From a rational perspective, the 2016 Honda Civic Coupe makes absolutely no sense. It comes in the same trim levels, drivetrain options and suspension tuning as the new Civic sedan, but the lack of rear doors and limited rear seat headroom makes it less practical.
Yet there it sits, looking sporty and fun with its pillarless side graphic and trunk spoiler. If the Civic Coupe favors aesthetics over practicality, it must be art. Or, at least, artful.
I mused on these thoughts while driving the Civic Coupe through the sun-drenched hills of Monterey, California. Putting philosophy aside, however, I noted how the driving dynamics felt similar to the Civic sedan. The suspension and steering felt comfortable yet responsive, engaged with the road in a way that emphasized my control of the car.
The following day, I took a rare opportunity to drive the Civic Coupe on the track at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, clipping apexes and burning up brakes.
Honda led its 10th-generation Civic salvo with the sedan version, launched last year, coming out with a much better car than the previous model. The Coupe version is the second of what promises to be a whole family of cars. A Civic hatchback is on the horizon, along with a potent Si and a completely mad Type R. It's going to be a good year for Civic, and Honda fans.
Turbo or clutch?
The Civic Coupe I drove had Honda's new turbocharged, direct injection 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine, a high-tech little mill good for 174 horsepower and 162 pound-feet of torque. As with the sedan, a significantly less powerful 2-liter engine is available, with similar fuel economy. Guess which engine I prefer.
However, the Civic Coupe exhibits the same problem as the sedan -- the more powerful engine can only be had with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) instead of Honda's slick six-speed manual. The manual is only available on the lower-powered base model.
If you favor three-pedal driving, take heart -- Honda spokesperson Chris Martin told me the manual would be available with the turbo, in every body style, for the 2017 model year.
Saddled with the CVT, my only option was to put it in its sport position to wring more revs out of the engine, then work gas and brake pedals. Accentuating the Civic Coupe's competent handling and road feel were its sporty looks, catching every passing gaze in bright metallic Rallye Red.
The dashboard held Honda's latest infotainment unit offering an easy touchscreen interface on a nice satin finish that helped to mask fingerprints. This example lacked the navigation option but still presented a an easily understood interface with room to grow. In addition to audio and phone menus, extra screens and an app menu hinted at future expandability.
And like the sedan, this head unit supports both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a perfect addition to a car like the Civic, which lacks a built-in data connection for infotainment.
When I got the Civic Coupe to Laguna Seca, I prudently let a line of much faster cars ahead of me on the way to pit lane, putting me behind a Cadillac ATS-V. I didn't want to wear out my elbow giving point-bys in the designated passing zones.
The CVT set to its Sport position, I had merely to mash the pedal on entering the track, and quickly found that I would be pulling everything the car had to give me throughout my laps. Even on the shorter straights, I could floor it right up to the braking zone at the next turn, as the CVT wouldn't wind up the engine too far.
Tuned for the average driver on public roads, the electric power steering didn't feel particularly sharp as I aimed through the turns, but it got the job done.
For the track, Honda had equipped this Civic Coupe with sticky summer tires, but the limited power meant I wasn't exactly finding issues with grip. The suspension proved itself here, keeping the car nice and level, evening out the load on the tires.
Surprisingly, I kept up with the ATS-V, which had a lot to do with its more timid driver. Still, I patted the Civic Coupe's dashboard in appreciation.
When I pulled back into the paddock, a Honda engineer began inspecting the tires and brakes. The latter were literally smoking, although I hadn't noticed any fade during my laps. After letting them cool down, another driver took the car out for more thrashing fun.
If every car buyer exhibited rational purity, there would be even more Toyota Priuses on the road. But emotional appeal still plays a strong role, making room for cars like the 2016 Honda Civic Coupe. Opening the front doors and expecting family members to bend knees and duck heads as they squeeze into the rear seats may brand you with a sadistic streak.
But every time you approach the Civic Coupe, you can delight in how the roof falls back to the trunk lid in a fast line, and how the side window opening reflects that line, ending in an accentuated point. You can identify with the Civic Coupe's sporty look and take it as symbol of your individuality and belief in personal freedom.
It doesn't hurt that the Civic Coupe, following the sedan, is a well-built car with comfortable everyday driving dynamics. Combine that with its dashboard electronics, and the Civic Coupe exhibits excellent value.