistles – came in at $27,335. In today’s market that’s not that bad, but you can get a larger car with just as many options for around the same amount; think Hyundai Sonata. If you’re buying a Civic it’s usually because you’re looking for reliability and economy and that’s something this new car should be able to deliver, just like any and all Hondas of the past. And don’t discount resale, which is historically high for the Civic; it’s a cost component that doesn’t look to deteriorate.
If you’re looking for both fun and affordable would I recommend the new Civic? I’d give it a qualified ‘yes’. This new Civic has some great diving dynamics, a great new design, lots of room in its interior of this century – and it’s a Honda! If you’re looking for even more sportiness wait for the Si or Type R. There are still a ton of great cars in this segment today, including the Elantra GT, Kia’s Forte, Ford’s Focus and the Mazda3. Even sportier, albeit less practical, are the Scion FR-S or Subaru’s BRZ, if you’re wanting more fun for $27K.