The Honda Civic has a long history to draw from in the U.S.—it's the fifth decade of sales for the car—and its 2016 version couldn't be more important for the company. This year's Civic, which has already been followed by a coupe version, is the 10th generation of the venerable small car, and a huge improvement over the last generation's car in nearly every way.
There is good news for people who fondly remember the first CVCC Hondas. But more to the point, the new Civic will send some fear into its rivals. Honda had let down its compact-car guard in the past few years with the Civic: it cheapened its interior and dulled its luster while vehicles like the Mazda 3, Ford Focus, and Hyundai Elantra grew more appealing.
Now the Civic's back to form, with a clean-sheet design, a stiff new body, efficient new engines, and a heady dose of safety technology. With the latest sedan, Honda shows why it's the small-car company of record. It drops almost all its economy-car pretense, and in Touring trim, could easily wear a premium badge.
Eventually, the new Civic lineup will include a wide range of body styles and performance profiles—everything from the standard sedan, to a coupe and hatchback, to heady Si editions and even a track-minded Type-R. It all starts with the 2016 Civic sedan, the best-looking Honda in a decade or more, with its fastback profile and neatly organized cockpit—and now with a Civic Coupe.
Honda's recent decade of styling hasn't been strong, but it's rapidly changing with vehicles such as the redone Accord and Pilot. The Civic's the best yet, with a beautifully edgy fastback shape that effectively hides its size by widening and lowering its proportions. It's as if Honda finally has grasped how great styling is the most effective wrapper for great engineering.
The front end might be the weakest statement, with its formal and thick band of chrome; elsewhere the Civic's flared wheels, fast roofline, wedgy tail and bracket-shaped taillights are exciting, and wouldn't look out of place in an Acura showroom. The cabin's a bit more tame and well organized, with a broadly horizontal look and a single screen replaced the dual-screen tiered design of the last Civic. Most versions have analog gauges, but the priciest Civic gets a digital display.
Around 5.5 inches shorter in length than the Sedan, as well as about an inch lower overall, the 2016 Honda Civic Coupe is pretty much the same as its sedan counterpart from the cowl forward, but through the cabin to the back of the car it has quite different proportions—as well as an upward side-sheet metal crease that helps bring out a wedgier, more planted stance. Coupes also get their own taillight design, with C-shaped LED lamps that go full-width across the trunklid.
The Civic splits its identities when it comes to performance. Base models have linear, unexciting acceleration and handling; turbo Civics get a big top-end power boost and exceptional ride smoothness. The standard engine is a 158-horsepower, 2.0-liter inline-4, and it's offered with either a 6-speed manual transmission (on LX models only) or a continuously variable transmission (CVT), which has been carried over from the last-generation Civic.
No matter which transmission you choose, the familiar, linear power delivery won't leave you surprised. It's unobtrusive in its acceleration, and unexciting, too. With the loose and light-shifting manual, it turns in 31-mpg combined EPA ratings—but with the far more common CVT it'll do 35 mpg, without the benefit of paddle shifts or any other direct input with the power delivery. You'll get the same fuel economy and much more lively performance from the 1.5-liter turbocharged inline-4; with 174 horsepower, it's far more energetic than the base engine, capable of Civic Si-like straight-line performance, though a stronger CVT still lacks the direct input and the right-now shift quality of a good manual or a great automatic.
The Civic's big performance appeal is in ride and handling. With a more complex dual-pinion electric steering setup and hydraulic mounts for the suspension, it's a magnitude more mature than the last Civic, precise and composed in all versions. On the base models, there's more dependence on the small 16-inch tires to soak up bumps, but ride quality is still good; it's just the turbocharged versions get better tires and additional hydraulic suspension bushings that deliver a wonderfully compliant, composed ride quality and excellent tracking. It no longer feels at all like an economy car, at this pay grade.
The Civic's commodious cabin has 6-footer room in back, and lots of clever storage solutions. It's as grown-up and grown-out as a VW Jetta or a Chrysler 200, given the nearly 3 inches added in overall length and 2 inches added in width. By some measures, it's not even a compact anymore, but a mid-size vehicle. Specs matter, but interior space and comfort matters more, and here too the Civic excels. The front seats have a very low starting position, but they're height-adjustable; the dash is very low, which gives the Civic excellent visibility. In the back seat, the Civic outperforms almost all the cars it names as rivals, and some others, too. There's enough head and leg room for 6-footers to sit behind 6-footers, with an inch of knee room to spare. And the cabin is filled with thoughtful touches, from a flexible console storage system to a big, 15-cubic-foot trunk.
Civic Coupe models still have significantly less space—both in terms of head room for those in front, and for back-seat riders; however Honda says that this generation of the Coupe gets 5 inches more rear leg room than the outgoing version.
Honda's sensibly uncoupled its latest safety technology from the most expensive models. Now, every Civic comes with Bluetooth and a rearview camera—and can be configured with adaptive cruise control, forward-collision warnings and automatic braking. As such, it's already earned a place on the IIHS Top Safety Pick+ honor roll.
Even in base trim, the Civic is well equipped. At just below $20,000, it gets standard power features, climate control, an electronic parking brake, a USB port and a 160-watt sound system (with no CD player, RIP). Moving up the price scale, the Civic adds a 7.0-inch touchscreen; a second USB port in the console; Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability; more audio power; XM and HD radio; heated seats front and rear; 17-inch wheels; and leather, with an option for Garmin navigation.
At the top of the lineup, the Civic Touring is priced from $27,335, and gains the HondaSensing safety suite as well as a power front passenger seat; heated outboard rear seats; navigation; LED headlights; and a 450-watt premium audio system.