While Americans’ taste for sedans continues to fade and crossover SUVs grow in popularity, it can be hard to see much hope for sedans as a segment. That said, just because Americans aren’t buying as many of them as they used to doesn’t mean a great sedan can’t still be extremely profitable for an automaker.
What a company can’t do anymore is phone it in with a vehicle that’s only acceptable and expect to not lose market share. Honda tried that with the 2012 Civic, and the result was a car that was almost universally panned by critics. An emergency refresh followed the next year, which is almost unheard of in the industry.
For 2016, though, Honda isn’t taking any chances with a repeat of 2012. It’s redesigned the new Civic from the ground up and claims it benchmarked the Audi A3 instead of the usual competition from Ford and Toyota.
We got a look at the redesigned, 10th-generation Civic last month, and it looked pretty good, but the question is how does the new Civic drive? Does it live up to the hype, or is it just another boring sedan in a dull segment that’s slowly dying?
To answer those questions, Honda invited us out to Los Angeles to put the new Civic through its paces.
Considering that it’s a total redesign, you can’t really talk about the new Civic without talking about the new look. I’m not a huge fan of the new Accord’s styling, but as far as I’m concerned, Honda absolutely nailed it with the design of the new Civic. Up until this point, the Mazda 3 has been the style leader in the segment, but it now has some serious competition from the Civic.
Some people will obviously disagree with me on that point, but in my time with the Civic, I found it well-proportioned and quite attractive — especially in top-level Touring trim. It’s been rare for me to actually dislike the styling of a Honda over the past several years, but the new Civic is the first car from Honda in years that I’d consider legitimately attractive.
Whether you like the design or not, there isn’t much I can add here that you can’t see in pictures. The interior, though, is much more important.
Most of my time was spent in a top-level Touring version, and while it’s unlikely that the Touring trim will be the most popular version of the Civic, it’s a perfect way to evaluate just how good the new car can be when equipped with all of the available options.
In top trim, you get a car that feels much more expensive than it actually is. The pseudo-space age dash design is gone, replaced with a much more simple layout that will likely age better than the current Civic. The materials, meanwhile, all have a premium feel to them that you wouldn’t expect from a car in this segment. I’m a huge fan of the Mazda 3’s interior, and the new Civic’s cabin is at least as good.
The controls are all simple enough to use, aided by the straightforward layout, and if you opt for the seven-inch screen, you get a bright, high-definition infotainment system that runs both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. The infotainment system is solid, but the addition of Apple CarPlay makes the driving experience significantly better.
I don’t have an Android phone, so I can’t speak to how well that works, but other than a few quibbles here and there, CarPlay integration delivers what it promises.
Thankfully, there’s also a place to store your phone that isn’t a cupholder or the inside of the armrest. No one actually enjoys opening up the armrest to store their phone even if they can connect it to the infotainment system through a USB cable, so it’s refreshing to see that Honda has a place you can easily drop your phone when you get in.
In lower trims, you don’t get nearly as many premium features, but most of the vehicle is the same regardless of how many options you choose. The $18,000 version of the new Civic feels a lot closer to the $27,000 version than you might expect. Obviously, the fancy infotainment system, leather upholstery, and a few other bits are going to be different, but compared to the base models of the competition, I think you’ll find that the Civic still feels higher quality.
One of the things consumers will appreciate about the new Civic is that Honda Sensing is available on every trim level. That obviously means you get it on the top-level car, but if you want to buy your idiot kid a base-model, manual transmission-equipped Civic, you will be able to add Collision Mitigation, Road Departure Mitigation, adaptive cruise control, low speed follow, and lane keep assist without having to opt for a higher trim level.
If you’re unfamiliar with Honda’s lane keep assist on other vehicles, you need to know that it’s surprisingly good. In all but a few situations, you can essentially rest your hand on the wheel and cruise down the highway with the car entirely under the control of the electronic safety features. In my test drive, I very cautiously took my hands off the wheel — much to the horror of my driving partner — and was able to let the car drive itself until it started beeping at me to stop that.
When the road got twisty, though, it was time to stop using the Civic’s safety features and start driving it myself. Mulholland Drive is famous for its tight turns and breathtaking views, and I’m happy to report that the new Civic performed far better than you would ever expect a compact sedan to perform.
You can chalk that performance up to the spectacular chassis and the excellent brakes because, while both engines are capable, neither one is powerful enough to turn the Civic into a real sports sedan. You’ll want the 1.5-liter turbo to be an almost-Civic Si, but it’s not. It’s an engine for an economy car that’s can achieve a claimed 42 miles per gallon on the highway.
The 2.0-liter, base engine is plenty powerful for economy car duty, and it’s also the one engine in the lineup that can be ordered with a manual transmission, but don’t confuse the manual transmission Civic for an enthusiast’s car either. It’s a fine transmission in its own right, but the lack of seat bolstering and grippy tires meant I had to brace myself against the door panel and cling to the steering wheel the whole time I squealed my way along Mulholland Drive.
The strong brakes and excellent chassis were perfectly happy to hustle when I asked them to, but if you want something resembling an enthusiast’s car, you’ll want to wait for the upcoming Civic Si or the even-more-powerful Civic Type R.
In all, the new Civic was a surprisingly competent vehicle. I would happily put it head-to-head with my previous segment favorite, the Mazda 3, and in that competition, it might even come out ahead of the Mazda. Then again, it doesn’t really matter how the new Civic compares to the Mazda 3; Mazda sells so few of them, it’s a bit of an irrelevant comparison.
When you look at volume competitors like the Toyota Corolla, though, it’s hard to see how someone could drive the Civic and the Corolla back to back and come away convinced that the latter is better. The Corolla isn’t a bad car. It’s just that the new Honda Civic is truly an excellent car in comparison.
As for the benchmark Audi A3, I can’t guarantee that buyers will prefer the Honda if only because the A3 comes with a luxury car badge on the hood, but the Honda Civic Touring definitely makes a compelling case for itself. If you ignore the badges, the new Civic gets pretty darn close — though it costs thousands of dollars less.
In short, while Honda hasn’t been known for building particularly interesting cars for the past several years, it feels like the company has finally gotten its groove back with the new Civic, and the rest of the segment needs to watch out.
We also have the next-generation Civic Type R to look forward to, which I have a feeling will be quite a treat.