2016 Honda Civic First Drive

2016 Honda Civic Sedan (Touring)

  • The tenth-generation Honda Civic drops almost all the economy-car pretense; in Touring trim, it could wear the same “premium” label that Acura‘s ILX does.
  • Honda‘s first turbocharged engine appears in EX-T, EX-L, and Touring models
  • Advanced safety technology is available on every trim level
  • Prices span from $19,475 (LX) to $27,335 (Touring)

Now well into its fifth decade on sale in America, the Honda Civic is at one of life’s big turning points–the extreme-makeover point.

The suspense is palpable: Will it quit its day job and open an Etsy boutique? Put itself on a honey-and-sriracha detox cleanse? Grow a %^@$ man bun?   

Breathe a sigh of relief, America. The Civic steers clear of those cliches gracefully as it rounds the corner into middle age. Its secret to keeping the existential peace: staying trim and fit and clear in purpose, even while it leaves the last of its compact economy-car roots behind.

The Civic’s now in its tenth edition, and it’s a crucial one. Through the first seven generations, it built a vast following and a hoard of goodwill. It became the go-to economy car by executing perfectly on all the big economy-car concerns, from reliability to frugality. It may have hit a peak in its third and fourth generations–from 1984 to 1991, when the utter practicality of all its forms, from wagon to hatchback to sedan, were underpinned by classic Honda virtues like efficient engines, thin roof pillars, a low cowl, and extreme durability.

Through the early part of this century, those virtues remained intact even as rogue compacts from America and South Korea nibbled away at its lead. But by 2006, the Civic’s hazards were flashing. An unfortunate redesign bowed with compromised rear-seat space, unexciting styling, and an oddly tiered dash. In 2012 the trouble was compounded by a budget redesign that slashed sound deadening and soft-touch trim, leaving the Civic dumbed down when its rivals were growing more savvy.

For its latest iteration, Honda decided, nothing less than a ground-up redesign would cut through the clutter. The Civic needed a clean-sheet design with a new look, a stiff new body, a compliant new suspension, efficient new engines, and a liberal dose of advanced safety technology. It would need a globally benchmarked set of bona fides to call itself the best car in the world in its class–a class that bridges the gap between compact cars and mid-sizers.

And eventually it would need a whole suite of body styles and performance profiles–everything from the standard sedan, to a coupe and hatchback, to heady Si editions and even a track-minded Type-R.

It all starts with the 2016 Civic sedan, a car that drops almost all the economy-car pretense, a car that could wear a premium label more compelling than a simple “Touring” badge.

2016 Honda Civic Sedan (Touring)

2016 Honda Civic Sedan (Touring)

2016 Honda Civic Sedan (Touring)

2016 Honda Civic Sedan (Touring)

2016 Honda Civic Sedan (Touring)

2016 Honda Civic Sedan (Touring)

2016 Honda Civic Sedan (Touring)

2016 Honda Civic Sedan (Touring)

At long last, love

We’ve been wanting to have a sit-down with Honda for roughly a decade to talk about what it’s wearing. Ridgeline? Crosstour? Honey, just….no. With so many of its cars engineered so fondly, it’s been a shame to see them wrapped in sheetmetal that’s ranged from pedestrian to vaguely off-putting. Not that it was Honda’s problem alone; Toyota was a more prominent fashion speed bump until late.

The prognosis at Honda is rapidly improving, with the recent Accord and especially, the new Pilot SUV wearing comely details and pitch-perfect proportions. And in a brilliant about-face, the Civic is now one of the best-drawn, sleekest, most appealing shapes on the road. It’s as if every bad panel from the Crosstour had been recalibrated on the proper scale, with its worst fun-house angles resolved.

There’s lots of Acura in the Civic’s elegantly drawn-out shape and its chiseled details–and it wears it well. At the nose, there’s a strong band of chrome that brackets the grille and headlamps and knits them together. It’s not alone, though. There are slits, intakes, creases, not to mention a bevy of textures and colors–black, metallic, and body-color trim. It’s more formal, more busy in appearance than the simpler deep-set grille on, say, the new HR-V hatchback.

Down the side, the Civic gets swole with big wheel wells. They intersect with steeply surfaced sills that hijack the shape to the rear quarters, where the lovely roofline tapers into another set of bracketed lamps. The LED taillamps give a lift to the rear end that’s like an episode of Empire–all drama, all payoff. For its final trick, the new Civic plays the same visual sleight of hand as the Chrysler 200. It cuts a trunklid into a shape that could easily be interpreted as a hatchback.

If there’s a legitimate complaint about the look, it’s for violating of the Chanel rule: it could lose an element or two, and doesn’t, hanging on to every cutline and surface like they’re a rapidly dwindling national resource.

The calm that can elude the Civic’s sheetmetal is parceled out to the cockpit. The dash has adopted a broad, horizontal theme, not unlike recent BMWs in the bow and swell of the major trim pieces. In the Civic, the dash pans from left to right, starting thick and tapering as it moves toward the passenger door, paneled with embossed metallic trim. The old two-tier dash has been banished to some third-world automaker’s future design notebook; in the Civic, the clutter of screens is now focused on one area, where a five-inch base color screen grows into a seven-inch touchscreen on the nicer trim levels.

Facing the driver in base models is a clean, crisp set of real dials; on pricey Touring models, the dials are swapped out for an LCD screen with a 270-degree tachometer arc framing a digital speedometer. It’s not a little ironic that the Civic’s digital display displays real digits, while other automakers are using superwide TFT panels to mimic the dials they virtually ripped out.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.