First Drive Review
Here’s a question we don’t ask ourselves very often: Is more power better? Yet that’s something we pondered during the launch of the all-new, 10th-generation Honda Civic, at which we drove both the new base 2.0-liter engine and the more powerful 1.5-liter turbocharged four. At the end of the day, there was no clear-cut answer as to which version is best. What was abundantly clear, however, is that the base engine isn’t bad.
Nor is the rest of the 2016 Civic, but we’ll get to that. The all-new 2.0-liter engine is offered only in the entry-level LX model and in the one-rung-up EX. It is said by Honda to both weigh less and have reduced internal friction compared with last year’s 1.8-liter, while kicking out an additional 15 horsepower and 9 lb-ft of torque. The totals are now 158 horsepower at 6500 rpm and 138 lb-ft at 4200 rpm. In true Honda i-VTEC fashion, power builds in a linear crescendo, with no lumpiness or lag. Just as sweet is the 2.0-liter’s rorty Honda sound—that’s pure sound, without synthesizing or amplification—which permeates the Civic’s well-insulated cabin with every full-tilt run up to the engine’s 6700-rpm redline.
And rev it hard we did, since it’s none too quick—expect a zero-to-60-mph time in the low-eight-second range. We just clocked the turbocharged 2016 Civic at 6.8 seconds to 60, with its 174 horsepower and 162 lb-ft of torque. The 2.0-liter also has an old-school Honda charm that the 1.5-liter’s standard CVT automatic dulls a bit; if character counts, the 2.0-liter makes a case for itself.
There’s Still a Stick
The other reason to respect the base Civic is that it offers a manual transmission (like last year, though, it’s restricted to the price-leading LX). Honda representatives have told us that we can expect more Civics—including the 1.5-liter turbo—to offer a stick shift in the future, but that development resources for now are focused on bringing out the other Civic variants yet to appear, including the coupe, the four-door hatchback, the Si, and the Type R. While the new six-speed gearbox doesn’t feel quite as sweet as the one in the 2016 Accord Sport, it’s far from sloppy, with clearly defined gates and short throws, and it’s paired with a nicely progressive clutch.
It certainly beats the CVT, which is optional on the LX and standard on EX models and above. The lack of any form of manual ratio selection—via paddles, shift lever, or otherwise—seems a bit of an oversight on Honda’s part, although a Sport mode keeps the engine whirring closer to its power peak if you’re feeling frisky. (And no, it’s not the same CVT that has recently been recalled in the 2014 and 2015 Civic and Fit.)
Like other Civics, the base model turns in quickly and rotates with heroically little front-end push, although all of the models we drove would benefit from more tire grip. Other than 16-inch wheels and 215/55-series tires versus 17-inch wheels with 50-series tires, there is little that separates the chassis of 2.0-liter cars from their turbocharged brethren. They do weigh some 150 pounds less, however, much of which comes off the front axle for somewhat improved front-to-rear weight distribution (59.6/40.4 for the 2.0-liter compared with 61.3/38.7 for the 1.5-liter). The Civic 2.0 also has a refreshing sense of lightness and sharpness, the slight dead spot in the steering notwithstanding.
As for the rest of the 2016 Civic, the improvements cannot be understated. Its design is sleek and fastback-like, with a large, severely raked greenhouse that no longer includes frumpy front quarter-windows. The front fenders feature bulges over the wheel arches, and the body overall has plenty of sculpting. The rear-three-quarter view is the most distinctive, owing to the standard C-shaped LED taillamps, tapering windows, and sunken backlight. This is a highly styled automobile. After years of sleepy aesthetics from Honda, we can now consider the automaker’s design team to be fully awake.
The cabin environs seem simultaneously more modern and more intimate, thanks to the wide dashboard design, one-inch-lower front hip point, and taller two-tiered center console that cossets the front passengers. An old Honda trait has returned in the form of the remarkably low windshield cowl, which has dropped 1.6 inches and allows an expansive view of the road ahead.
Civic pricing starts at $19,475 for the LX and $21,875 for the better-equipped EX, with prices for the turbo models rising from there. But even at the LX level, the Civic is no stripper, with its standard digital speedometer, automatic climate control, comfortable cloth seats, electronic parking brake, automatic headlamps, and more. Opting for the EX yields a full digital dashboard, Honda’s nifty LaneWatch camera system, remote engine starting, a power sunroof, heated mirrors, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, alloy wheels (versus steelies with wheel covers), and the aforementioned CVT. The EX also brings Honda’s annoying flat-panel “Display Audio” system that begs for a volume knob; thankfully, the Civic’s new steering-wheel-mounted audio controls help minimize the use of said touch screen.
We offer more opinions about the Civic’s newfound goodness (and some of its shortcomings) in our instrumented test of the top-dog Touring model, which comes with many more gadgets and gizmos, as well as the 1.5-liter turbocharged engine. Whether that engine is the more desirable of the two is debatable, but our positive experience with the 2.0-liter models suggests that Honda has once again taken up the cause of building basic transportation that doesn’t feel basic.