Most base models of new cars feel especially impoverished when compared to more expensive models in the range. That’s absolutely not the case with the 2016 Honda Civic LX.
Sure, you don’t get a flashy touchscreen, there are four plastic wheel covers fixed to the tires and you start it with this funny metal key. But all of that is wonderful when the car itself is so pure in its mission.
The Civic LX with a manual is what I affectionately call “print journalist spec.” I can say this because I worked at a newspaper where the majority of the editorial side had Hondas. If they didn’t have a Civic, it was probably because they moved to an Accord or CR-V. Newspaper journalists probably bought most of the stick-shift Civics, and the dwindling number of print reporters is probably why the take rate of an LX manual has dwindled to almost nothing, according to Honda.
Yet this Civic model probably does the best job at carrying the nameplate forward while keeping the customers who’ve made the Civic a byword for practical and reliable transportation. There is a refreshing honesty and lack of pretentiousness here that is rare for a new car targeted at young buyers.
For a kickoff, the Civic’s newfound style is truly a success when it works on every version, from this LX to the most expensive models. The plastic covers on the wheels don’t look hopeless as they have in the past – in fact, from a distance they are pretty convincing. All of the Civic sedans look under-tired, and it’s really no worse here. Get used to it, anyway, because the LX makes up about half of Civic sales.
At more than $19,000, the LX manual isn’t bargain-basement cheap anymore (that was the long-dead DX’s job anyway). But it’s sensibly equipped with enough features. Automatic climate control is now standard, along with the obligatory Bluetooth and USB port. While it’s clear you haven’t splurged, a Civic LX isn’t exactly a sign you cheaped out on a new car purchase.
Even without the turbocharged engine, the 2016 Civic feels lively to drive and it’s made far better when the 2.0-liter four is paired to a six-speed manual. The engine loves to rev, and the CVT suppresses that in favor of fuel economy. But left to your own devices, you can hang out in second and third long after the EPA would recommend to change up for better efficiency. And at revs past 4,000, the engine feels like it’s just hitting its stride. It’s old school Honda here.
All of this happiness from the car is heightened when you take it on a good road. The tires may squeal in horror, but the Civic’s chassis comes alive more than one might expect. Steering is good and with the ability to get power when you want it by downshifting, the car sort of encourages you to press on. Seriously, Honda, decent tires would transform this thing.
You’re also happy behind the wheel because the driving position and quality of the materials has so greatly improved. Again, it’s suddenly 1990 when the Civic was a standout for refinement and grownup-ness that you had to come back for another Civic. And another. And another.
The news about the 2016 Civic may be focused on its slick new looks or the tech available or its fuel efficiency or the lavishly equipped Touring model. But the litmus test for a new Civic is how good the LX is. It’s the core model, the one most people buy and the one you’re going to see on the lease special dealership advertisements. And frankly, I’d take a Civic LX manual over a Civic Touring any day. That must speak to how impressive the 2016 Civic is.