The Honda Civic has long stood as one of the best economy cars on the market. For most of its history, it's won praise for offering an economical ride that doesn't scrimp when the driver wants to have a little fun.
Right around the turn of the century, though, something felt... off. The seventh generation seemed to lose any semblance of the fun it once possessed, rendering the Civic just another bland econobox with little to offer families beyond two rows of seats and a trunk. Matters improved with the eighth-gen model in 2006, but the Civic that immediately followed it was so bad that it necessitated a substantial refresh after just one year.
What a breath of fresh air it was, then, when Honda debuted today's 10th-generation Civic. It has some wacky styling, sure, but it once again attempts to stand out in a very crowded segment using Old Honda's tricks -- a blend of efficiency and sportiness that's hard to match.
Even the hatchback has returned, once again offering expanded cargo space without sacrificing any of the aforementioned qualities. In its Sport trim, it proves once again that Honda can build one hell of an entertaining, affordable car.
Styling that isn't for everybody...
The last Honda Civic had all the trademark contours of a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser. For the 10th iteration, Honda has leapt across the design spectrum and opted for something significantly more wild than mild -- and not to everybody's enjoyment.
My tester's black-and-red motif looks positively premium, or at least more expensive than the Hatch Sport's $21,300 sticker price would seem to indicate. Its black-painted wheels are a nice touch, although constant parallel parking will eventually wear those puppies back to silver. The center exhaust outlets are a nice touch, too.
My biggest points of consternation with the styling are the vents -- or more accurately, "vents." There are two honkin' expanses of black plastic up front, and two even larger ones out back. They stand out, and not always in the best way. Perhaps most damning is that the front "vents" only have tiny holes in them for cooling purposes, and the ones out back appear to do nothing at all. They're tacked-on, non-functional affectations, an aesthetic decision that isn't consistent with Honda's storied history of engineering-led design.
...at least on the outside
Fans of more traditional vehicle appearances will find more to like in the Civic's interior. The cloth seats have a durable feel and are comfortable on multihour journeys, but they are magnets for dog hair. By virtue of the hatchback's higher rear roof line, tall occupants will find plenty of headroom in the second row, and there's plenty of legroom out back, too.
There's interesting layering on the dashboard, and while it's obvious that the Sport model's carbon-fiber trim isn't real, it stands out nicely against an otherwise monochrome experience.
The gauge cluster is easy to read, with a large digital speedometer tucked inside the tachometer, which is the only analog gauge. The fuel and temp gauges use red lighting elements that are a little tricky to figure out until you see them in action. Instant fuel economy is always on display, with range and trip meters just below.
Weirdness comes in two different places in the cabin, only one of which is welcome. The 12-volt and USB ports live in a lower, nearly hidden portion of the center stack, but there's a smartly devised hole that allows for cords to be routed to the storage binnacle just below the climate controls.
The cupholder, on the other hand, is awkward and feels cheap. It slides back and forth, and lifting the armrest reveals empty space that replaces a dedicated center console. I would prefer a more traditional layout, or at least something that offers a bit more privacy.
The hatchback provides an excellent amount of storage. With the rear seats up, it offers 25.7 cubic feet of storage space, more than both the Volkswagen Golf and Chevrolet Cruze hatchbacks. It loses the numbers game once the rear seat folds down, though. 46.2 cubic feet is commendable, just not as much as the competition.
Don't expect too much tech on the base model
The Civic Hatchback Sport shown here is a base model, and thus, there isn't a whole lot of tech inside. My specific tester arrived with a USB port, Bluetooth phone connectivity and not much else. The base audio system is plenty fine, though, with speakers that provide clear sound and a host of physical buttons that are easy to manipulate without distraction. The standard backup camera has surprisingly high resolution.
The inclusion of automatic climate controls is a nice touch, as are the steering wheel controls, which are about as straightforward as can be.
Another interesting inclusion is the brake-hold system. Engaging it means the car holds its brakes at every stop, so you can take your foot off the brake. I didn't use it, because I don't see the point, but I like that it goes a step beyond a traditional hill-hold system. That said, even with brake hold off, the Civic's hill-hold will still keep you steady when shuffling off from an inclined stop.
Move up to the Sport Touring model, not shown here, and you can get a touchscreen navigation and infotainment system, and Honda's novel LaneWatch passenger-side camera. That system also adds a host of connected features, including Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, satellite radio and Pandora streaming.
Honda's lack of a physical volume knob on the Civic's touchscreen system has always bothered me, as it doesn't exactly work very well, so the base system is fine in my book. Since I can stream my own personal SiriusXM account over Bluetooth, I didn't even bemoan the lack of satellite radio on my base Hatch Sport tester.
It drives like a Civic should
The Civic Hatch Sport kicks off the driving experience with a great first impression. Forward visibility is excellent, due in part to a driver's seat with a wide range of height adjustability. Rearward visibility is lacking, thanks to the hatch -- the rear window is small, and the C-pillars are massive, which doesn't do blind spots any favors.
Driving is damned good, though. It drives like a Civic should, on the firm side without being a stiff, uncomfortable mess. It's not necessarily soft over bumps, but very little sound actually makes its way into the cabin. The steering is fine -- it's numb like many other electric setups, but a quick(ish) steering ratio keeps the fun factor up. The stock tires, Continental ContiProContact all-seasons measuring 235/40/18, did a fine job handling this oddly warm winter.
The 180-horsepower, 177-pound-foot, 1.5-liter turbocharged four cylinder is a great engine. Low revs produce torque in a way no Civic ever has. Engine noise is barely there, and it starts petering out once the revs climb beyond 4,500 rpm or so, but when you're low down, this Civic hustles.
If greater efficiency is desired, there's an Econ button that softens up throttle response. It isn't hard to achieve the EPA-estimated 39 mpg on the highway, no matter what mode the car is in, but it's almost necessary to hit the feds' 30-mpg city estimate. During my week with the car, I averaged between 40 and 45 mpg on the highway, with city driving closer to 25-28 mpg.
The driving experience suffers a few letdowns, though, thanks to the pedals and gearbox. The six-speed manual shifter is slightly vague, offering a less direct motion than I would have preferred. The clutch pedal almost completely lacks a bite point, which means smooth shifting and driving takes concerted effort. For a car that bills itself as sporty, this part of the drivetrain apparently never received the memo. Honda has long been known for its excellent gearboxes and clutches, so this is a curious and disappointing development.
While all is not perfect in that regard, I am quite impressed by the new Civic's noise, vibration and harshness (NVH). Civics don't usually feel great in this area, but this one does, keeping cabin noise to respectable levels. It's nice to see Honda paying more attention to this in its new cars.
Down to brass tacks
The Civic Hatchback Sport's closest competitors are the, , and , because they all feature five-door variants. There are some tangential competitors, too, like the Toyota Corolla (née Scion) iM and the , but the Elantra lives on a generation-old platform for now, and the iM is some $5,000 cheaper -- and it feels every bit the part.
The Civic Hatch Sport is the trim level just above base, with a price of $21,300 before taxes and destination. A Cruze LT hatchback is priced the closest, $21,240 with a manual transmission. The entry-level Golf S hatchback starts at $19,895, but moving up to a midtrim SE jacks the price north of $25,000, although it makes up for that price with a ton of features. The Subaru Impreza Sport hatchback is priced just ahead of the crowd at $22,495.
Honda's got 'em all beat on fuel economy. Its 30-mpg city, 39-mpg highway ratings outshine the Cruze's 28/39, the Mazda's 28/37, the Golf's 25/36 and the Subie's paltry 25/34 (though the latter does have all-wheel drive).
That said, the Civic does start falling behind when you look at standard equipment. It has just one 12-volt outlet, whereas competitors have two. The Cruze and Impreza come with standard heated seats. The Honda is the only car lacking satellite radio. Its speaker count is the lowest, and it can't be optioned with any active or passive safety systems, aside from the Civic's standard backup camera.
But when you look at performance, the Civic blows away the competition, especially in 0-60 times, where it's superior to its competitors by about a full second on average. It's also one of the lighter cars in its segment, which helps handling and the aforementioned fuel economy. And personally, having driven all but the Subaru, I most prefer the way the Civic drives. The Civic and Mazda3 feel most like cars for drivers.
And that's the Civic's strongest suit in this segment. It's a driver's car once again, yet it doesn't lag behind in family matters, thanks to plenty of space, excellent fuel economy and a solid base price. The Civic is back, and it's putting up one hell of a fight.