2016 Honda Civic: Honda's Four-Door Neuralizer

Strong points
  • More exciting styling
  • Well-tuned turbocharged engine
  • Available six-speed manual transmission
  • Affordably priced
  • Excellent suite of safety technology
  • Decent base motor
Weak points
  • No volume knob for stereo system
  • Lack of driver engagement
  • No AC in DX model strains credulity
  • Interior finish is good, but not class-leading
Full report

Sometimes you pick yourself right up after a stumble. Sometimes it takes a little longer. When Honda whiffed with the redesign of its - let's face it - flagship Civic in 2012, it followed up with a quick re-do the following year in a bid to soothe the backlash from long-time buyers disappointed in what was perceived as a lacklustre effort. Better than its predecessor, the revised Honda Civic continued to do brisk business but suffered in comparison to rivals in a compact segment that pushed inexorably up-market in a bid to secure as many entry-level dollars as possible.

The 2016 Honda Civic is a clean-slate design that aims to erase any lingering effects of the previous-generation car by projecting the brand's engineering expertise across an all-new platform matched with a pair of surprisingly efficient and competitively-tuned engine choices. The numbers are impressive, and the entire Civic package has been given a new styling sheen that is at the very least the equal of the fashion-forward compact car leaders. After driving the sedan version of the latest Civic redux, I think Honda's effort should be enough to give us all collective amnesia.

The First Turbo Civic

Honda lore is replete with tales told by wise old product development managers to their young charges describing the relative merits of high-revving, small-displacement motors, with terms like 'forced induction' spoken only with quiet scorn behind closed doors. In a move that demonstrates an ability to balance heritage with the realities imposed by modern fuel efficiency regulations, the 2016 Honda Civic breaks with tradition to offer prospective buyers a new turbocharged 1.5-litre four-cylinder motor under the hood of its top-tier models.

The turbo unit doesn't have to go it alone - there's a 2.0-litre four-banger, naturally-aspirated, that can be had with the most affordable Civic models - but the fact that it exists at all is a telling sign of the times. I'm not sure what's more remarkable: the fact that the 1.5-litre produces 174 horsepower and 162 lb-ft of torque while consuming fuel at a rate of 6.7 l/100 km, or that the 2.0-litre manages to nearly match its more robust counterpart (6.9 l/100 km) without the benefit of its direct fuel injection system. The base engine's output is respectable, too, checking in at 158 ponies and 138 lb-ft of twist, and both these numbers best the outgoing 1.8 offered by the 2015 model.

The 2016 Civic's frugality is made possible by its continuously-variable automatic transmission, which is an option with the 2.0 and required with the 1.5-litre turbo. A six-speed manual is offered with the entry-level Civic (and Honda won't rule out making one available in the future for more powerful models), but acceleration is pleasing enough for the turbocharged engine with its current gearbox, if a little drone-ish on the highway. There are no paddle shifters available either, just a Sport setting that somewhat sharpens the CVT's character.

Don't Look For Excitement

While the 2016 Honda Civic's sharp looks promise an engaging driving experience, the truth lies somewhere in between 'sporty' and 'competent.' The most impressive aspects of the Civic out on the road were its quiet cabin and its well-damped suspension system that had the car feeling bigger and more composed than it actually is. There's little excitement to be had in flinging the new sedan through a corner, but that's OK: there's a performance-oriented Si trim level coming, and of course the highly-anticipated Civic Type R, neither of which will debut until next year.

The more relaxed nature of the Honda Civic gave me time to appreciate the upgraded accoutrements that grace the car's cabin. Although the more affordable DX model (yes, the one that comes without air conditioning, somehow) features mid-grade plastics and a definite economy feel, moving up through the rest of the Civic family reveals more refinement than one would expect at the sedan's price point, along with an upgraded 'Display Audio' system that maddeningly does not offer a physical volume knob.

On a happier note, it's hard to think of a compact car that does a better job of incorporating active safety onto the options list: the Civic can be had with an adaptive cruise control system, automatic braking, lane departure warning and lane departure assistance, and Honda's LaneWatch feature (which replaces blind spot warning on the passenger side of the car with a video image that displays on the centre stack when the right blinker is activated). This is a phenomenal amount of tech to stuff into what is one of the brand's most affordable vehicles, and it seriously ups the ante for the Civic's competition.

Exactly What Honda Needed

The 2016 Honda Civic doesn't outright smash its segment-mates into dust - the entry-level playing field is far too deep for the new sedan to portend any kind of extinction-level-event - but it does draw well-deserved attention for the pair of excellent engines that now call the Civic stable home, along with its hard-to-match suite of safety gear. Of course, it doesn't hurt that the redrawn Honda is something of a looker, too, picking up considerable slack as compared to the somewhat bland model it replaces. The well-executed Honda Civic shows that the Japanese giant is back in the small car game in a big way, and if you listen very closely you can hear the faint sounds of a company that once valued performance and dynamics as highly as affordability and efficiency slowly gathering steam in the distance.

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