This is the all new Honda Civic. The particular model that I’ll be reviewing is the base model, the LX. To make things even more (or less) interesting, I’ll be reviewing the one with the CVT transmission. Why? This car sells by the tens of thousands, and many of those are automatic base models, especially in America. It’s time to find out what so many buyers are getting themselves into.
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Compared to the previous generation, this Civic has more power, more torque, wider tires, and it’s even lighter than the outgoing model. Put it into sport mode (yes, this car has a sport mode), and you can actually have some fun! This isn’t the kind of car you should take to a drag race, but it can make you grin a bit when you toss it through a corner. I wouldn’t call it nimble, but it’s certainly competent.
Things are just as good when you don’t feel like pushing the envelope too. You’re greeted with an Eco button that will find 40 miles to the gallon for you on the highway, and unlike so many cars in its class, it’s rather pleasant as well. The seats are a tighter, slightly finer cloth than what you traditionally get in an economy car, and they even have a slight resemblance of a genuine bucket seat. I drove this exact car 600 miles over 2 days and never felt too uncomfortable, which says a lot about the quality. The steering wheel is superb. It’s not too big and has fantastic grip with a big crease for your thumbs when you place your hands at 9 and 3 like a Formula 1 driver. It adds to the fun but certainly doesn’t sacrifice functionality with a number of controls in all the right places.
The storage space and leg room leaves nothing to be desired for its class. One of my favorite features of this car is a small cubby of sorts under the audio interface. The material used boasts a very high coefficient of friction, meaning that your phone, keys, coins, and iPod are going absolutely nowhere, regardless of how hard you brake or turn. Combine that with the USB ports and cigarette lighter being behind this unit and out of sight, and you have yourself the pinnacle of automotive personal cable management. It sounds like a small deal, but it makes it rather difficult to clutter the cockpit with personal belongings. It’s built for 2016, and everything in the here and now has its place.
It's genuinely clever!
There are of course, a number of problems. There is the first negative that jumped out at me as soon as I got inside. The Civic has an electronic parking brake. I thought immediately that this was completely unnecessary for an economy car that prides itself on reliability, as electric things don’t exactly last forever. I was right. The software that governs it is faulty, which has left 330,000 owners with their first recall. I wouldn’t exactly feel at ease parking this on a hill in San Francisco.
Then there is the insulation above the driver’s feet that separates the cabin from the engine, which is cheap and falls out in little pieces every once in a while, completely unprovoked.
Additionally, the Civic features a long horizontal light across the dashboard that tells you how economically you’re driving from green, which means that you are driving economically, to white, which means that you’re being aggressive. It feels much more like the car is being a bit of a nanny though because it yells at me for being too aggressive when I’m maintaining less than 30 MPH up a small hill.
There is a more serious problem though. It’s the transmission. I’ve just described to you a car that, albeit not perfect, can be both fun and practical. You might have to choose one or the other before you set off if you want a choice at all. Here’s why.
If I decide to be economical, I put the car into drive. Part of how it achieves its impressive economy figures is by limiting the engine to about 3500 RPM regardless of just about anything you do, aside from spurts of power that are incredibly infrequent and certainly inconsistent. This means that you’re unable to have some fun exposing a gap or two on an otherwise mundane drive. Put it into sport however, and the car revs much too high when you’re just cruising. This means that you sound like a teenager in a manual who just likes to listen to a high droning sound. I do like having some pull available when I want it, but I don’t need it annoyingly repeating into my ear that it’s there like a crying baby on a plane.
In another words, it defeats the whole purpose of the car. If I wanted to buy a car for primal thrashing all the time, I would’ve had something else. But, if there was no point in having some fun with it, Honda wouldn’t have given a lighter car more power and wider tires, not to mention a radical, more aggressive, and somewhat polarizing redesign.
What we have here is somewhat of an automotive identity crisis. The Honda Civic is meant to be a practical car that offers some opportunities for fun, contrary to the Toyota Corolla or the Nissan Sentra. What we got instead was a car that offers one or the other but never both at once. I will say this though. If you do just want an economy car, it’ll do that just as well, if not better, than all of its competitors. Simply having the option for some fun, even if it isn’t there every moment you’d like, does set it apart. For that reason, I’d still take the Civic over the other cars in its class in a heartbeat. Of course, it doesn’t hurt if the manual suits your taste.