Civic Disobedience: An Original Rabble-Rouser Returns to Form
The Honda Civic, now more than 40 years young and coming into its 10th generation, has never been as challenged as it has been recently. Honda, the great purveyor of Compound Vortex Controlled Combustion (CVCC) technology during the industry’s darkest disco days, gradually developed into the pinnacle of economical and reliable transportation for the masses.
Early Civics offered modest conveyance with a dash of enthusiast zest that most competitors wouldn’t bother with. But the compact car deck has become stacked in the past half-decade—coinciding with a down period for the Civic—as newer and shinier C-segment sedans with impressive features and driving zeal have drawn our attention.
No more, says Honda. Following an undistinguished ninth generation, the Civic is out to show that it may be over 40, but it’s still got it. The 2016 model’s platform is all-new, lengthening the wheelbase 1.2 inches while chasing more sporting flair without totally losing everyday comfort. Two new inline-four engines targeting more than 40 mpg (5.9 L/100km) highway are available, and one owns a turbocharger—a first for the Honda brand in the U.S. Then there’s the styling. Traditionally, the Civic’s bodywork tends to lean toward clean and understated. Love it or hate it, the 2016 Civic‘s redesigned exterior looks to rouse the rabble, some of its elements (such as the front chrome bar) seemingly inspired by the hydrogen fuel-cell FCX Clarity. The basic idea Honda transmits is this: You could spend around $20,000 USD on our economy sedan rather than the other guy’s, and you’d also get to show off the Civic’s C-shaped taillights with integrated LED light bars, especially at night.
The turbo’s oomph and broad powerband are most welcome.
Generation 10’s design is the most eccentric since the 2002-2005 EP3 Si sat on dealer lots, yet the base 2016 sedans pack as much punch as that former hot hatch. The 1.5-liter, turbocharged inline-four possesses a healthy 174 horsepower and 162 lb-ft of torque with a peak boost pressure rating of 16.5 psi. Armed with a continuously variable automatic (the only transmission choice with the turbo) the engine slings a preproduction, top-of-the-line Touring sedan from 0 to 60 mph in a relatively quick 7.2 seconds and through the quarter mile in 15.5 seconds at 92.4 mph (149 km/h), faster than the EP3 Si.
There’s a hidden storage pocket beneath the center console, like in the HR-V. Note the lack of a volume-control knobâa deal-breaker for some.
We also had a chance to straight-line test the price-leading LX model with the also-new 2.0-liter, naturally aspirated four-cylinder with 158 hp and 138 lb-ft and a six-speed manual transmission, and it demonstrated it’s no slouch. A well-timed launch and minimal weight (2,744 pounds (1,245 kg) for the LX) led to a 0-60 time of 7.8 seconds and a quarter mile of 15.9 seconds at 88.0 mph (142 km/h). But we’ll reserve the 2.0-liter’s final judgment until we can sample it with the CVT in either LX or EX guise. The signs look good enough, though, considering the last Civic EX (2,802 pounds (1,271 kg)) with the old 143-hp, 129-lb-ft, 1.8-liter, and CVT combination we tested took 9.0 seconds.
Remarkably, the presence of the DOHC 2.0-liter and turbo 1.5-liter signifies the first time in Civic history that no single-cam layout is available. The turbo’s oomph and broad powerband are most welcome in the 2,925-pound (1,327 kg) Touring sedan, which musters a figure-eight time of 27.5 seconds (Mazda3 territory). The car could be quicker if the CVT acted with more urgency, as there’s a noticeable delay in acceleration when we transition from cornering to applying full power. (The transmission works fine in general use.)
Dynamically, it’s easy to recognize Honda’s signature sense of lightness and delicacy in the steering and body motions. Steering wheel turns lock-to-lock have been shortened from 2.8 to 2.2 to make the car feel livelier, and variable steering ratios were affixed to minimize the impact on the turning circle, which grows only slightly from 35.4 to 35.7 feet. The steering effort has a smidge greater heft than before but is still pretty light overall.
The Civic Touring comes with modern safety tech (forward collision warning, road departure mitigation, etc.), thicker anti-roll bars, and chrome outside door handles, but the new parking brake could be the item of most interest. An electronic switch is standard, and we’ll predict the hand lever’s removal will become one of the topics virtuous Civic owners discuss at length, alongside two-tier dashboards, plummeting redlines, and the abolition of front control-arm suspension. The sloping roofline affects passenger entry into the rear, and it’s visually hard to believe there’s more back-seat space as the official specs attest. You do seem to sit deeper into the rear bench, so friend and family ride-alongs should be fine as long as they’re not terribly tall and won’t bump their heads getting in and out.
During the ninth generation’s early days, it looked like Honda might be content to let the Civic scrape by on nameplate equity. But this latest effort—longer, wider, lower, and with wilder, more distinctive styling—goes a long way toward reasserting Honda cares about the always-popular Civic. The competition might have been thrilled with the thought of Honda apathy, but it’s quite clear now the Civic won’t concede its four decades of sales dominance without a fight.
|2016 Honda Civic Touring|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$27,335|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, FWD, 5-pass, 4-door sedan|
|ENGINE||1.5L/174-hp/162-lb-ft turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4|
|TRANSMISSION||Cont. variable auto|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||2,925 lb (61/39%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||182.3 x 70.8 x 55.7 in|
|0-60 MPH||7.2 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||15.5 sec @ 92.4 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||123 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.83 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||27.5 sec @ 0.62 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||31/42/35 mpg (est)|
|ENERGY CONS., CITY/HWY||109/80 kW-hrs/100 miles (est)|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.55 lb/mile (est)|
2016 Honda Civic photos from the automaker: