One of the best entry-level automobiles money can buy.
– Montreal, Quebec
Even the best occasionally stumble, but like the rallying speech in any one of the many Rocky sequels, it's not about how hard you get hit but whether you keep moving forward that truly separates the elite from the rest of the pack. The 2016 Honda Civic sedan shows that the even though the brand's engineering geniuses might occasionally miss the mark, their follow-up shines brightly enough to make you forget about the lacklustre ninth entry in the franchise.
Belaboured cinematic allegories aside, the 2016 Honda Civic sedan is more than capable of standing on its own as an impressive accomplishment in the entry-level segment, regardless of how poorly-received its predecessor might have been. Still, when contrasted against the car it replaces, it's instructive to consider just how different the mentality was when designing this all-new model. Rather than dealing with the swirling uncertainty of the global financial crisis - an environment that saw the company hedge its bets and produce a cost-cutting car that it thought would appeal to austerity-minded buyers - the 2016 Civic is instead the product of a team of designers asking 'just how far can we push our most affordable four-door into the future?' In short, this sedan represents the Honda that has endeared itself to legions of satisfied repeat customers for decades.
Almost every aspect of the 2016 Honda Civic has been aimed at peeling potential customers away from rivals.
It didn't get there by accident. Almost every aspect of the 2016 Honda Civic has been aimed at peeling potential customers away from rivals like the Toyota Corolla, the Ford Focus, and the Hyundai Elantra. It starts with the Civic sedan's dramatic new sheet metal, a 180-degree reversal of the bland lines found on the previous generation car, and further proof that buyers on a budget don't have to sacrifice style. Things are a bit simpler inside, but even in base models the interior is at the very least interesting to look at, and with higher trim levels an effort has been made to introduce soft touch surfaces wherever possible. The cabin also happens to be bigger thanks to the longer and wider platform that the Civic now rides on, with one inch of its three-inch stretch coming in the form of additional wheelbase.
Equally impressive is the way that the 2016 Honda Civic drives. Perhaps the biggest complaint about the model it replaced was that the vehicle felt 'cheap' - not just in terms of its look and feel, but also as applied to its dynamics. Honda did improve several aspects of the older Civic's character with an emergency refresh executed shortly after it was introduced in 2011, but it's really the 2016 model that sets things right out on the road. Steering, suspension, and ride comfort all feel like they were carefully tuned, rather than rushed to market, and while not exactly sporty when pushed, the Civic is quite pleasant to drive as a commuter.
Both engines feature nearly identical combined fuel efficiency rating when paired with the CVT.
There are two engines available with the Honda, and each has its own particular charms. The 2.0-litre entry-level 4-cylinder offers up 158 horsepower and 138 lb-ft of torque, and can be shifted via either a six-speed manual or a continuously-variable automatic transmission. Our week-long tester, however, was a Touring trim sedan which brought with it a 1.5-litre 4-cylinder that has been turbocharged to generate 174 hp and 162 lb-ft of twist (with a continuously-variable gearbox standard).
Interestingly enough, both engines feature nearly identical combined fuel efficiency rating when paired with the CVT: 6.7 L/100 km for the turbo, and 6.9 L/100 km for the base motor. This means not only do you benefit from livelier acceleration from the 1.5-litre mill, but there's no sacrifice to be made at the fuel pump to get it. For those lamenting the lack of a manual option for the turbocharged engine, just be patient - you'll be able to get one in the near future - but for everyone else, the CVT is far from a consolation prize as it does a transparent job of managing the Civic's powerband.
The Civic Touring that we drove featured a nice balance between the high tech features increasingly common to affordable compacts and keeping the price well under $30,000. Sure, the Touring will set you back $10,000 more than the base DX trim, but you get niceties such as LED headlights, a navigation system, and heated seats front and rear.
We'd kill for an actual volume knob.
While we love the fact that Honda is back in the tech game, we have to admit that some of the top-tier Civic's gear isn't perfect. Specifically, the LaneWatch blind spot monitoring camera is frustrating when it takes over the centre console display every time you hit your blinker (and it only covers the right side of the car), and we'd kill for an actual volume knob instead of the annoying-to-use slider on the steering wheel and touch panel on the LCD frame. That being said, most people will likely be satisfied with the middle-child Civic EX, which slices $4,000 off of the Touring's MSRP price but still includes a touchscreen infotainment system, a backup camera (with the ability to turn off the bundled-in LaneWatch feature), a USB audio interface, a sunroof, and keyless entry (and for another $2,000, you can step up to the turbo engine in the EX-L).
Honda could have taken the easy way out and continued to ride the reputation of the Civic all the way to the bank - regardless of how well it compared to the current crop of fiercely competitive compact sedans. Instead, we've been gifted with one of the best entry-level automobiles money can buy - and that's true regardless of what price point you choose when diving into the Civic line-up.
Photos: Benjamin Hunting