2016 Honda Civic

WESTLAKE VILLAGE, Calif. — Honda was accused of cutting corners with its all-new ninth-generation Civic for model year 2012. It seemed the Japanese car company was content to live on its reputation of building solid, affordable and reliable entry-level transportation. We had no qualms with the '12 Civic, admitting that it wasn't the leap forward we had expected. That's not a problem this time around. There's no question Honda has raised the bar with the 10th generation Civic.

In fact the new Civic may well be the new compact car benchmark leapfrogging such vaunted brands as Toyota Corolla, Hyundai Elantra, Nissan Sentra and Ford Focus.

Only the sedan is available as the Civic goes on sale across the country in November, but coming on its heels early in 2016 will be a coupe and a five-door hatchback. Later in the year the sporty Civic Si and the racy horsepower-infused Type R will follow. The new sedan is 0.8 inch lower, 1.8 inches wider and 3 inches longer with a 1.2-inch longer wheelbase than the outgoing car. 

Styling has taken a big leap forward. For the most part, we like the new look, but the new rather massive grille similar to the ones added to the recently-refreshed CR-V and Accord doesn't make our top five "most wanted" list. We have no qualms with the remainder of the styling exercise. The cabin is shifted backwards, making for a more dramatic, long-hooded silhouette. Bulging wheel arches and sculpted sides give the Civic a more muscular appearance than one would normally expect from an economy car. Standard LED daytime running lights and C-shaped taillights add some more flair with full LED headlights optional equipment.

The cabin is spacious with premium materials giving the Civic the feeling of a much more expensive four-door. It comes with such standard features as remote engine start, dual-zone automatic climate control and rain sensing wipers. Honda Sensing is corporate speak for its suite of safety technologies such as forward collision warning, lane departure warning and lane keeping assist, and road departure mitigation. It's available on even the entry-level LX grade.

But you have to look no further than the two new engines to determine just how far Honda has taken this new Civic with a starting price of $19,475 including $835 destination charge. The standard engine is a new 2.0-liter four-cylinder mated to either a six-speed manual transmission or a continuously variable transmission (CVT) making 158 horsepower and 138 pound-feet of torque.

Driving a variety of winding, rolling roads near Los Angeles, we found the standard setup exceeded our expectations for a family compact sedan, a definite step up from the outgoing 1.8-liter 143-horsepower engine. We figure 0-to-60 numbers will probably come in around 8 seconds. Handling is rewarding with very little body roll, and the Civic exhibited excellent on-center feel. The interior is surprisingly quiet at highway speeds and visibility is excellent, something we have come to expect in a Honda.

The new optional engine may make you sit up and take notice. For the first time in the US., Honda is marketing a turbocharged engine. The new 1.5-liter four-cylinder makes 174 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and 162 pound-feet of torque from 1,800 to 5,500 rpm mated top a new CVT that combines with the low-inertia turbo, VTC and electronic waste gate to optimize power delivery across the engine's full operating range. Unfortunately, we did not get the opportunity to drive it, but one publication has estimated 0-to-60 at or very near 7 seconds. The icing on this cake is its fuel economy of 31/41/35.

And there's more to come. For Si fans the new engine in that model should easily eclipse 200 horsepower.

Inside, the Civic has a more traditional dash design eliminating the split-level dash that has been used since 2006. We liked it, but it was polarizing and we think the new setup should please virtually everyone with all the necessary information — including the continued use of the digital speedometer — in a clear and readable fashion.

While the base level car continues with areas of hard plastic here and there (not a problem with us because they are well executed), the materials in the uplevel Touring trim could easily live in an entry-level Acura. There are some neat interior storage touches including USB and 12-volt power outlets tucked under center stack with an ingenious cord management system. A new electronic parking brake allows room for a large center bin with a sliding armrest and removable cupholder tray.

A seven-inch touchscreen placed mid-dash features new Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration that allows for smartphone control of the infotainment system. The navigation screen mow uses pinch-to-zoom and swipe gestures we have all become used to with our iPads and smartphones.

Rear-seat room is generous and the trunk is one of the biggest in the segment with 15.1 cubic feet of luggage space.

The Civic sedan comes in five trim levels — LX, EX, EX-T, EX-L and Touring. The LX and EX comes standard with the 2.0-liter engine and the top three trims get the new turbocharged engine. The LX with manual transmission will start at $19,475 including destination charge. The Civic range tops out at $27,335 for the loaded Touring.

Honda has done a masterful job in reinventing its popular compact car.

— Jim Meachen