The Honda Civic is back -- recapturing its position as a mature, substantial compact car with enough elegant touches that it makes you feel like you spent more money than you had to.
The base 2.0-liter engine is smooth, with reasonable oomph, provided you're not in a real hurry. The Civic is fitted with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) that optimizes acceleration and fuel economy but tends to amplify the engine noise. If you prefer to shift yourself, a six-speed manual is available on select trim lines and is the only choice for the sporty Si version.
If you just loaf around, the CVT is unobtrusive enough and does a decent job of minimizing the transmission technology's inherent rubber-band feel. Still, if you climb a hill or merge quickly, the engine responds with annoying, whiny revs.
Fortunately for people who move to the turbo engine, those CVT quirks are well-masked by the engine's impressive midrange power -- making merging onto a highway a cinch. We like the power of the turbo, and our test numbers backed this up: The EX-T trim was 1.6 seconds quicker to 60 mph (at a zippy 7.1 seconds) than the base engine. Fuel economy was similar -- the base engine got 32 mpg overall; the turbo returned 31 mpg overall.
The Civic handles with confidence, thanks to a chassis that gives the car a sense of precision and control. It's secure and predictable with minimal body lean while taking corners. The Civic turns in quickly and responds intuitively. The Civic's ride is unusually compliant for a compact car. The suspension keeps the car steady and composed over all but the nastiest bumps. Braking is responsive and confident during panic stops.
The Si brings a 205-hp version of the 1.5-liter turbo and sportier handling and is available as a sedan or a coupe, but only comes with a manual transmission. While not quicker than an EX-T, it has sharper handling and more invigorating sound. Unlike the previous Si which thrived on high revs, the current Si is turbocharged and provides a much richer power delivery.
The four-door hatchback Civic Sport is another good option for the sporty and practical type and it costs less than the Si. The Type R is an extreme, thrilling, high-performance version with a 306-hp, 2.0-liter turbo that costs around $35,000.
Inside, the Civic's interior features higher-grade materials than the class's norm, and the cabin is relatively quiet and has clever cubbies and nooks. It's easy to stash a 10-inch tablet under the armrest.
On the down side, the car's sleek, low-slung styling means that getting in requires almost falling into the front seat, as well as limbo-dance flexibility getting out. Front-seat lumbar support adjustment isn't available, period. And we disliked the seats' short bottom cushion. But for a compact sedan, rear-seat room is commendable.
The base LX has an intuitive array of knobs and buttons for the audio system. Unfortunately, every other trim has a frustrating, overly complicated touch screen -- although it does work with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay from your smartphone.
Despite a few gripes, the Civic brings civility, road manners, decent fuel economy, and thoughtful features -- all wrapped in a stylish and appealing package.