The first glance at this 11th generation of Honda’s top-selling compact car generated instant approval — an impression that only grew during our time together. After what many critics would consider rather lackluster recent offerings, the latest Civic not only looks more mature, more refined, and just all-around better looking, it backs up this design with the necessary driving chops.
Since 1973, the Civic has been a mainstay purchase for young families as well as a solid entry-level car for every youth generation. It is the nameplate that has Honda’s highest loyalty numbers, plus it is the number-three-selling car overall since its debut, only trailing the Accord and the Camry. Given that many other sedans are falling by the wayside — the VW Passat, the Toyota Avalon and the Mazda 6 all recently got the ax — this latest Civic is proof positive that Honda is not conceding any compact car sales to competitors, crossovers, nothing.
Right now, the Civic is only available as a four-door sedan. A hatchback model will appear in the coming months as well as sportier Si and much-sportier Type R trims. Honda is so pleased with this latest Civic (built in Ontario) it will be the foundation for the next Acura Integra — once the very best selling Acura — in 2022.
You can’t look at the new Civic and not think how much larger it looks. While class-competitive in overall length, but with the longest wheelbase in the segment, 107.7 inches, the Honda is wider and features several subtle body enhancements that are not only pleasing to the eye but add more interior space. Longer wheelbase translates into better ride dynamics — and the Civic delivers. Looking back, this new Civic is almost the exact same size as a 2001 Accord.
The A pillars are more vertical and pulled back. The bumpers are lower, the greenhouse glass is larger, while the cabin is slightly wider. The stretch in the wheelbase greatly enhances rear-seat legroom, while the character line down the flanks creates distinction similar to the Accord.
Nissan’s redesigned Sentra garnered increased business, plus the latest Forte and Elantra started taking a large bite out of the Civic’s established clientele. And, the Corolla, now with some body variations as well as a hybrid model, pushed the Toyota past the Honda on the sales charts. Honda had to get things right on the Civic this time or lose a whole generation of its core market.
Well, it has. The chassis is thoroughly reworked. New tuning, new hardware, stronger high-tech metal pieces, plus more sound insulation create a poised, smooth chassis that is extremely rewarding to drive. Steering feel, not just the feedback, but the feel and texture of the steering wheel itself, will urge you to corner faster and drive harder because the sensations are so pleasing — and so Civic. This little athlete is back on the medal podium.
In top Touring trim here, $22,715 for base LX, $24,115 for Sport, $25,715 for EX and $29,295 for the handsome Lunar Silver model shown, Honda also upgraded the engine room and the CVT transmission. There is currently no third-pedal option (wait for the sportier renditions) yet the CVT gets a “Sport” mode button that works well with the 180-hp (up 6 horsepower) 1.5-liter turbo-four to create exhilarating acceleration. When offered in the EX trim, the turbo motor is the fuel economy champ of the lineup: 33/42/36 mpg. In the normal driving that a commuter might experience, consistent speed on good secondary roads, our spirited Touring returned a solid 43 mpg, easily beating the EPA estimate of 31/38/34 mpg. On the super-slab, that number declined as the speed increased.
Another number still increased, despite some earnest efforts to lower it — the Civic’s road noise suppression. While there is a notable improvement, certain surfaces and the freeway grind still allow too much road noise into the cabin. That and a passenger seat with no height adjustment were the only complaints from the crew.
Inside, Honda reworked the dash layout with good success. A metal honeycomb panel runs the length of the cabin and masks the air vents, while programmable driver panels, clear digital displays, a well-detailed nav system and a touchscreen with fewer menus (hooray!) and more “hard” buttons are a general success.
Bottom line, the new Civic is a much more pleasing design. It is an excellent driving car with a commendable chassis and powertrain that delivers surprising efficiency when driven responsibly, as well as entertaining performance when summoned.
They say that 60 is the new 50. If true, this 11th-generation Civic is the polished, mature machine tuned for the times, a responsible sedan for everyone who enjoys driving and doesn’t feel compelled to spend a fortune to do so. In other words, better than ever.