The epic Civic for the world
This Honda marks the transition from high-revving, naturally aspirated tradition to factory turbocharging. It isn’t likely to go back, so it’s pretty critical that Honda gets it right.
Instead of trying to build a car intended specifically to excel in North America, Honda went with a global platform. Benchmarks were set at the level of European luxury sedans from BMW, Audi and Mercedes-Benz. Admittedly, that’s a pretty lofty goal. We didn’t expect Mercedes-grade comfort and performance, but we did expect a reliable, comfortable and cost-efficient car that has a ton of utility. Basically, that’s what you’d always expect from a Civic. And while long-term reliability remains unknown, for the most part, things haven’t changed.
For 2016, Civic sedans get two engine options: either a naturally aspirated 2.0-liter I4 making 158 hp or a turbocharged 1.5-liter I4 pumping out a healthy 175 hp at 5,500 rpm. The engine options are determined at the trim level, with the LX and EXs powered by the 2.0-liter, while the LX-T, EX-T and Touring editions come equipped with the 1.5-liter engine. The 2.0-liter engine with a manual transmission is able to sip fuel at the rate of 27 mpg city, 40 mpg highway for combined fuel economy of 31 mpg. The turbocharged 1.5 with the CVT does even a little better with 31 mpg city, 42 mpg highway and a combined 35 mpg.
The interior on the base LX feels a little cheap considering Honda’s promise of premium appointments at entry-level pricing. The materials chosen for the dash, assorted interior trim pieces, arm rests and the center console all feel like they were designed for a car that costs less than $20K, which is fine — this car will sell for under $20K — but it’s a far cry from European Luxury.
On the other hand, the top-tier Touring model does live up to the hype: It feels as nice as any Acura sedan. The interior is clad with soft-touch materials throughout. Honda also did away with a traditional emergency brake, replacing it with an electronic unit that seems to work just as well while also allowing for a massive center console. But of course, no handbrake means no handbrake turns. Bummer.
The passenger compartment is surprisingly quiet. Honda went overkill on the sound-deadening and weather-stripping materials to seal this car up like a luxury sedan.
Honda says this Civic is the safest yet — thanks to the use of high-strength steel and specially engineered crumple zones, this Civic is both rigid and capable of safely crumpling on impact. By weakening certain areas of the high-strength steel structure with a heat-treating process, Honda managed to use mostly high-strength steel for the structure of the car, without being forced to use mild steel in crumple areas. This should allow for maximum structural rigidity, as well as somewhat predictable deformation on collisions. At least that’s what Honda says.
What’s it like to drive?
The torque converter-equipped CVT provides smooth, linear acceleration. Hell, we’ll be frank — this thing hustles. The CVT manages to keep the inline-four at near-peak boost under hard acceleration, and it’s out of its own way in a hurry. The 2.0-liter isn’t as exciting to drive, but it also feels more powerful than 158 hp sounds on paper. The big advantage of the 2.0-liter engine is that it is available with a manual transmission, whereas the 1.5-liter turbocharged engine is not — yet. We’re speculating that certain coupe models might have a manual transmission version –- but only time will tell. When cornering, the Civic is fairly stiff and predictable, better than most drivers will ever need an entry-level sedan to be.
The different trim levels steer, stop and handle just about the same — because they’re all equipped with the same suspension, steering, and braking components.
Honda chose to use an electric dual-pinion rack with a variable steering ratio to provide more road feel. Lock-to-lock takes two and a quarter turns, but the Civic sedan manages a good 35.7-foot turning radius.
Stopping power is provided by discs all the way around, and the car stops well. The brake pedal feels a little spongy, but the pedal stroke is relatively short.
There isn’t a ton of turbo noise with the 1.5-liter engine. No shh-pssh when you get out of boost and no spooling whine. So don’t expect to strike fear into the hearts of street racers. Hopefully, we’ll get a little bit of noise out of the Si and Type-R.
The suspension carries some serious improvements over previous generations but has been a point of contention with Honda enthusiasts who are still mourning the death of Honda’s double-wishbone suspensions. A MacPherson strut suspension system does duty up front, and a redesigned multi-link suspensions takes care of the rear. Civic enthusiasts don’t seem excited about another era of MacPherson strut front suspension, but they shouldn’t be too upset — the Civic handles well. The lack of negative camber from the MacPherson struts shouldn’t be an issue on the street, and the new Civic is pretty stiff in the corners. Despite being stiff, the Civic is also smooth and comfortable when you’re just trying to commute. Honda claims that this is because of new hydraulic bushing technology, and it seems to work well.
Visibility is not an issue in the new Civic sedan. A quarter window behind the rear doors helps when looking over your shoulders. And with the standard backup and blind-spot camera, blind spots are not an issue.
The gauge cluster is digital and, on startup, flashes the Honda logo, then the speedometer sweeps it away — it’s pretty “Tron,” but we like it. On turbocharged models, there is a boost gauge inside of the speedometer, which isn’t really necessary on a car like this — but it still looks cool. Like the rest of the Honda fleet, there are lights in the cluster telling you how efficiently you’re driving — they light up green when you’re getting optimum fuel economy and white when you’re sucking gas.
The infotainment system hasn’t changed much on the user side of things, besides the inclusion of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The Android and Apple skins come standard on all trim levels besides the base LX and were implemented really well. We didn’t have an Android phone, so we could only test the CarPlay option, which booted quickly and didn’t lag.