TORONTO, Ontario – There are few cars in the industry that 90% or more of auto critics agree on, or that get excited about. In the recent past, the coming of the Ford Focus RS, current Mazda MX-5 or the BMW M2 have had us all checking our emails and making sure our phones were fully charged in the hopes of getting assigned to the launch event.
Unlike the abovementioned specific, sports cars, the Honda Civic Hatchback has had more or less the same effect on us. The vast majority of Canadian auto journalists are car enthusiasts and all remember and still feel the void that was left when the fabulous three-door Civic Hatchback was cut nearly 17 years ago. Even today, these spunky cars are high on the lists of those looking for a cool, lightweight and reliable way to get around.
Although the new 2017 Honda Civic Hatchback has reinvigorated our feelings of yore, it is a different car with a very different purpose. This new version is now the premium Civic, the aspirational halo Civic. The styling, equipment and performance levels attest to the fact and it will do well. The HB is Honda’s most versatile, high-powered small car in a long time and it’s very good.
Turbo Earth Dreams
There is only one engine and it is the excellent turbocharged, 1.5L four-cylinder. Depending on trim, output varies ever so slightly. With the LX, it’s 174 horsepower and 167 torques. For the Sport and Sport Touring versions, it’s 180 hp and 177 lb.-ft. of torque. These specs are for the six-speed manual—torque drops to 162 lb.-ft. with the optional CVT automatic.
Yes, you did read that correctly: the Civic HB is the first to be available with a manual gearbox and the turbo engine. The smooth-operating CVT will be the volume leader, but by all accounts, is very good at what it does.
Transmitting the power
The six-speed shifter is typical Honda with short, solid throws and the clutch is light with an easy-to-identify friction point. In practice, I found that perfectly synchronizing throttle and clutch required more attention than it should. I blame the slightly rubbery go-pedal response. The experience had me thinking about Korean manual transmissions… Not a very positive comparison.
The 1.5T surprises with both good and bad aspects. Although the power band suggests differently, I discovered mild drops in power when delivery should have been as sustained and flat as the Prairies. The sweet spots are low in the rev range and somewhere between 4000 and 5500 rpm. Our unseasonably warm fall weather forced us to keep the A/C for the day which could somewhat explain this; however, once on boost, the 1.5T pulls with gusto. Truth be told, I think the CVT is better suited to the turbo’s tuning—I’m almost sorry I said that. This transmission is able to compensate by manipulating engine speeds, maintaining steady power delivery.
Decidedly European ride
The 2017 Honda Civic Hatchback’s best characteristics are its ride and handling. The chassis is shared with the sedan, but has been reinforced to compensate for the large rear-opening hatch.
The extra material forced Honda engineers to retune the suspension slightly to better manage the extra girth. The result is a better, more compliant ride than even the sedan. The HB displays equal parts stability and agility on just about any road. In fact, some of the roads that led up to our overnight spot were sharp enough to require rapid weight transfers both rear to front and left to right through a series of switchbacks.
The dual-pinion variable electric steering is properly set for these sorts of shenanigans, but functions just as brilliantly in more mundane circumstances. Turn-in is brisk, yet the 18-inch wheel and tire setup on the Sport may demonstrate even more prowess. The Civic HB has hydraulic bushings that do more than simply aid in the car’s handling. There’s a sense of solidity that is always appreciated from Honda and the HB displays it in droves.
Five doors are better
Wide, low, sleek, and no, I'm not describing a sports car. This is the new Hatchback. The LX version looks purposefully dynamic, but the Sport trims win with front, side and rear garnish, dual centre exhaust pipes and 18-inch wheels. This is a proper boy-racer setup. And we’re far from the upcoming Si and Type R cars!
The Civic Hatchback shares its front portion with the sedan, but with a different bumper. The rear is 135 mm shorter than the sedan and its overall length is down 112 mm. A quick glance will reveal some serious aerodynamic add-ons, of which most are functional, including the twin rear spoilers.
It’s no secret; the 2017 Honda Civic Hatchback offers one of the largest boots in the compact hatchback segment. Its opening is the widest of the lot, enabling a large stroller like my own to fit without removing any of the components. Honda is an engineering company and that means they find solutions for issues. A tonneau cover usually needs to be removed when lowering the rear seatbacks, but this is not the case in the Civic HB as it unwinds side to side as opposed to back to front. This means that the cover need not be removed when lowering rear seats for larger objects.
The Civic’s dashboard is similar to the sedan and coupe’s with accessible HVAC controls. The touchscreen is easy to navigate, although the integrated audio controls are not so intuitive. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are included features for all of your connectivity desires.
Some of the highlights include the numerous cubbyholes designed with wires and phones in mind. The cupholders are deep and smartly integrated into the centre armrest. The seats are firm, perhaps a little too much but overall, there’s plenty of room for five people, and of course, lots of gear.
For the HB, Honda has done much work limiting NVH levels, again because of the open rear. The cabin is sharpened up over the sedan, reflecting the sportier nature of the car.
The Civic Nation’s horizon
The Civic remains the best-selling and most popular car in Canada. The arrival of the 10th-gen Civic has been a smash hit and Honda is keeping up with the industry with new versions of their small car. So far, 2016 is shaping up to be the 19th consecutive year of sales domination for the Civic. The HB will account for 10,000 units a year and the tested LX will be the volume leader.
The HB will be a conquest car and wage war on the Golf/3 Sport/Cruze HB/Elantra GT/Focus/Corolla iM/Impreza and others. The Civic name will conquer minds, the drive, hearts, but the pricing will prove to be an obstacle for higher volumes.
The Nation will grow by two more versions in the near future to include the highly anticipated Si and Type R. Those wondering about a Hybrid variant, Honda will wait and see…