First drive: 2016 Honda Civic Coupe [Review]

First drive: 2016 Honda Civic Coupe [Review]

When Honda‘s 10th-generation Civic sedan arrived late in 2015, the industry was about to put yet another year on the books that would act as further proof of America’s love of the crossover. This Civic–this Epic Civic–would land in a marketplace that no longer embraces the traditional family four-door the way it once did, as evidenced by the fact that Honda’s own CR-V is threatening to outsell both of the brand’s bread-and-butter sedans.

And now, in keeping with tradition, Honda has introduced a two-door version of its compact sedan — an even lower, sportier and less practical model than the four-door on which it is based. In a world of CR-Vs and Rogues and Equinoxes run rampant, is there still room for the compact coupe? Hyundai thinks not, having abandoned its entry — the Elantra Coupe — prior to the sedan’s most recent refresh. Honda’s own marketing materials paint a rather bleak picture.

Quick: Name the Civic Coupe‘s direct competitors. Did you come up with Kia Forte Koup? How about Scion tC? Two-doors are scarce, especially in the front-wheel-drive compact arena. You can’t expand the competitive set without including two-doors that are actually three-doors (or the weirdest of four-doors; looking at you, Hyundai Veloster).

Making it count

How then does Honda make the most of a narrow and shrinking market? By making the most of an already excellent platform. The Civic Coupe is fundamentally a Civic Sedan with two fewer doors, so it capitalizes on all the same packaging advantages present in the four-door. Predictably, rear headroom suffers to the tune of a nearly three-inch deficit, but otherwise the interior is nearly as roomy as the sedan’s.

It’s lower (by nearly an inch) and not as long (more than five inches were trimmed nose-to-tail), but Honda didn’t care to shorten the wheelbase or any other such nonsense. The mission? Give the Coupe a sportier, more hunkered-down aesthetic without sacrificing too much practicality.

Dynamically, Honda wanted its coupe to be a bit more engaging than the sedan, trim-for-trim. From the most basic LX all the way up to the Touring model, the Civic Coupe is the sportier choice. All Coupe models have increased front roll stiffness and firmer damping. EX-T models get larger wheels, firmer spring rates and increased front/rear tension. Touring models are tuned for a more premium feel, but also feature lightweight wheels to keep the fun factor alive.

Under the hood, the same basic powertrains are available (a 2.0L with a manual or a CVT and a 1.5L turbo paired only to the latter). The 2.0L, naturally aspirated engine is available in the LX and LX-P trims. It makes 158 horsepower and 138 lb-ft of torque. Despite being the workhorse of the lineup, it’s the only one available with a manual transmission for the time being. With the six-speed, it’s good for 26 mpg in the city, 38 on the highway and 31 combined. The CVT bumps that to 30 in the city, 41 on the highway and 34 combined.

From the EX-T trim on up, the only engine available is Honda’s new 1.5L turbo. Boasting 174 horsepower and 162lb-ft of torque, it’s the engine you want. And when the six-speed becomes available later on, it’ll be the one you need. More on that later. With the CVT, it’ll get 31 mpg in the city, 41 on the highway and 35 combined. You read that correctly; it’s more efficient than the “small” engine in the EPA test cycle.

The sportier look

We mentioned before that the new Civic Coupe is built on the same basic footprint as the Civic Sedan, but that didn’t stop Honda from giving the two-door its own look.

Not surprisingly, the most significant visual difference is in the profile. From the nose to the leading edge of the Coupe’s long doors, not much has changed. From there back, it’s a significant styling departure from the Sedan. For starters, the Sedan’s recessed lower character line is inverted on the Coupe, bulging out along the lower door before disappearing into the rear fender and then continuing into the bumper. The rear fender line itself is more pronounced, bulging upward a bit more than the Sedan’s (this may be an optical illusion resulting from the Coupe’s shorter overall length, but it looks plenty real to us).

At the back, where the Sedan’s trunk line protrudes into the trailing air, the Coupe’s decklid is raked. It’s a “faster” look than the Sedan’s, but not as pleasing to our eyes. The Coupe’s look is finished off with an edge-to-edge rear brake light bar (where the Sedan’s is interrupted by the trunk lid finish). We can’t tell whether the Coupe’s blunted rear end mitigates or accentuates the subtle Crosstour-esque styling elements that have crept into the newest Civic. It’s fairly clear to us that Honda was looking to produce a two-door that maintained the Civic’s unique styling elements while borrowing from the proportions of the larger Accord Coupe. Visually, we’re not entirely sure it works.

Inside, barely anything has changed. The Coupe’s longer doors get unique interior trim topped off by appropriately enormous grab-handles. The rear cabin sports unique interior trim as well, but there’s nothing special to report aside from the fact that the rear doors are missing.

On the road

It should come as no surprise that the Civic Coupe drives a lot like the Civic Sedan. The ride and handling balance of the Coupe is more to our liking, really, with a bit of a compromise made for the sake of performance rather than comfort (the Sedan representing the opposite).

We split our time between two CVT-equipped cars — one a LX model with the 2.0L and the other a loaded-up Touring. We were pleased that the Touring’s more refined characteristics didn’t detract from its trustworthiness in the corners. The Civic Coupe always felt planted and never seemed out of sorts when the road surface became uncooperative, which happened more than we’d like on the dirt-covered roads of an El NiƱo southern California.

The steering has be re-tuned for the Coupe, abandoning some of the lighter, less playful feel of the Sedan and thus eliminating one of our chief complaints about the platform. Unfortunately, the other remains (for the time being anyway).

Yes, we speak of the CVT. Honda’s CVT is a good one, and in this platform, it gets the job done adequately enough, but the fact that it’s the only transmission currently available with the (enthusiast-must-have) turbocharged engine is a huge letdown.

We keep saying “for now” because Honda is in the final stages of realizing what it couldn’t promise when the Sedan debuted — a six-speed manual paired to the turbocharged 1.5L. They even brought out a Sedan mule for us to drive, and while it lacked production polish, it was a substantial leap in the right direction for the Civic. Honda promises that we’ll see two-, four- and five-door models with this engine/transmission combination, though the engineers and product planners available to us wouldn’t comment on the expected trim levels or production dates. Even the mule we drove was slated to be dismantled by the end of February.

It’s far and away the dynamic better of either of the competitors we’ve driven recently, but Honda’s premium positioning and decades of suspension development make that a foregone conclusion. Like the Ford Focus and Mazda3 (and the Golf, if we’re willing to include hatchbacks), the Civic is a car that can be enjoyed by the enthusiast who does not have the means or inclination to purchase a more dedicated performance car.

Leftlane’s bottom line

The Civic Coupe is poised for excellence. The new chassis is a winner, and the Civic’s reputation for durability and reliability make it a fine choice for enthusiasts and grocery-getters alike. By this time next year, we’re confident that Honda will be selling one of the best driver’s compacts available in the mainstream segment. The looks may stand in the way for some, but they won’t stop it from delivering a solid driving (and ownership) experience.

Exterior photos by Byron Hurd. Interior photos courtesy of Honda.

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