Honda hits the mark with latest Civic

BY Haney Louka . Jul 21 04:00 am

When Honda’s 10th-generation Civic sedan came to market for the 2016 model year, it caused a bit of a stir. Here’s a compact car that is a consistent top-three seller and has found a way to inject some appeal that was previously absent. I wasn’t a fan of the previous car’s styling or driving manners, so to me the new car represents a gigantic step in the right direction.

It appears many people agree; the Civic looks like it’s running away with the Canadian sales title for 2017 and we’re only halfway through the year.

As the sedan was being introduced, a carrot was dangled in front of us with the return of the Civic hatchback after an absence of 17 years (if you exclude the low-volume British-built SiR that came to Canada in 2002). But unlike the three-door sixth-gen hatchback, this is no entry-level trim: starting at $21,490, the hatch starts a full $5,000 dearer than the sedan. Let’s not forget that the Fit now fills that entry-hatchback role in Honda’s lineup.

But the five-door Civic is very well-equipped right out of the gate: most significantly, standard equipment includes Honda’s direct-injected 1.5-litre turbocharged engine that cranks out 174 horsepower and 167 lb-ft of torque. And a six-speed stick is available across the model range. Interested yet? I know I am.

A 180-watt audio system, 16-inch alloys, automatic climate control, heated front seats, and a rear-view camera are all standard kit on the LX. A continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) adds $1,300 to the bottom line.

Step up to the $25,190 Sport and you get a very modest bump in power (to the tune of six additional horses), 18-inch alloys, a power moonroof, push-button start, factory remote start, dual-zone climate control and a few other goodies.

The $29,390 Sport Touring gets a 540-watt audio system with 12 speakers, navigation, heated rear seats, leather upholstery, rain-sensing wipers and wireless device charging, just to name a few of the upgrades.

Also available across the range (and standard on the top-trim Sport Touring) is Honda Sensing technology. It’s a suite of safety and driver-assistance features that includes collision braking mitigation and warning system, lane keeping assist, road departure warning and adaptive cruise control with low-speed follow.

Driver-assistance features are quickly finding their way into the mainstream; the technology itself is based on hardware (cameras and radar) and software (the ability to detect and identify hazards and act on them) that is trickling down to entry level models quickly. In the Civic, Honda is still reserving the feature for upper trims; a glance at Toyota’s offerings reveals that many of these features are standard equipment even on base models.

Our tester was the LX with CVT; total price $22,790 before destination and taxes.

As CVTs go, the one employed in the Civic is one of the better designs. My biggest beef with these transmissions is responsiveness and this one is on point: there’s none of the dreaded delay when looking for a sharp increase in speed. Instead, sudden application of the throttle is met with a quick jump in engine revs and real acceleration nearly instantly.

Now, don’t think for a second that I’d consider the CVT over the manual: Honda’s stick shifts are legendary and eschewing that driving experience in favour of this gearless transmission is something I just can’t endorse.

And it’s heartening to see that the new Civic Si is only available with a manual. Bravo, Honda. But I digress.

So as automatics go, the Civic’s CVT does a fine job. It’s an efficient unit, too: city and highway fuel consumption ratings are 7.7 and 6.0 L/100 km respectively, and my own observed city consumption in the high-sevens backs up those numbers.

The only chink in the Civic hatchback’s armour is its steering. In the Civic, it’s a dual-pinion variable ratio system that varies (up to 17 per cent) how much the front wheels turn in response to a given rotation of the steering wheel. The dual pinion bit also incorporates a supplemental electric motor to add steering input beyond what the driver provides. The sedan has this hardware as well, but the hatchback is tuned to provide higher steering effort and smoother turn-in according to Honda’s press information.

Out in the real world, though, there was an unnatural feel when winding and unwinding the steering wheel at low speeds — for example, when making a right turn at a four-way stop. There was a point in the steering wheel’s rotation that suddenly and briefly required a higher level of effort. This isn’t something that defined the car’s behaviour by any stretch, but it bears mentioning.

Otherwise, the Civic was a joy to get into and drive, and having up to 1,300 litres of cargo space with the 60/40 split rear seat folded just reinforced my penchant for hatchbacks. Even with the rear seat up, the hatchback’s 728-litre cargo volume trounces the sedan’s 416.

As with the sedan, the car’s interior represents a welcome return to normalcy, with a logical control layout and tasteful treatments of the upholstery and trim. The centre-mounted tachometer with digital speed display is a nice, sporty touch.

On the outside, the styling may be a touch overwrought, but the hatch’s overall proportions are very likable and, to these eyes, more appealing than the sedan.

Honda has partially returned to its roots with the reintroduction of the Civic Hatchback, but this time around, it’s the upscale option in the lineup. Get the hatch with a stick and you’re in for a truly enjoyable and practical ride.



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