2016 Honda Civic Sedan First Drive Review - Pick Your Flavor
2016 Honda Civic Sedan
It only took Honda 15 years to get the Civic right again.
After Honda, a company known for engineering prowess in the 1990s, attempted to make the Civic a more palatable option for plain jack and janes — enthusiasts either hung on to what they had or went elsewhere.
To me, the last real Civic was the sixth-generation model, which Honda sold from 1996 to 2000. It was also the last generation that Honda sold as an honest to goodness hatchback in North America. Sure, the British-built Si came to our shores later, but you needed to shell out big bucks for Honda’s pride and joy from Swindon.
Thankfully, the automaker is going back to its roots — 15 years in the past — to deliver a driving experience I’ve missed since saying goodbye to my 2000 Honda Civic Coupe many, many years ago.
And, to top it all off, there are now two flavors — regular and turbocharged.
To get to a 10th generation, a nameplate needs to have good roots — and the Civic does. Starting in the 1970s, the Civic entered the market technologically ahead of the rest. Its CVCC engine, a marvel of emissions-cheating wonder and a curse for mechanics afraid of vacuum lines, would go on to show the domestics that imports could play to the clean air regulations better than Detroit — and right on their doorstep, too.
Fast-forward to now, Honda has been behind its rivals when it comes to whiz-bang engine technology. The Japanese automaker has become a more conservative, risk-averse company. For many years, it was hard to find the fun that made the Civic popular in the first place.
The 2016 Civic sedan is a foreshadowing of the entire Civic lineup. Honda’s compact will be released first in four-door guise before again spawning coupe and hatch variants at various points on the Scoville scale: normal, Si, and Type R.
Say what you want about the Acura-fication of the Honda’s nose, but nothing can be worse than the phoned-in front end of the last generation.
Would you just look at that cute little pug face?
Sure, it’s a bit awkward, but so was the new Corolla when it debuted, and the Chevrolet Cruze, and virtually every other other modern vehicle that has attempted to strike its own chord in an automotive market increasingly filled with sameness. The compact segment doesn’t need another rhythm guitarist. It needs a lead player; someone that can pluck notes in new and intriguing ways.
The new Honda “wing” grille aside, Civic does make use of LED daytime running lights like almost every other car these days. In top Touring trim (pictured above), you can get full LED headlights instead of the standard projector beam lighting.
Around to the side, the new Civic shows its growth, bordering on midsize sedan territory. While the car is longer overall, the front overhang is actually shorter than the outgoing model. The rear, however, gives the Civic most of its extra length and accompanying additional cargo room. That extra length also allows for some interesting packaging in the passenger cabin, but we will get to that later.
The rear of the new Civic is just as polarizing as the front. Its new LED tail lamps are massive and futuristic. The top-most inner points of those lights blend into a built-in spoiler that ties the sides together. For the first time, Civic gets dual exhausts when paired with the turbo engine (normally aspirated 2-liter models still get the single exhaust), though they are hard to notice as they’re tucked away under the lower bumper for aero efficiency. Also, since the new Civic will be sold in Europe, there’s a large, flat area for those long, skinny European licence plates.
Considering how wild the normal Civic looks now, it will be interesting to see how Honda visually sets apart the future Si and Type R models.
The Civic has never been a car with the best interior. Either it has been completely utilitarian or, like the last generation, cluttered.
Honda has tried to clean things up a bit. Gone is the two-tier dash and, for better or worse, Honda has removed as many physical controls as possible. That means there is still no volume knob in upper trims (though it does make an appearance on models equipped with the basic display audio system). There’s also no tuning knob.
However, where Civic has nailed it is in comfort.
The driving position is almost infinitely adjustable. In no other car have I been able to sit that low in the cabin, unless it was a sports car. Also, since the driver’s seat is mounted so low, rear passengers are given an almost theater-like position that provides a view of the road ahead. Oh, and there’s more headroom, which means 6-feet and taller passengers ride comfortably — and I mean comfortably — in the rear seat.
An extra 3.2 cubic feet is earmarked for passengers within the Civic’s new wrapper. And if you’re the type of person who carries around multiple hockey bags in the trunk, an extra 2.65 cubic feet of space is dedicated for that purpose.
Honda has thrown more technology at the Civic than a Google engineer does at a San Francisco Victorian resto-mod home.
Infotainment, while not completely new, does feature Apple CarPlay ( which I’ve glowingly spoken of before) and Android Auto (which I got to use for the first time in the new Civic). Both are stellar. Android Auto is better if you want a fuller feature set, but that requires owning an Android phone which is totally uncool. In addition to the new Silicon Valley riders, Garmin was tapped to develop Honda’s new navigation system, which is also excellent.
Those looking to pump tunes will be glad to hear there is a 10-speaker (including subwoofer), 450-watt audio system fitted in Touring models. Lesser trims receive either a 160-watt, 4-speaker or 180-watt, 6-speaker setup.
Moving away from the center console, the Civic is fitted with a new LCD-based instrument panel that comes with a number of different pages including a driving computer (for mileage, etc.), smart maintenance monitor, audio (Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, too), and navigation and telephone displays. Lesser trims are given a more basic LCD arrangement with analog tachometer.
Honda has put a renewed focus on safety with a new suite of active features to keep you out of trouble. Called Honda Sensing, the features can be added to almost any Civic as an options package or as standard equipment in upper trims, and includes Collision Mitigation Braking System, Forward Collision Warning, Lane Keeping Assist System, Lane Departure Warning and Adaptive Cruise Control.
In a world of downsizing and turbocharging, Honda is both following the market and going against it. What does that even mean?
Well, the 1.8-liter, four-cylinder engine found in the current Civic is gone. Goodbye. In its place is a larger 2-liter K-series VTEC motor with 158 horsepower (+15) and 138 lbs-ft of torque (+9). Those in the tuning community will be incredibly interested by the new base model motor as it will be the basis of the next Type R power plant. When we asked “How much boost can it take?”, the powertrain engineer attending the launch said, “Lots. Much boost.” So, there you have it.
If you don’t want to build a turbo setup for your Civic, Honda will do it for you in the form of a new 1.5-liter non-VTEC turbocharged four-cylinder mill good for 174 horsepower and 162 lbs-ft of torque. While it doesn’t have the high output numbers or the manual transmission option of Volkswagen’s 1.8T, the new 1.5 turbo is more than adequate for the Civic, even if its paired exclusively with a continuously variable transmission.
And about that transmission and engine, power delivery is oddly smooth for a turbo mill because of the CVT. Put your foot down and it scoots, but in a way that takes all the torquey lumps out of the power delivery. Foot flat to the floor, there will never be wheel spin, but top trims of Civic aren’t about who can leave the tallest elevens on the pavement.
That said, the 2-liter mill with the six-speed manual is a sweet pairing. Shifts are just heavy enough to make it feel a little racy, but not so heavy that you’ll be looking to get a gym membership after your first drive. Same goes for the clutch; engagement is crisp but forgiving. Also, you can hear VTEC kick in, because that’s important yo.
Fuel economy for the two mills is scarily similar, though you can eke out a little more distance from a tank of dino juice with the turbo (as long as you stay out of the boost). With the manual, the Civic is rated at 31 mpg combined. Both the 2- and 1.5-liter mills are rated at 35 mpg combined when paired with the CVT, though the turbo gets one more mile per gallon on the highway cycle for a total of 42.
It must be said the new Civic is just that — new. Forget your preconceived notions based on the last couple of generations. The 10th-generation Civic is a 10 at least when it comes to the driving experience.
Power isn’t the ultimate headline, but it never has been with the Civic. Instead, you feel much more involved in the act of driving, even if the car is dutifully handling a bit of that for you. Stability was Honda’s top goal for the new Civic and it shows. On-center feel is excellent and its suspension is confidence inspiring in longer sweepers and tighter corners. You won’t be setting a record lap time on the ‘Ring, but you’ll at least have fun attempting to do so.
Thankfully, the Civic doesn’t punish you for that confidence either. The ride is still be totally acceptable to the plain jack and janes.
Honda says this is the “epic Civic.” I think the jury is still out on that. However, if my short time with Honda’s newest compact is any indication of what’s to come, we could be in for a whole new generation of Civicnation.
Pricing for the new Civic starts at $19,475 and goes up to $27,335 in the United States. Production of Civic has just started at Honda’s two North American Civic plants — Alliston, Ontario and Greensburg, Indiana — and first-run units should arrive at dealers in November.
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