We spend a week in the all-new turbocharged Honda Civic sedan.
Ride and handling
Funky volume controls
No manual transmission available
2016 Honda Civic sedan
Following the disaster that was the previous Civic, Honda went back to the drawing board to give us what we always knew they could: an all-new sedan with what is, for the most part, an inspired powertrain and chassis to go along with more distinctive styling.
Outside, the new Civic is one of the better-looking sedans in the compact segment – especially from the back where the new longer sloping roofline meets a pair of nifty-looking C-shaped taillamp housings.
Up front, it manages to carry Honda's signature chrome-trimmed "wing" grill very nicely – looking much better here than on the Accord. That grille is bracketed by a pair of narrow headlamp enclosures that contain standard LED daytime running lights and, on our top-line touring model, LED headlights as well.
The Civic's interior was completely redesigned and reengineered for 2016. Everywhere you touch you'll find soft-touch materials including the upper and lower dash, door panels, center console (replete with a new electronic parking brake) and console storage lid. The console and storage lid feature real stitching, while the panel above the glove box has a faux-stitched appearance. The upper and lower dash sections are separated by a wide, brushed-silver trim piece. The entire look now places the Civic at the upper end of the segment.
In typical Honda fashion, all controls are within easy reach of the driver, are very intuitive and operate smoothly. Buttons and knobs control the functions of the HVAC system, and although the infotainment functions are all touch-based, the steering wheel contains back-up controls for pre-set station selection and volume. Unfortunately, the volume control isn't a button, but a touch-sensitive slider. And while you can adjust the volume in steps by hitting either the top or bottom of the control, more than once we accidentally brushed a finger against the rest of the surface (it is, after all, located on the steering wheel) resulting in no volume or WAY too much volume.
At the same time, we must be getting used to Honda’s LaneWatch, as we find the right outside rearview mirror-mounted camera to be less distracting the more we use it. It's especially handy on the freeway, as you can turn it on so the view from the right rear blind spot is always displayed on the screen. The only negative about the system is the fact that there's no driver's side blind spot monitor, which Honda tries to compensate for by splitting the mirror vertically, thereby giving it a wider field of view. But it's not as effective as an electronic aid.
As for accommodations, the new Civic has 98.7 cubic feet of passenger volume, an increase of 3.2 cubic feet over the outgoing model and the most for a compact sedan. It also features very supportive front seats with plenty of head, shoulder, hip, and leg room up front. Meanwhile in back, rear seat passengers are treated to the same supportive seats as well as a very generous-for-the-class 37.4 inches of legroom. Cargo volume, at 15 cubic feet, is above average for the segment while the rear seats (the trunk pass-through, by the way, is so large that I could fit a 52cm road bike through it without having to remove the front wheel) also split and fold flat.
Thanks to a low beltline, cowl, and fairly narrow A- and B-pillars the driver’s view out the front, sides and rear three-quarters is excellent. But a wide C-pillar and high deck lid somewhat hinder the view out the back window. Fortunately, a rear camera with guidelines is now standard on all Civic trim levels, making parking and maneuvering relatively easy.
Under the hood
The biggest news for 2016 is Honda's first use of a turbocharged engine in a compact sedan – found in the EX-T, EX-L and Touring trim levels. It's a 1.5-liter DOHC, direct-injected and inline 4-cylinder engine fitted with variable cam timing (VTC), a low-inertia turbo and an electronic waste gate. It churns out 174 hp at 5,500 rpm and peak torque of 162 lb-ft. from 1,800 to 5,500 rpm. It's mated to a new CVT, the only transmission offered with the turbo engine. Rated by the EPA at 31/42/35 city/highway/combined mpg, our own observed fuel economy numbers worked out to be 34 miles per gallon in city driving and 39 mpg on the highway.
On the road
If it wasn't for the CVT, the latest Civic would be at the top of our list in the compact class. As it is, the ride is firm, but well dampened. The steering is sharp and nicely weighted with none of the on-center numbness we experienced in the previous model – the result of Civic's new dual-pinion electric power steering that features just 2.2 turns lock-to-lock (versus 3.1 on the previous model).
Though we generally despise them, the CVT in the new Civic is the best we've ever encountered. Put your foot into the accelerator and the engine responds immediately, easily winding up to its 6,500 rpm redline. The transmission even offers three driving modes: D for normal driving, S for more performance-oriented driving with more aggressive transmission mapping and L when additional engine braking is needed, such as in mountainous driving.
There’s very little body lean in corners and the all-season tires offer up plenty of grip. The suspension soaks up all road imperfections – both minor and major – with ease (thanks in part to the new use of front and rear hydraulic compliance bushings). Merging onto the expressway is effortless with plenty of power on tap for passing. At highway speeds the 2016 Civic also feels well planted – you always know where you are. The brakes are also on par with the best in the segment. They’re strong, easy to modulate and there’s plenty of feedback through the pedal.
Much of the improvement in handling has to do with the new platform that underpins the 2016 Civic. Global bending and torsional rigidity are up by 3.8 and 25.8 percent, respectively, while the weight of the unibody was reduced by 68 pounds compared to the outgoing model.
Honda has done a good job of keeping interior noise levels down – even boasting of the fact that full body air leaks have been reduced by 58 percent compared to the old model. But like most compacts, especially at freeway speeds there is a fair amount of road and wind noise that finds its way into the cabin.
2016 Honda Civic Sedan prices
2016 Civic Sedan models are available in four trim levels. The base LX, equipped with a 6-speed manual transmission (the only trim to offer a manual) and a normally-aspirated 2.0-liter inline-4, has a starting MSRP of $19,475. It's followed by the EX CVT (starting at $21,875) and EX-L CVT (starting at $24,535), while the top-line CVT-equipped Touring model tops out the list at $27,335 – a figure that matched, exactly, the MSRP of our Cosmic Blue tester. Also keep in mind that Touring models come standard with Honda's Sensing Package that includes adaptive cruise control, a collision mitigation braking system, forward collision warning, lane departure warning, lane keep assist and road departure mitigation systems.
The Bottom Line
The 2016 version has to be the best Honda Civic yet. The ride is compliant, the engine offers up plenty of power and the new steering setup is spot-on. The only quibbles we had were with the less-than-intuitive infotainment system, the lack of a manual transmission offering, and the fact that the CVT, as good as it is, can't match the response or performance of a traditional automatic.
The bottom line, then, is that the latest Honda Civic is back where it belongs – as one of the finest offerings in the compact segment. Pairing that with Honda’s reputation for quality and reliability and the result is a combination that's hard to beat.