Honda Civic Coupe first drive: Sacrifice for style

Autoweek drives the Honda Civic coupe.

It’s the sedan sans rear doors; remind us why that’s good?

The Civic coupe is a car-culture meme, chastised for “Fast and Furious”-influence owners who slap a 4-inch exhaust tip and a set of eBay coilovers on their “sick Civic” before hitting the local hardware store for a supply of flat-black spray bombs.

Honda took an accidental step away from that image with its previous generation of bouncy and bloated Civics. How exactly? Well, they were no fun to drive, even for the tuner crowd.

This Civic, on the other hand, is. As we saw when we first tested the sedan, the team at Honda went to great lengths to make this newest Civic fun again. That holds true for the coupe too, which Honda nipped and tucked, shortening the overall length by a few inches, lowering the top profile by nearly an inch and massaging the quarter panels to look more aggressive.

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While that sounds fine on paper, the low roof causes even more trouble for taller passenger than it did in the sedan. A tall person can slouch to fit uncomfortably in the back seat of the sedan. However, in the coupe, you would be best off resting awkwardly across the back seat.

The instrumentation will be familiar to those who have been inside the latest sedan — the analog gauge clusters are the same, as are the slick digital units. And, along with an accessory catalog of wheels, spoilers and other extras, the coupe will have some youthful colors such as the electric green we saw on the concept last year.

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What’s it like to drive?

Compared to the last-generation Civic coupe, it’s better in every imaginable way.

The new coupe is powered by the same array of engine and transmission combinations as the sedan: a 2.0-liter naturally aspirated I4 or a turbocharged 1.5-liter I4 mated to either a six-speed manual gearbox or a CVT automatic transmission. Currently, the 1.5 turbo is only available with a CVT; however, there is absolutely going to be a manual transmission and 1.5 turbo available — we just haven’t been told when.

The naturally aspirated 2.0-liter feels perfectly Honda. The 158 hp i-VTEC engine is as rev happy and responsive as ever, but has solid low-end power creating nice linear acceleration. Combined with the smooth shifting-six speed, you get the absolute Honda experience. While the CVT isn’t our first choice for the naturally aspirated engine, it does a good enough job to impress us.

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The turbocharged 1.5-liter I4, on the other hand, is a perfect match for the CVT. During normal driving conditions, the transmission is invisible; however, when romped, it holds the engine at peak power and hustles down the freeway.

Suspending the Civic coupe is the same MacPherson strut front suspension and multi-link rear as the sedan. AS we pointed out with our sedan review, certain people are going to complain that the latest Civic isn’t a return to double wishbones. Time behind the wheel should lay those concerns to rest, as the latest Civic feels firmly planted to the road. There would need some work to make this a track car, but hopefully the Si and Type-R will provide bolt-on solutions for peak handling. The Honda folks say that this coupe is tuned differently than the sedan, but normal drivers won’t notice — not an issue considering the sedan had only minor body roll and dive under braking.

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The electric rack and pinion provides direct steering, but more time behind the wheel leads us to think it could use more feedback. That’s a minor enthusiast gripe that, again, will probably be addressed with the future Si and Type-R models. The feel is further diminished with the lane keep assist engage — the automated steering is more invasive than we prefer, especially considering the fact that the system gets angry when you let go of the wheel for too long.

An electric parking brake eliminates the tried and true handbrake of yesteryear, and while we’re sad to see it go, the electric parking brake works just fine. In fact, for novice stick drivers, brake hold works surprisingly well, automatically activating whenever the car comes to a stop while the system is engaged.

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Do I want it?

Except for die-hard coupe buyers, there isn’t enough of a positive difference between the Civic coupe and the sedan to offset the convenience of the two extra doors. Yeah, the coupe will likely confuse people for a few months, and you’ll get asked if it’s the new SI, but that isn’t enough to sway us from the sedan’s vastly better utility.

In fact, there is a lot going on with the coupe to actively drive us toward its more utilitarian sibling — the sedan is that good. If you’re willing to give up a little comfort to have a sportier Civic, wait until the Si or Type-R arrives and get the real deal.

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