Civic Duty Done: Compacts Reinvigorated

DEXTER, MI – If anything can breathe life into the softening compact-car segment in the U.S., it’s the new Honda Civic sedan.

No, it doesn’t have a tall cargo area and a high ride height like CUVs, which Americans increasingly are clamoring for, but it is what a C-car should be: fun to drive and fun to look at.

Plus it has a roomier rear seat, a quieter cabin and is full of features formerly reserved for premium models.

Going on sale next month in the U.S., the 10th-gen Civic sedan driven here is a win for Honda, which took a lot of flak for the underwhelming ninth-gen model.

The Japanese automaker did its best to whip that car into shape with refreshes after it initially was panned for its less-than-scintillating dynamics, excessive wind noise and a not-so-fantastic plastic interior.

It ended up being a decent offering, but the new Civic 4-door is in a whole ’nother animal.

The styling, a mishmash of design cues from Volvo, Nissan, the Civic’s bigger sibling the Accord and Honda’s own Acura brand, makes this the best-looking Civic since the wedge-shaped eighth-gen of ’06-’11.

Lead designer Guy Melville-Brown and his team have created a car that many would be proud to park in their driveway, with its pushed-out wheels and strong shoulders lending a confident stance.

After design, the most obvious thing about the new Civic is its increased size. Built on an all-new platform, the incoming Civic 4-door is a whole 3 ins. (76 mm) longer, almost 2 ins. (51 mm) wider and 1 in. (22 mm) lower than the ’15 sedan or, put another way, roughly the same size as the Accord of 25 years ago.

The added length not only improves ride and handling but also makes for a longer wheelbase and thus more passenger space.

The all-important measurement of rear legroom rises 1.4 ins. (36 mm) from ’15 to ’16, although rear hiproom declines 4 ins. (102 mm).

Lightweight, Rigidity Not at Odds

Allowing for a lightweight-but-rigid body while using the most high-strength steel ever in a Honda are inner-set welding and in-die soft zones, aka crumple spots.

Inner-set welding, first used in the ’15 Fit subcompact, welds the car’s body onto the inner frame with fewer stiffeners.

Calling them a world first in crash zones, the soft zones, in the car’s B-pillars and rear frame rails help Honda control the frame-crush mode and prevent cracking of the frame, says Ryan Miller, the Civic’s performance-development leader.

Civic sedan torsional rigidity is up 25% while body-in-white drops 68 lbs. (31 kg).

Curb weight is down 7-69 lbs. (3-31 kg) depending on the grade.

The ’16 Civic is Honda’s first global Civic since production expanded outside Japan. Targeted were European levels of acceleration, handing and braking for even the North American models, which typically are softer-riding and less agile, to match the Toyota Corolla, the segment’s best-seller.

The divergent goals of good handling and ride comfort are made possible, Honda says, by a segment-first hydraulic bushing on the front in all grades of the ’16 sedan, and front-to-rear hydraulic bushings for all turbo-engine-equipped grades.

Honda touts the new braking system’s shorter pedal stroke and a firmer pedal force in normal driving conditions, thanks to a 5% larger-diameter master cylinder piston. For the first time, all Civic grades get 4-wheel disc brakes.

While Southeast Michigan isn’t exactly known for scintillating driving roads, there are some on the media-preview route that allow us to put a Civic Touring model through its paces. The car zips through the switchbacks around greater Ann Arbor with ease, with just enough body roll to make the experience fun and not nauseating.

Worth noting is suspension tuning is different per grade, so an after-lunch jaunt in a base LX with a CVT reveals a suppler ride.

Terrific Turbo

In what may be the most major powertrain updates to the car in decades, the ’16 Civic is offered with a choice of two new engines.

The Civic’s base engine is a naturally aspirated 2.0L 4-cyl., related to the Accord’s 2.4L and making 158 hp at 6,500 rpm and 138 lb.-ft. (187 Nm) of torque at 4,200 rpm, up from 143 hp and 129 lb.-ft. (175 Nm) in the outgoing ’15 Civic sedan with its 1.8L four, which was the only available engine for non-Si models.

Now there is a more powerful second powertrain in the form of a 1.5L turbocharged and direct-injected 4-cyl., Honda’s first turbo mill in the U.S. and standard on the EX-T (T is for turbo), EX-L and Touring grades of the ’16 sedan.

Featuring a mono-scroll turbocharger with an electric wastegate, dual variable-valve-timing control and friction-reducing measures such as ion-plated piston rings and low-friction oil seals and cam chain, the 1.5L churns out 174 hp at 6,000 rpm and 162 lb.-ft. (220 Nm) over a wide band (1,700-5,500 rpm).

The new Honda turbo engine compares favorably to the segment’s larger, naturally aspirated engines and some of the group’s boosted mills.

Honda’s 1.5L trounces the output from archrival Corolla’s two 1.8L 4-cyl. (132 hp and 140 hp) mills, both with torque under 130 lb.-ft. (176 Nm) and just edges out Hyundai’s 2.0L turbo in the Elantra GT on horsepower and trumps it on torque.

But Volkswagen’s 1.4L turbo in the Jetta is torquier by far, rated at 184 lb.-ft. (249 Nm). The Honda 1.5L does have a 20-hp advantage on the VW 1.4L, though.

The Honda 1.5L can’t hold a candle to the 252-hp 2.0L EcoBoost in Ford’s Focus ST, but we suspect the Civic Si, as well as the sportiest Civic of all, the Type R, will have bigger, more powerful turbo engines. Rumors abound of 280-hp to 340-hp engines for those performance models.

We’re left impressed after driving both 1.5L- and 2.0L-equipped ’16 Civic sedans here.

The 1.5L finally gives Honda an engine with more-than-decent midrange torque.

Try as we might, we can’t create a situation where the car doesn’t pull quickly when we mash the accelerator, even when it seems like a very slow-moving 18-wheeler on I-94 will present a challenge.

The 2.0L has good midrange torque as well, which comes alive with its 6-speed manual transmission vs. its CVT. There’s some noticeable engine whine with the CVT.

The 6MT makes the car such a hoot to drive, with so much pulling power left in sixth gear that it’s hard to imagine how much better the Si could be.

A different CVT, especially for the turbo application, is the standard transmission for the 1.5L. Like most of today’s CVTs, it has phantom gears to simulate the shifts of a step-gear automatic. And like most of those CVTs, it doesn’t necessarily “downshift” when you want it to, but the wait isn’t too protracted. Unfortunately, no paddles or manumatic function are available.

Fuel economy usually is a key purchase reason for the Civic, so it’s no surprise Honda worked hard to give 1.5T-equipped models best-in-class city/highway/combined numbers of 31/42/35 mpg (8/5/7 L/100 km).

Unfortunately, our real-world average of 26.2 mpg (9.0 L/100 km) is nowhere near any of these figures, perhaps due to a relatively meager 36 miles (58 km) tallied after resetting the trip computer.

However, Honda’s fuel-economy estimates, at least outside the alternative-powertrain realm, usually are accurate. We’ll keep a watchful eye on MPGs when we get more seat time and provide an update.

A Less-Busy Interior

For ’16, the Civic has a more-sophisticated, less-chaotic passenger cabin.

Gone is the unusual 2-tier instrument panel, introduced in ’06 and with an even wider upper tier in ’12. In its place is a more typical 3-gauge cluster with an information display in the bottom center of the tachometer.

Soft-touch materials introduced with the ninth-gen Civic refresh still are present in the areas eyes settle on most: the upper IP and upper door panels. However, the LX grade here has hard-plastic rear-seat upper door panels.

Regressing is the pillar trim, still hard plastic but now with a pebbly finish in lieu of the crosshatch pattern that mimicked the headliner in the outgoing model.

Also, soft-touch padding is a bit thicker on both a ’15 Civic LX and ’15 Corolla here for comparison.

Stitching on the new Civic’s IP is simulated (it’s still a compact car, after all); leather is above-average quality.

Honda still is relatively restrained compared with Ford, VW and Hyundai/Kia when it comes to interior style, but wide center stripes on leather seats are attractive and a step in the right direction.

A decent-sized touchscreen replaces a smallish, aftermarket-looking unit. Its appearance, with a glass surround and no volume knob, is reminiscent of the same screen in the new HR-V and Pilot CUVs.

Menu arrangements are logical, while blue-and-white graphics carry over from ’15 and look dated.

Buyers complained of cabin noise in the outgoing Civic, so Honda officials are proud to tout this generation is nearly 60% better-sealed, with 9.3 sq.-ins. (.006 sq.-m) of weld seals throughout the unibody.

The new Civic also has oodles of acoustic material, including separators inside the pillars and an acoustic windshield in all grades and felt-fender inner liners on EX and higher grades.

As mentioned, the LX grade with CVT seems noisiest of all, but still is quieter than a ’15 LX we test here.

A big deal has been made of the availability of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto operating systems for the ’16 Civic. We get a demo of the former and it’s alright, not terribly different from the standard Honda menus. But some people can’t be Apple-less in any moment of their lives.

The ’16 Civic LX sedan begins at $18,640, up $150 from ’15 and not including a $820 destination and handling charge. Standard are LED daytime running lights and LED rear taillights, as well as ambient interior lighting and automatic climate control, the latter formerly standard on the second-tier and discontinued ’15 SE grade.

The new Touring grade is billed as the most luxurious Civic ever and can be had in the mid-$26,000 range, with rain-sensing wipers and adaptive cruise control with low-speed follow, a slight step toward an autonomous-industry future.

In between are EX, EX-T and EX-L grades ranging from $22,000-$25,000.

The new ’16 Civic sedan is good enough for Honda to return to its best annual volume of 340,000 units. The only question is whether other C-cars can follow its act and similarly stimulate the segment, or if certain buyers have been forever lost to CUVs.

Another question: Who needs an Acura ILX?

’16 Honda Civic Touring Specifications


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