2016 Honda Civic EX
2.0-liter, DOHC I-4, direct injection, CVVT (158 horsepower @ 6,500 rpm; 138 lbs-ft @ 4,200 rpm)
Continuously Variable Transmission
31 city/41 highway/35 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)
37 (Observed, MPG)
Base Price: $19,475*
As Tested: $22,875*
* Prices include $835 destination charge.
Honda received much flogging from the press for the last-generation Civic. The 2012 model was the result of Honda improperly reading the Magic 8-Ball amid the global slowdown. Honda’s decision makers assumed shoppers would be looking for something more modest, perhaps even austere, and changed direction to suit. The competition, assuming shoppers would be looking for greater creature comforts in a smaller package, went the opposite direction and doubled down on luxury features.
The conventional wisdom has been that Honda “stepped in it” with the ninth-generation sedan. Journalists complained about the plastic quality, the styling and … customers paid little attention. The Civic’s sales dipped slightly in 2011 during the changeover, but rapidly rebounded to over 315,000 units a year since. Some would say that Honda’s “emergency refreshes” were the reason for the sales success, but I propose a different answer: the continued sales success of the lesser-than Civic and an increase in sales of “premium” compacts showed there was plenty of room in the segment for both.
Whatever the reality, one thing is for certain: When it came time to design the tenth-generation Civic, Honda had “austere” removed from the company dictionary.
Corporate styling is all the rage and the Civic is the latest
victim example. The 2016 Civic and Accord borrow a page from Acura’s book and use nearly the same front end. Continuing the game of corporate look-alike, the top-end Civic Touring gains full-LED headlamps like Acura’s sedans and the Accord.
The Civic’s tenth-generation brings us another modern miracle: it’s three inches longer, nearly two inches wider and more powerful versus the outgoing model — yet it’s 60 pounds lighter. This means more room inside than ever before. It also means the Civic is basically the same size as a 1990s Accord.
The Civic is still a sedan and not a Prius-like liftback even if its silhouette is vaguely reminiscent of the Crosstour. Of course, Honda has announced that the European hatchback will arrive on our shores shortly if you prefer a larger rear opening. Hatch lovers rejoice!
The biggest changes come to the Civic’s cabin. Gone is the sea of hard plastic and its odd variety of textures. Instead, a harmonious and mature design is found in the form of a variety of softer surfaces that go from dash to decklid. Honda even ditched the Civic’s funky (but distinctly Civic) two-level instrument cluster and replaced it with a conventionally located cluster dominated by a 5-inch LCD. Perhaps Honda answers prayers after all.
Honda continues to utilize a manually adjustable seat frame in most trims in the Civic. If you want leather upholstery, you’ll have to pony up for the EX-L and its eight-way power driver’s seat. Providing power to the passenger seat requires going up to the Civic Touring, which only offers four-way power adjustment. My back found the lack of adjustable lumbar support vexing since you now find it mid-level trims in many of the Civic’s competitors.
The Civic surprises with more rear seat headroom than it had last year, even with its four-door-coupé styling, putting it towards the top of the pack. Rear seat legroom is the biggest beneficiary of Honda’s taffy pull to an incredible 37.4 inches, just one inch shy of the 2016 Accord. The extra width also shows when seating adults or child seats in the rear. The Civic’s trunk is one of the largest as well with just over 15 cubic feet of widget storage.
Honda Sensing is the new name for all of Honda’s latest safety gadgetry brought down from Acura. The package installs a radar sensor in the front grille and camera system to provide full-speed-range adaptive cruise control, pre-collision warning, autonomous braking, road departure mitigation, lane departure warning and lane keeping assist. Nothing in this is groundbreaking as it’s been seen in luxury cars for a while. What is groundbreaking is that we find it all bundled together in a Civic, and not just a top-end model. You can add the package to a base LX model for $1,000 on top of the price of the required automatic transmission. At $20,440, this makes the Civic the least expensive car with this level of active tech.
EX and above models receive Honda’s latest HondaLink infotainment and navigation system with a 7-inch touchscreen LCD integrated into the dashboard in a style similar to BMW’s iDrive display. For a car in this segment, the system is surprisingly well equipped with Bluetooth/USB/iPod integration, smartphone driven apps and Honda’s implementation of Apple Carplay and Android Auto.
Honda fits two new engines to the sedan for 2016, both making more power than last year’s 1.8-liter four. A 2-liter direct-injected four-cylinder engine is standard in LX and EX producing 158 horsepower and 138 lbs-ft of torque.
Also new for 2016 is a 1.5-liter turbocharged engine that surprised a few Honda fans. Tuned to 174 horsepower and 162 lb-ft of torque, this is one of the more powerful mid-level engines in the compact segment and it can be found in EX-T, EX-L and Touring. In case you were worried, this isn’t the new Civic Si, but it does bode well for Honda’s sporty compact when it does arrive.
Although the 2- and 1.5-liter engines use different CVTs, they both benefit from Honda’s latest software that changes ratios much more rapidly than Nissan’s CVT. This makes passing maneuvers feel more “normal” as the switch from a high ratio to a low ratio is fast and crisp.
Acceleration has improved with more power and less weight, but the real difference in the Civic is the NVH. The 2-liter engine is smoother than the outgoing 1.8 and Honda added more sound deadening material at the firewall so you hear less of the engine. The Civic has also been fitted with triple door seals, an acoustic windshield and foam galore to finally make this Honda one of the quietest compact sedans. (It’s actually quieter than the ILX.)
Thanks to its ever increasing proportions, the Civic’s ride is well composed over broken pavement. Its suspension is moderately firm but not harsh, which allows the Civic to manage body roll in the corners while soaking up the bumps that typically unsettle the rear suspensions of the Forte, Elantra and Elantra.
Electric power steering is unavoidable these days, but Honda has made the best of the numbing technology. Steering is weighted on the firm side of moderate and fitted with a quicker ratio than you find in the Mazda3. Although the Mazda3’s steering feels a hair lazier, the Mazda does transmit more road feel to the driver making it easier to tell what the front tires are doing. Ultimate grip in the Civic is hampered by Honda’s tire selection, which remains at 215 in width from the base LX all the way up to the top-end Touring.
The rare six-speed manual is just what you’d expect from Honda: ratios are well chosen and the feel of the shifter and clutch are among the best in the industry. Not bad for an econo box. Sadly, the manual can only be found in the base model.
Although Honda makes the best CVT, hands down, it’s still a CVT. Press the pedal to the floor and the CVT equipped EX will scoot to 60 in 8.3 seconds while imitating a stepped automatic. That’s faster than the last Focus, Corolla, Sentra or Elantra I tested and just a few tenths slower the 2.5-liter Mazda3. Keep in mind this is the base engine.
Thanks to the CVT design, the “shifts” are crisp and believable compared to Toyota and Nissan units. However, if you use anything less than full throttle, the CVT acts just like you’d expect with the engine “hanging out” at a particular rpm as the car accelerates. The uncomfortable truth: this is the most efficient way to accelerate. Back-to-back runs proved you can attain 60 mph in 2/10ths of a second faster if you put the transmission in “L,” which prevents the CVT from imitating shifts.
Thanks to the CVT, efficient engine and light curb weight, we averaged nearly 37 miles per gallon over 725 miles. As with most turbo engines, the 1.5-liter turbo can be very efficient on the highway, but will burn more fuel than the naturally aspirated 2-liter when the road gets more fun.
At $18,460 for a Civic LX with the manual transmission, the Civic has the highest starting price in the segment. That’s a whopping $2,500 more than a base Forte. Comparing automatic-equipped models shrinks the delta, but the Civic is still $1,700 more. Admittedly, the Civic does come with $550 more equipment, but the Honda is more expensive no matter how you slice it.
While I think the difference is justifiable, it does come down to more emotional comparisons such as the nicer bits Honda uses on the inside, the quieter cabin, the better steering feel, etc. The comparison is similar but to a lesser degree when you set the Civic against the Elantra, Sentra, Corolla, etc.
The move to a premium entry rather than an overt “value” entry is an interesting move for Honda. At $22,040, our EX tester with cloth seats stickered at about the same price as a top-end Sentra SL with leather upholstery. Instead of leather, Honda added the full suite of active safety gizmos and the 7-inch HondaLink system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. I’m always torn between gadgets and “traditional luxury,” but I have to admit I’d take the Civic EX over the Sentra SL due to the availability of auto brake hold, radar cruise control and CarPlay.
Turbo Civics start at $22,200 and, because the 1.5-liter engine slots between the base and future Civic Si and Type R models, there isn’t much out there as far as direct competition is concerned. The 1.5 is not a competitor to the Focus STl something like Mazda3 2.5 is a better comparison. Versus the Mazda, the Civic ends up being less expensive while delivering similar performance and better fuel economy. Honda also allows you buy the more powerful engine and radar cruise control without a leather interior, something not possible in the Mazda.
With the 2016 redesign, Honda has changed the character of the Civic for the better. Rather than feeling like a discount entry that sold on Honda’s reliability reputation and value, it can now be considered the premium entry in the segment. With the addition of Honda Sensing, I suspect it’ll also be the safest. Safety-obsessed Volvo has been doubling down on active safety systems lately in a mission to eliminate deaths in Volvos by 2020. While that goal is obviously unrealistic, the Civic is an entertaining comparison. The addition of Honda Sensing on just one quarter of Civics sold in the USA will have a bigger impact than Volvo’s efforts simply because Honda will put autonomous braking and other systems in the hands of more people.
It’s no secret that I love me some safety gadgets and perhaps that predisposed me to like the Civic. But the real truth: the Civic is just easy to live with. It’s full of driver convenience features, it’s well equipped, and it likes my iPhone. If I was shopping in this segment, the EX would be a leather steering wheel and adjustable lumbar support away from perfection.
Honda provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review
Specifications as tested
0-30: 3.3 seconds
0-60: 8.1 seconds
1/4 mile: 15.9 @ 91 mph