Honda Civic Road Test

First Drive
2016 Honda Civic Proves More Upscale and Refined
Automaker finally learns a key Civic lesson
Overview
Honda representatives are the first to acknowledge that the outgoing ninth generation of the Honda Civic, was a frumpy-looking, mediocre-performing compact sedan. And it is clear from driving the new 2016 model that Honda has learned its Civics lesson.

The 9th-gen Honda Civic was introduced for the 2012 model year. Due to excessive noise, jittery ride, klutzy handling, and cheap interior it pretty much bombed in Consumer Reports' tests. As a result, the Civic shockingly failed to earn a recommended status from Consumer Reports. An emergency rush job on Honda's part brought some improvements merely 18 months after its debut, and the changes were just enough to make it into our recommended list.

For 2016, Honda is rolling out a true redesign, based on a new platform and with two new engines. The next-gen Honda Civic is longer, lower, and wider yet lighter when compared trim line to trim line against the outgoing model. It uses a new 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine rated at 158 horsepower. The uplevel engine is a 174-hp, 1.5-liter turbocharged four cylinder--the first turbo car offered in a Honda in the US. Both engines are linked to a continuously variable transmission. A manual is only available with the base LX.

Eventually, three body styles will be offered: sedan, coupe, and a five-door hatchback. First one out of the gate is the sedan; the coupe arrives this winter; and the hatch is a year away. Sporty Si and boy-racer Type R variants are also on the horizon. This time around, the Honda Civic was developed as a global car and was benchmarked against not only run-of-the-mill Toyota Corolla and the like but also premium compacts such as the Audi A3. It shows.

On the road, it's evident Honda took this Civic seriously; it feels much more substantial, with style and sophistication. We drove the high-volume base LX and the new top-of-the-line Touring trim.

The base engine is smooth and unobtrusive and generates sufficient oomph if you're not too demanding. But the Civic immensely benefits from the uplevel turbo engine that powers EX-T, EX-L, and Touring versions. Its readily available torque eliminates the need to frequently foray into the upper reaches of the rev range where a CVT can become objectionable. Being a natural silencer, the turbo makes the CVT more palatable by masking the transmission's quirks. With the Touring, power delivery feels effortless. According to the trip computer, we've been observing 35 mpg in mixed driving with the Touring. (That's the combined EPA estimate for both engines.)
Impressions
The new Civic gets more sophisticated in the chassis department, as well. Handling is more agile and fluent now, with a reassuring feel. Body lean is kept at bay, and the steering is direct, providing a quick turn-in response that doesn't wane even as you keep turning more into the corner. That said, it's still not as much fun to drive as a Ford Focus or Volkswagen Golf.

Ride comfort is significantly improved with a compliance that's unusual for the compact sedan class, while refined body control keeps the car steady and composed. Road noise made previous Civics so loud; it is now much more muted. Combined with the comfortable ride, the newfound manners give the Civic a mature, substantial feel.

The interior looks more modern and tidy now without the fussy two-tier instrument panel of the past two generations. LX versions get a simple audio system, but oddly, the radio presets aren't shown on the screen. EX and higher versions get Honda's annoying capacitive touchscreen--a flat surface with no physical knobs or buttons. We've complained about the slowness and the convoluted menu structure of the system before, including how many tasks require at least two taps. Of note, that infotainment system is now compatible with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Feature content is generous, with every Civic getting a standard rearview camera, automatic climate control (dual zone with EX-T and up), and auto up/down front windows. EX trim and above get remote start. The addition of an electronic parking brake not only saves space and gives the car a more premium feel, but also reduces effort. This move freed up a ton of storage room between the two front seats. In fact, the configurable console can accommodate several iPads. Cupholders (including one that can take a Big Gulp-sized drink), cubbies, and trays are very well sorted out. But it's too bad the USB port is a bit low and hidden.

A power driver seat is included with the EX-L, while heated seats come in EX-T and up. The Touring adds heated rear seats. Unfortunately, adjustable lumbar support is not available on any trim. That deficiency becomes acutely apparent after 15 minutes, whether you're sitting on the standard cloth or the leather seats on high-end trims.

As with any other Honda, EX and above versions get Lane Watch, a feature that displays on the radio screen a live video feed of what's to your right side. We believe this is not a substitute for a full blind-spot monitoring system because it covers just one side of the car and only when the directional is on, not to mention that it can be a visual distraction. Other competitors, such as the Mazda3, make blind-spot monitoring more accessible. At least Honda Sensing is available as an option on all trim lines and standard on the Touring. But even then, the safety suite doesn't include full blind-spot monitoring. That bundle of electronic driver aids includes active cruise control, forward-collision warning, auto braking, and lane-departure warning with lane keep assist. We found the latter too sensitive, being eager to intervene even if you momentarily fail to exactly follow within the lane markings.

Sedans that have the silhouette of a coupe usually sacrifice some visibility, but the Civic doesn't suffer too much as a result. The previous Civic was already a low car and the redesign boasts a roofline that's lower still by almost an inch. That poses some difficulty in entering the cabin and hoisting one's self out. It might not be a problem for athletic millennials who might be buying the Civic as their first new car, but it can be a problem for empty nesters who are thinking of downsizing from their Accord or Odyssey. At least once inside, even rear passengers will find ample room.

CR's Take
It's quite clear the new Civic brings more civility, better road manners, and a higher feature content all wrapped in a stylish package that makes this popular model a much more appealing car than it has been.

We bought two versions of the Civic: a LX with the 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine for $20,275, and the EX with the 1.5T engine for $23,035. Stay tuned for a complete road test and see how the Civic ranks against its peers.

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Warranty

All cars come with basic warranty coverage, also known as a bumper-to-bumper warranty. This protects consumers against unexpected problems with non-wear items. Powertrain warranty protects against engine and transmission troubles. Rust through, or corrosion warranty, covers rust to non-damaged components. Roadside aid provides on-location assistance in case of a breakdown and may include limited towing services.

Extended warranties provide peace of mind. Owners of models known to have worse-than-average predicted reliability can mitigate risks with an extended warranty. Generally, we recommend buying a model with better-than-average reliability and skipping this expensive add on. If you do buy an extended warranty, it is key to read the small print to understand what is covered and where you can bring the car for repairs.

Basic (years/miles)
3/36

Powertrain (years/miles)
5/60

Rust through (years/miles)
5/Unlimited

Roadside aid (years/miles)
3/36