Collingwood, Ont. – I remember when Honda brought out the new, ninth-generation Civic for 2012. The company said it was “completely redesigned,” but I had a hard time telling it apart from the one it replaced.
That Civic retained its bestseller status, but given its lacklustre makeover and how good its competitors were getting, it was hard to see why. And so I have to give Honda credit for honesty at the launch of the 10th-generation 2016 Civic. At most of these events, the automakers go on and on about how they’re building on a car that was already top of its class.
But this time, Honda’s reps admitted that the company lost its way with the last Civic, concentrating solely on chasing Toyota’s Corolla instead of moving ahead. And so it went back to the beginning, putting together a truly all-new model that’s now the best mainstream compact sedan I’ve driven in a very long time.
(Disclosure: Accommodation, meals, and a pre-set driving route were provided to the writer by the automaker.)
As usually happens with makeovers, it’s longer and wider than its predecessor, but lower overall. Despite that swoopier C-pillar, rear headroom remains the same as before, and the cabin’s overall volume increases. There’s also more high-strength steel in the body, so the curb weight drops by 28 kilograms (current LX to previous LX), but the body is stiffer.
Under the hood, the 2016 Civic gets two new engines to replace the previous 143-horsepower 1.8-litre four-cylinder. The base powerplant is a 2.0-litre that makes 158 horsepower and 138 lb.-ft. of torque. The available 1.5-litre is Honda’s first turbocharged engine in North America, cranking out 174 horsepower, along with 162 lb.-ft. of torque that peaks at 1,800 r.p.m. The 2.0-litre comes with a six-speed manual or CVT, while the turbo exclusively runs a CVT specific to it.
The base trim is the DX, with 2.0-litre and stick shift only, for $15,990. That’s primarily to give Honda a large-font advertised price, since air conditioning isn’t included and can’t be added (although, oddly, you do get a standard multi-angle rearview camera). The LX starts at $18,890 for the stick and $20,190 for the CVT, while the EX 2.0 is $22,590. The turbo models, meanwhile, ring in at $24,990 for the EX-T, and $26,990 for the Touring.
I started my day in the turbo, which is going to have fans pricking up their ears. It’s quick and there’s virtually no lag, just a strong, steady pull that’s been missing from a Civic for far too long. Regular-grade fuel is recommended, too. The CVT is actually a good match to this engine, but I was very disappointed to find that there’s no manual mode for it, much less paddle shifters. The good news is that Honda’s reps say a stick shift will eventually be offered with the turbo, but because the company’s primary concern right now is just building enough volume sellers to populate dealer lots, no one’s sure when that will happen. (Even better news: we’ll also be getting a coupe, a hatchback, an Si, and a Type R.)
But if you don’t want to move up into the turbo’s price range—or if, like me, you’ve seen enough friends replace turbos on small-displacement engines that you wonder about longevity—then while the 2.0-litre isn’t as sporty, it’s still a fine fit in this sedan. Its CVT is a bit noisier and isn’t as crisp as the turbo’s partner, but it’s still more than acceptable, especially in a car that starts below $21,000.
The Civic’s vastly improved steering and suspension are evident right from the first trip around the block. Honda says that rather than chase the mainstream North American market, it benchmarked European models, specifically with cars like the Audi A3. It isn’t an Audi, of course, but the Civic leans far more toward Euro-sport than it does econobox, and it’s far more satisfying to pilot than any of its current competitors here. There’s a surprising amount of road feel through its electric-assist steering, it handles sharp corners with confidence, and all models have four disc brakes.
The car is a global collaboration. Its platform and styling were developed in the U.S., its powertrain was designed in Japan, and its manufacturing processes for all worldwide factories were developed at Honda’s plant in Alliston, Ontario. All Civics sold in Canada, including their engines, are built at the Canadian factory.
The new interior impresses as well, with soft-touch materials, a redesigned console with more storage space, and a new instrument cluster that eliminates the much-maligned two-tier unit that burdened prior Civics.
All of this is wrapped in styling that’s finally sleek instead of sleepy, with a long hood, sharp creases, and a specific wheel design for each trim.
The DX and LX aren’t entirely Spartan, offering such amenities as one-touch up/down front windows, tilt and telescopic steering wheel, Bluetooth streaming audio, and capless fuel filler, plus heated seats on the LX. But move up to the top lines and you get a number of higher-end features, including sunroof, dual-zone automatic climate control, proximity key with pushbutton start and walk-away locking, remote starter, and Lane Watch passenger-side monitor on the EX and EX-T models.
The top-line Touring adds to that with LED headlights, rain-sensing wipers, wireless phone charging, power-adjustable front seats, leather upholstery, heated rear seats, and premium stereo with navigation and satellite radio.
The Civic also offers Honda Sensing, optional on the LX and EX for $1,000, and standard on the turbo models. First seen on the Accord, the package includes adaptive cruise control that will start and stop in low-speed traffic, forward collision warning with braking, and a lane departure warning system that gives the wheel a couple of quick shakes to wake you up, and then nudges you back if you don’t do it yourself.
Like the Accord, the Civic also now includes smartphone integration through Apple CarPlay or Android Audio, on all but the base DX trim. Plug in your phone and many of your apps can be accessed through the infotainment screen, along with summoning Siri via the “talk” button on the steering wheel.
I was hoping the Civic’s redesign would include a volume dial for the stereo, but I didn’t get my wish. Instead, you have to tap at the slider on the glass. Yes, you can adjust the volume via the steering wheel, but it’s just so much simpler to reach over and give a quick turn on a real dial.
But that’s a minor issue on a major overhaul, and one that’s done very well. The Civic has been Canada’s best-selling car for the past 17 years, and it probably would have continued on the strength of its customer loyalty had nothing been done to it. But there’s no reason why someone buying a Civic should have to drive a boring car. With this all-new model, Honda has finally gotten it right.