Before diving deep into the presentation for the 2016 CivicSedan, Honda reps reminded us that the last generation of the car sold very well, thank you. Launched for the 2012 model year, and conspicuously updated for ’13, the ninth-generation of Honda’s Everyman Sedan was dinged in the media for its lack of innovative powertrains, a drop in refinement relative to the newest competitors, and generally staying the course instead of blazing a trail.
That Civic still sold hundreds of thousands of copies. But at the presser for thisnew car, the sense of relief in moving forward, and excitement about the future, was palpable. Striking up the band and fawning over a new car is the job of Honda’s staff, of course, but after driving the ’16 Civic for myself, it was clear why the gushing seemed so genuine. This is a new machine, soup to nuts, built to draw crosshairs on the best compact cars in the world.
To do that, Honda prioritized overall refinement, the steering experience, a quiet cabin, and high-speed stability as areas in which the tenth-gen car must excel. Those are new areas; the company accepts that things like excellent fuel economy and safety are elemental parts of any Civic by now. Having driven the current version of most every competitor, I set out to see if Honda could make good on that lofty and diverse set of goals.
The new Civic powertrain lineup gives the model an immediate leg up. For 2016, Honda is bringing two new four-cylinder engines to the game: a naturally aspirated 2.0-liter, and a turbocharged 1.5-liter. I got a small sample of the 2.0L engine – it’s generally up to the task of carrying Civic sales in bulk – but I spent most of my day with the more exciting 1.5T. (That’s mostly what Honda brought along; the engineers are clearly proud of this motor.)
The top three trim levels will include the 174-horsepower, 162-pound-feet turbo engine, connected to a continuously variable transmission. The added power makes sense for the more expensive versions of this car, as the easy acceleration it offers is a real luxury. Most drivers will appreciate that there’s less “turbo-y” feeling to this engine than just about any I’ve ever experienced. Full torque output starts at 1,800 rpm – and sticks there right up to the 5,500-rpm horsepower peak – but there’s no drama around the power coming on. From slow starts to full-throttle launches, the power delivery is remarkably linear.
I really enjoyed Honda’s big jump into the turbo world, but half the time I could’ve done without the mandatory CVT. (You will be able to get a six-speed manual on the base LX Civic, with the 2.0-liter engine, but not with the 1.5.) The transmission is responsive from slow speeds, and becomes invisible when cruising on the highway. But on variable speed roads, and with me asking for the juice to enjoy them, it constantly caused the engine to drone. There’s been enough good NVH work done that the hard hum of the engine isn’t very loud, but it isn’t particularly harmonious or exciting, either. That won’t matter for pottering around the suburbs or in zombiefied commuting on the freeway, but if you’re trying to enjoy the Civic’s neat handling and responsive steering, it can be a buzzkill.
Wind and road noise levels are really low, on the other hand. In fact, in every scenario but the hard-charging canyon carving, I found the interior to be astonishingly quiet for a $20,000-something car. Hell, it’s astonishingly quiet for a $40,000 car.Ride quality matches that NVH profile in Honda’s task of overall refinement. I drove out to a usual-suspect string of Malibu canyon roads, which offered up quite the varied road shape (if not surface) to test on. The Civic stayed remarkably flat over deep dips and diving hillside roads. Prodded a bit I could start to feel some roll through the suspension, and there’s surely limited grip from the 215-section rubber, but the overall character is still fun and tossable. Road imperfections as we know them in the Midwest were harder to come by, but the small evidence I saw in California tells me that those impacts would be mostly absorbed without bothering driver or passengers. A great balance of softness and fun, really.
I’m not sure that Honda’s tune of the electrically assisted rack-and pinion steering is quite as big a step forward as the rest of the Civic package, but it sure isn’t bad. The feeling is light and a little numb, but turn-in response is still very good, and the whole car rotates rather briskly. This new generation is bigger than its predecessor, but it doesn’t drive that way when attacking corners.
Perhaps the most encouraging thing to say about the sedan’s performance that day, is that it’s certain to make a terrific base on which to build enthusiast variants like the upcoming Si and Type R. These are good bones.The potential for good autocross times is hardly high on the shopping list of your average Civic buyer, I think it’s fair to say. To that end, Honda has gone a ways toward providing standard features and options that will suit, maybe even surprise, those considering the sedan. For all my kvetching about the CVT, its effect on the car’s fuel economy is probably worth the bother: ratings of 42 miles per gallon highway and 31 in the city are impressive. Daily drivers will appreciate standard items like remote entry, a capless fuel filler (every car should have this), and a rearview camera on every trim level. And those that live in high-congestion areas should seriously consider the adaptive cruise with low-speed follow – which will take you down to a full stop and up to speed again – available on every trim and standard on the top-line Touring.
The infotainment tech is more of a mixed bag. I’m not alone in being happy that Honda has ditched the two-screen idiom, and found the optional seven-inch Display Audio system with its touchscreen easy to grasp quickly. You still have to make do with the horrible, unresponsive volume control on the head unit though, or, as I did just about every time, use the weird thumb switch on the steering wheel to turn the stereo up or down. Thankfully the integration of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is seamless here, and obviates the need for using the Civic’s native software, much of the time.