Honda's new Civic puts the fun in function

BY Haney Louka . Apr 08 04:00 am

Some might describe me as contrarian. It’s a tough point for me to argue: why else would I have bought a Blackberry Playbook when the iPad was clearly superior?

Those tendencies can surface, too, when it comes to my taste in cars. But only if I can make a good case for choosing something other than what most people tend to buy.

Automotive crowd-pleasers are typically inoffensive yet reliable conveyances that can get the job done albeit with a dearth of emotional involvement. As someone who loves to drive, I believe it simply doesn’t have to be that way. To quote Seth Rogen’s character in the movie Steve Jobs, “It’s not binary.” Even though Steve Wozniak was lamenting the apparent inability for his old friend Jobs to be gifted and decent at the same time, my frustration comes with vehicles that are good at what they do but have trouble making the experience fun.

Which brings us to the new Civic. This is finally proof a car can be both reliable and entertaining at the same time. It’s not that it hasn’t been done before, but let’s put this in perspective: the Civic has been Canada’s bestselling car for the last 18 consecutive years. The contrarian in me wants badly to look in the other direction for that reason alone. And for every one of those past 18 years I’ve been pretty successful at encouraging people to look at cars I have considered to be more interesting. But this new 10th-gen Civic appears to have the whole package.

After my first stint behind the wheel at AJAC’s TestFest in October, I had figured as much, picking it to win its category on its way to taking overall honours as Canadian Car of the Year, which it did. It’s also the North American Car of the Year. And judging by last month’s sales figures, the fact it’s more interesting than last year’s car hasn’t hurt it on the showroom floor, as it continues its sales dominance in Canada.

While it was difficult to fault the old car on any objective level — good reliability, low fuel consumption, and high resale were all on its side — it was in the subjective areas that I couldn’t get on board. Styling, for one: the radically sloped windshield and short hood gave it awkward proportions that never did grow on me. The new car has fixed that problem 100 per cent, giving the car a slung-back, long-hood profile that makes it look more aggressive and way less dorky.

It’s now in the rear end where the Civic might be polarizing: even though it’s a four-door sedan, it does have hatchback proportions, and wild crescent-shaped taillights. Still, those things can grow on me. It’s a shame, though, that the trunk has such a small opening as a result of its shape. (Last month, Honda debuted a five-door hatch version of this car that looks even better, so stay tuned.)

Inside, improvements are just as significant. You can forget about the old two-tier instrument panel. It didn’t work, and it’s good to see Honda’s designers have moved on. Drivers are now treated to a more cohesive, if perhaps a tad conventional, design. The touch screen works well, but I wish Honda understood that deleting the volume knob is nearly unforgiveable. The touch-sensitive slider control is finicky and unintuitive.

Aside from that, the only difficulty I had was a complete lack of function in the audio system during one of my drives. It worked well after, but Autos editor Willy Williamson had trouble with it as well. Thanks to a call to a Honda tech and some quick Google research he figured out how to reboot the system and all was good again.

Honda offers two engines to power the Civic’s front wheels for 2016: the base engine is a naturally-aspirated 2.0-litre four-banger with 158 hp and 138 lb-ft of torque.

This engine, available on DX, LX, and EX models, can be paired with either a six-speed manual gearbox or continuously-variable automatic transmission. EX-T and Touring models get a forced-induction 1.5-litre direct-injected turbo that’s good for 174 hp and 162 lb-ft of torque over a wider rev range. Enthusiasts may not want to know this, but the turbo engine is only available with the gearless CVT transmission in the new sedan. Thankfully, the manual will be offered with turbo models for the 2017 model year. Given Honda’s knack for turning out excellent shift-it-yourself gearboxes, my advice would be to hold out for the turbo-stick combo for maximum smiles per gallon.

Even with the CVT, though, the new 1.5 turbo is smooth, responsive, and has a decent soundtrack to go with it. I was impressed by the Civic’s steering effort and response and looked forward to getting behind the wheel each day that I had it. Think I would have said that about last year’s car?

Civic pricing starts at $16,155 for the DX and includes power windows and locks, 160-watt audio, Bluetooth connectivity, 16-inch wheels, independent suspension all around, hill start assist, heated mirrors, LED lights front and rear, and a rear-view camera (Lexus, are you listening?).

The LX bumps the ask up to $19,055 and adds the Apple CarPlay/Android Auto user interface, automatic climate control, heated front seats, cruise control, a 60/40 split folding rear seat, Wi-Fi tethering, and a seven-inch colour display.

$21,355 buys the LX-Honda Sensing model which adds a suite of driver assistance features including adaptive cruise control and a lane-keeping assist system. This is serious tech for the money.

There is a range of intermediate models, but we were able to try the top-shelf Touring model which stickers for $27,155. That may seem like a lot of money for a Civic, but consider that it comes with the turbo engine, wireless device charging, navigation, leather upholstery, 450-watt audio, heated rear seats, satellite radio, 17-inch alloys and rain-sensing wipers. Throw in the driver assistance features of the Honda Sensing models and it’s hard to argue the value at this price point.

There’s a lot to like about this 10th-gen Civic for the masses and enthusiasts alike. I guess going with the flow isn’t always so bad.


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