Honda Civic — A new benchmark

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Honda was accused of cutting corners with its all-new ninth-generation 2012 Civic. There's no question Honda has raised the bar with the 10th generation 2016 Civic. It has best-in-class performance with a new turbocharged 4-cylinder engine, a refined driving experience, top-flight interior quality, a unusually quiet cabin for a car in this price range, plenty of passenger and cargo space to suit a family of four, and exterior styling that moves 180 degrees from bland.

Styling has, indeed, taken a big leap forward. For the most part, we like the new look, with the exception of the grille treatment which is similar to ones added to the recently-refreshed CR-V and Accord. 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.

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 as an option on even the entry-level LX grade.

While the base car continues with areas of hard plastic here and there (not a problem with us because they are well executed), the materials in the up-level 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 now uses pinch-to-zoom and swipe gestures we have all become accustomed to with our iPads and smartphones.

You have to look no further than the two new engines to determine just how far Honda has taken this new Civic. The standard engine is a new 2.0-liter four-cylinder mated to either a six-speed manual transmission with a forgiving clutch and easy gear selection, or a continuously variable transmission (CVT) making 158 horsepower and 138 pound-feet of torque.

Driving a variety of winding roads 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. 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. Fuel economy on the base engine is stellar, EPA-rated at 31 mpg city, 41 highway and 35 combined.

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 to a new CVT that combines with the low-inertia turbo to optimize power delivery across the engine's full operating range.

We tested the Touring with the turbocharged engine and found it a solid performer. For comparison purposes, the turbo-equipped Civic has been measured just less than 7 seconds from 0-to-60 and at 15.2 seconds @ 94 mph in the quarter mile. Those numbers trump just about anything out there today.

To get the most out of the setup there's an S (sport) mode that tightens up the suspension and gives the car a sportier feel. While we wish for a traditional transmission, the CVT did a good job of acting like a real automatic. Perhaps some of the benefit of the CVT is gas mileage, which comes in at 31 city, 42 highway and 35 combined.

The sedan is available 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 we drove, with a sweet manual transmission starts at $19,475 including destination charge. The Civic range tops out at $27,335 for the loaded Touring — our test car — with everything Honda offers. Later this year Honda will introduce a coupe and a five-door hatchback into the Civic lineup.

Base price, $19,475; as driven, $27,335
Engine: 1.5-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 174 horsepower @ 6,000 rpm
Torque: 162 foot-pounds @ 1,700 rpm
Transmission: continuously variable
Drive: front wheel
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 106.3 inches
Length: 182.3 inches
Curb weight: 2,923 pounds
Turning circle: 35.7 feet
Luggage capacity: 14.7 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 12.4 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 42 highway, 31 city, 35 overall
0-60: 6.8 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Toyota Corolla, Ford Focus, Hyundai Elantra

The Good
• Fuel efficient engines
• Quiet, roomy cabin
• Big trunk
• Cutting-edge safety available

The Bad
• Distracting audio controls

The Ugly
• Pricey in full regalia