The Honda Civic, which has been zipping around on our streets for 45 years, was totally redesigned for the 2016 model year; the Civic sedan and then the coupe were made longer and wider, nearly as big as a Chrysler 200. The sleek hatchback followed for 2017, including a high-performance Civic Type R with a big wing. So for 2018 there are no changes.
In the upscale models, the compact Civic feels more like a premium car than an economy car. The sedan, especially, is refined and smooth-riding. It’s a calm car, not a sporty or especially quick one, with good handling and easy brakes.
The standard 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine makes 158 horsepower, about the same as a Mazda3, but unfortunately it’s boring. It comes with either a 6-speed manual transmission that we really like, or a continuously variable transmission (CVT) that isn’t new, doesn’t have paddle shifters and is even more boring than the engine.
That mostly puts the job to the other engine, a 1.5-liter turbo making 174 horsepower. It’s a revelation, not only quicker and more responsive than the non-turbo 2.0, but with a better CVT. It gets nearly the same fuel mileage as the 2.0, which with the CVT is EPA-rated at 35 mpg Combined miles per gallon (only 31 mpg with the manual).
The sportier Civic Si really ups the power with 205 hp, and the Type R, with its 2.0-liter turbo brings 306 horsepower to the VTEC and VTC engine.
With three body styles, two powertrains, and four main models, the combinations are bewildering.
Sedans come in LX, EX, EX-T, EX-L, and Touring models. Civic LX ($18,840) comes standard with 2.0-liter engine, manual transmission, rearview camera, electronic parking brake, Bluetooth, five-inch touchscreen, and 160-watt audio. Heated leather seats are available along with a more powerful sound system with HD satellite radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability.
Civic EX-L ($23,900) is available with the turbocharged 1.5-liter engine and CVT. Civic Touring ($26,700) gets the HondaSensing safety suite, navigation, LED headlamps and 450-watt audio. (All prices are MSRP and do not include destination charge.)
Coupes come in LX manual ($19,250), LX-P ($21,050), EX-T ($22,500), EX-L ($23,625), and Touring ($26,325). Civic Si Coupe ($23,900) uses the 1.5-liter engine with more turbocharger boost to make 205 horsepower, with a six-speed manual gearbox.
Hatchbacks come in LX ($19,700), Sport ($21,300), EX ($22,800), EX-L Navi ($25,300), and Sport Touring ($28,300).
Civic Type R hatchback ($33,900) features a 2.0-liter VTEC turbocharged engine.
The sedan looks big, not like an economy car at all, with a sleek and sweeping profile like the Honda Crosstour. The sheetmetal might be exciting to a fault, with its creases, slits and intakes. It flaunts its size and edginess by being low and wide, with flared wheels and a wedged tail with Acura-like taillamps.
The Hatchback is the same as the sedan, from the B pillars between the doors to the front of the hood. But it’s four inches shorter overall, so everything behind the pillars is distinctive, and downright swoopy for a so-called hatchback. The only thing hatchbacky about it is that the back is a convenient hatch.
The cabin is tame and organized, a horizontal dash with a single screen, almost a Teutonic flow. The dash is low and the front seat raises, so forward visibility is excellent. The gauges are clean and crisp, except on the deluxe Touring model, which gets a digital display on an LCD screen with a 270-degree tachometer.
There’s a lot of room inside, enough for a six-footer in back with an inch of kneeroom to spare. There are many clever storage spots, and a big 15-cubic-foot trunk.
The Hatchback’s passengers won’t know it’s not a sedan, although the trim is a bit different. The cargo space is a very generous 25.7 cubic feet behind the second row, so that’s already way ahead of the sedan; and then when you drop the seat you get an awesome 46.2 cubic feet. Considering it’s four inches shorter than the sedan, that’s dazzling.
Honda is working its cargo features to young buyers, maybe those stepping up from a Fit who are spoiled by the cargo space created by the nearly flat-folding Magic Seats, including the front seats. The Hatchback also features an innovative sideways sliding cargo cover that can be stowed on either side. The Hatchback is nearly as quiet as the sedan and coupe with the cargo cover up, as it blocks noise from the open space in the back.
Compared to the three turbocharged engines, the standard 2.0-liter engine with its 158 horsepower is flat-out lame. It’s for buyers who only care that their car goes forward when they press the start button and step on the gas. With the Civic, there are a lot of them. But the car can be more.
The 1.5-liter turbo is much quicker, as the weight of the slim Civic is less than 3000 pounds, so the engine’s 174 horsepower can handle it. It’s a small turbo with an electrically driven wastegate. It sounds sweet at full throttle, though there is some turbo lag. The turbo engine has a Sport mode that helps things, as well as an Econ mode that gains fuel mileage but robs power. The turbo comes with a continuously variable transmission that’s smooth and quiet but not quick or exciting.
Ride and handling is where the Civic excels. It’s precise, composed, and beautifully compliant. It doesn’t dance over bumps, it manages them. The suspension uses struts in the front with hydraulic bushings, and multi-links in the rear with a rigid subframe, with hydraulic bushings on EX-T models and above, as well as 17-inch wheels and tires. Same with the turbocharged Civics.
The Civic LX and EX ride on pedestrian 215/55HR16 tires that run out of grip and ability to cushion the ride on bad pavement, but still the ride’s not bad. Handling is predictable even when grip is not, as we observed on wet roads covered with leaves.
Because the steering column is thicker (for crash worthiness, which the Civic aces), the Civic uses a sophisticated steering system, a dual-pinion, variable-ratio setup like on the Buick Verano. There’s a motor in the steering rack that provides gradual and consistent steering boost.
The brakes are firm and fast to respond, with a short pedal stroke.
The Civic Si turns up the turbo boost to get 205 horsepower out of the busy engine. The suspension uses solid bushings to tighten it up, and the six-speed manual has a short throw and smooth clutch.
The new Type R hatch gets a 2.0-liter turbo that makes an eye-popping 306 horsepower. We haven’t had a chance to drive it yet, but we definitely look forward to it.
With four engines and three body styles, the Civic has many personalities. It can be a sedate car, a sedan with the 2.0-liter engine, and in fact the entry-level LX, which is reasonably well equipped, offers a whole lot of reliable and smooth car for the money. But for our own satisfaction, we need the 1.5-liter turbo; it’s much quicker and has a sharper CVT. Move up to the sleek hatchback as the 205-hp Si, or 306-hp Type R, and you’ll have a mean or meaner machine.
Sam Moses contributed to this report.