2017 Honda Civic Hatchback First Drive: Dominating the compact car market
- Muskoka, Ontario
When Honda unveiled what was dubbed the “most ambitious Civic ever” for model year 2016, the company took the compact market by storm. It won about every car of the year award there was, and both journalists and the public alike were rather taken by the often conservative brand’s bold new creation in both sedan and coupe form. And now in its latest iteration, the 2017 Honda Civic Hatchback is already being well received.
The numbers tell an interesting story. Year-to-date (YTD), Honda Canada has seen total Civic sales of 56,730. Or nearly 900 more compared to the same time period the year before (2015) where the company sold 55,881 cars. This YTD to October 31, sales statistic may not show the dramatic jump in sales one would expect, but no matter how you slice it, the Civic is still the best-selling car in Canada and continues to shore up its sales lead.
Suffice to say, the safe takeaway here would be that the market for compact cars in Canada is still a hot one. Between the very popular Toyota Corolla, that just saw a refresh, and the all-new Hyundai Elantra, Civic has a lot of competition. If Honda is to continue to stay ahead of the competition they needed to find new ways to serve Canadian customers.
Enter the 2017 Honda Civic Hatchback. The five-door is a perfect fit for a Canadian market that has a soft spot for hatchbacks. And right there, is the crux of my biggest complaint against the new Civic hatch.
Take a long hard look at that side profile, the new hatch looks a lot like a coupe with a large deck lid than a proper hatch to me. I’m reminded of the recently deceased Scion tC, even the long gone Chevy Malibu Maxx; both not comparisons I was hoping to make. It’s unfortunate, because Honda’s built Civic hatches in years past that are still iconic today, but this isn’t shaping up to be one of them.
While the wheelbase remains the same between sedan and hatch, the hatch is 112 millimetres shorter than the sedan. Shouldn’t a hatchback be about utility first? Isn’t that why it appeals to Canadians?
It’s not all a loss however. While the footprint of the hatchback’s exterior has shrunk, the cargo space is actually about 40 percent more than that of the sedan. Honda claims the new hatch also has more cargo volume than any of its competitors.
While we’re back here, let's discuss Honda’s rather intelligent cargo area privacy cover. Instead of the popular front to back retractable cover used by nearly every automaker - Honda included for some of their other vehicles - the 2017 Civic Hatchback uses a combination of right to left, side-mounted retracting cover with a secondary cover built into the hatch door, which together completely hides whatever it is you want hidden in the back. This means no crossbar that interferes with luggage loading when the back seats are down. It may not be a game changer, but another small convenience that makes the Civic Hatchback easier to live with.
While I’m a little hard on the design of the new hatch out back, I’m rather fond of the new front. Honda designer’s pull the face down a touch and give the whole front fascia a lower, wider look. Compared to the design of the sedan, what you’re looking at it is a sportier Civic.
Sportier, is the one word that best sums up the new 2017 Honda Civic Hatchback. From the bolder exterior design, both front and back, to a slicker looking cabin that features either textured metal or carbon fibre-like finishes, and standard 18-inch alloy wheels on upper trim levels, the new car is as sporty as a factory stock Honda has looked in ages.
The 2017 Honda Civic Hatchback really earns its sporty credentials however on the back of its new powertrain. A 1.5-litre turbo mill capable of 180-horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque in Sport and Sport Touring models. The base LX model uses almost the same powerplant, but with a little less oomph; 174-hp and 167 lb-ft of torque to be exact.
There are two variations on the turbocharged 1.5-litre Civic Hatchback powerplant. One does 174-hp and 167 lb-ft of torque and runs on regular fuel. The other is capable of 180-hp and 177 lb-ft of torque using premium fuel.
Our biggest surprise was to find that while the LX model runs on regular 87 octane gasoline, the higher two trims with more power require premium 91 octane fuel. According to Honda, the requirement for higher octane is not to be taken lightly as using a lower grade would not only rob power, but also worsen fuel economy.
That said, the new Civic hatch boasts best-in-class fuel economy, so perhaps the added cost of premium gasoline could be offset with economy gains. We haven’t run the numbers on this yet, but you can be sure we’ll be testing it in a future review.
During my first drive event, the only cars available for testing were the LX models. Built across the pond in the U.K., other trim levels hadn’t physically made it to our shores yet, at the time of the press launch. Even though the LX is the lower powered model, it definitely doesn’t feel that way. If you opt for the six-speed manual transmission model, there’s a bit more fun to be had, and that’s despite the rather soft gear throws. We've said this about the new Civic before, this is one sporty Civic, and rides and drives like nothing you'd have expected from a car in this segment.
Even though it's technically the entry point to the five-door Civic, the LX hatch doesn't look or feel base. Heated front seats, automatic climate control, a rear-view camera, 16-inch alloys, and - my favourite - Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone mirroring make this good value for $22,690 with the CVT transmission (add $1,000 for Honda Sensing).
Best part about the Civic Hatchback despite my it-doesn’t-look-like-a-hatchback gripe? It’s got class-leading space in the back for tons of stuff, while looking rather sharp on the outside. All the goodness of the new Civic is carried through here including top-notch active safety and driver assistance systems in the form of Honda Sensing.
While Honda seems to be fighting for more share in what's already a saturated market for compact cars, the 2017 Civic Hatchback makes a strong argument for carving out a little bit more.
Photos: Kanishka Sonnadara / Motor1