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By Ron Sessions, Contributing Editor
Successful do-overs aren’t that common in the auto space. Flub an intro on an all-new model and the razor-sharp competition will close in for the kill. The last-gen Honda Civic was the child of the worldwide recession in 2008-2009. Its focus was on cost-cutting for the mass market, chasing Corolla. But in shaving pennies, the 2012 model somehow lost some of its character—and arrived with frumpy styling, a cheap-looking plasticky interior, a noisy cabin, dulled road manners and a frugal but uninspired drivetrain.
Based on past glories, loyal Honda fans continued to write checks for Civics. But with excellent alternatives around such as the Mazda 3, Ford Focus and VW Golf/Jetta, Honda needed to redouble efforts to get its mojo back for the 10th Generation 2016 model. And quick.
A Whole New Look
Ba-Bam! From the base LX, to the midlevel EX, EX-T and EX-L, as well as the new premium-contented Touring model, the new Civic is dripping with curb appeal. Just look at it! It has a low, wide stance. The front overhang is shortened, and the dash-to-axle perspective, a design element that’s more generous in luxury cars, is longer now. Its flanks bulge with musculature. The roofline swoops coupe-like to a fastback tail. The 2016 Civic sedan has the look and presence of a midsize car—I thought it was the Accord the first time I walked up to it.
In fact, while still a space-efficient compact car, the new Civic sedan is larger, stretching almost 3 inches longer nose to tail, and nearly 2 inches wider door handle to door handle, while crouching almost an inch lower.
Not only does it look bigger, but despite the sloping coupe-like roofline, it’s roomier inside as well. There’s more front seat head-, leg-, shoulder- and hip room for 2016 and the rear seat gains 1.2 inches of legroom thanks to an equal increase in wheelbase. This 6-foot, 2-inch writer was able to climb into the back seat—with the front seat adjusted for my long legs—with plenty of room to spare. The added length of the new Civic sedan also goes to good use in the trunk, which gains more than 2.5 cubic feet of luggage space.The look and feel of the interior bits and pieces are nicer than before. There’s better quality throughout with greater use of padded vinyl and soft-touch surfaces. The center console is taller now, with clever packaging that includes a sliding center armrest, two-tier storage and configurable cupholders. It’s deep enough to hold two iPads, too. An electric parking brake nets the driver more elbow space. Thinner windshield pillars create an airy ambiance inside the cabin.
Bargain-Aisle 3 Series
Yeah, the new Civic is that good. When Honda was developing the 2016 model, its engineers drove prototypes in Europe—on twisty Bavarian mountain roads and at autobahn speeds. The goal for the 10th Gen Honda Civic was to target the engaging dynamic feel and low noise, vibration and harshness levels of luxury C-class European cars from Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz—and deliver a product at popular Honda prices.It starts with two all-new direct-injected Earth Dreams 4-cylinder engines. The LX and EX feature a 158-hp 2.0-liter mated to a new 6-speed manual or continuously variable automatic. The 2.0-liter is up 15 horsepower over last year’s 1.8-liter Civic engine yet scores much higher EPA ratings, 27 city/40 highway mpg with the stick shift and 31/41 with the CVT. Honda’s first turbo ever is a 174-hp 1.5-liter, standard on EX-T, EX-L and Touring. Not only is the 1.5 turbo lively, but there’s no discernible turbo lag—it just feels like a larger engine, developing its maximum torque of 162 lb-ft starting at just 1700 rpm for great response regardless of speed or traffic situation. And the Civic’s 1.5 turbo also nets the best EPA estimates in the lineup, 31 city/42 highway mpg. The only downside for stick-shift fans is the turbo only comes with the CVT automatic. Tap-shift manual control isn’t available with the CVT either, but the automatic has a sport mode the driver can select that keeps revs higher and response more immediate for performance driving.
But the best aspect of the 2016 Civic is the way it drives.
You sit lower in the driver’s seat and together with the lower instrument panel, tighter body structure and re-engineered suspension, the car has a planted feel. A wider track and wider tires develop more grip than last year’s model. New hydraulic bushings take the edge off road impacts. With quicker-ratio steering and standard Agile Handling Assist, understeer is reduced and cornering crispness enhanced. And even though the Civic’s steering assist is electric, a modicum of feedback comes back through the steering wheel. Powerful 4-wheel disc brakes with pinpoint response and a spring/shock calibration with the right balance of comfort and control round out the package.
Premium Content for the 99 Percent
With the 2016 Civic, Honda is democratizing premium features. New safety, driver-assistive and infotainment tech previously available only on larger models is now on the menu. That includes the Honda Sensing suite of forward collision alert, lane-departure warning, collision-mitigation braking, road-departure mitigation and adaptive cruise with low-speed follow. EX and higher trims come with a standard 7-in touchscreen infotainment system that can work with new 3D navigation, and yes, Apple Car Play and Android Auto.
The base Civic LX starts at $18,640 plus $820 destination, with the new Touring model topping out at $26K.
If you prefer a manual transmission and an audio system that uses familiar knobs for volume and tuning, the base LX model with the 2.0-liter 4-cylinder is the one you want. The LX is the Civic at its most basic and pays homage to the original groundbreaking small car that America first embraced in 1973. But in order to unlock the 10th Generation Civic’s impressive array of comfort, technology and infotainment features or upgrade to the lively and fuel-miserly 1.5-liter turbo engine, you must opt for the EX or Touring trims.
Regardless of transmission or infotainment system choices, the 2016 Civic sedan is eons ahead of last year’s model in terms of roominess, fun-to-drive qualities and sheer curb appeal. The Civic has its mojo back! Watch this space for a new coupe, hatchback and Si model that will soon follow.