After an awkward phase that saw Honda producing cars with all the charisma of cold oatmeal, the company began to center itself last year. First, Honda sweetened the Accord’s recipe for 2016, following that up with a lighter, roomier, and more honest Civic, brandishing a zippy new optional 174-hp 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, which we found quite spritely in a Civic Touring model we tested. But most Civic buyers are likely to stay with the base, 2.0-liter four-cylinder—also an all-new engine—and that’s the model we’ve tested here.
Rev It Up
As we noted in our preview drive of the Civic 2.0-liter, the engine is a honey, with a sonorous, old-school Honda character throughout its rev range. (The 2.0-liter engine was the subject of a stop-sale order in February, but Honda says it has sorted the manufacturing issue that could lead to engine failure. Examples that made it into customers’ hands prior to the stop-sale have been recalled, and new Civics with this engine are being inspected and, if necessary, repaired prior to customer delivery.) The appealing engine note is a good thing, as you’ll really have to rev it to get the most from its 158 horsepower (at 6500 rpm) and 138 lb-ft of torque (at 4200 rpm). This is an utter joy with the six-speed manual transmission, but that pleasure is limited to buyers of the base LX trim level. In EX models like our test car, the continuously variable automatic transmission is standard, and that somewhat neuters the 2.0-liter’s character, even if the transmission’s Sport mode does a better job than most at imitating a conventional automatic. It periodically allows the rpm to drop a bit to mimic “shifts” at higher revs, for example.
For $21, 875, the EX model comes with a long list of features, including a sunroof, a rearview camera with “dynamic guidelines, ” Apple CarPlay, and Honda’s LaneWatch blind-spot-mitigation system (which displays on the infotainment screen an image from a camera under the right-side mirror). Our main gripes involve the fussy row of capacitive buttons to the left of the infotainment screen, which are inoperable with gloves—and would including a volume knob have killed you, Honda?; a smallish trunk opening due to the fastback profile; and somewhat overwrought styling in general.
While the lighter, simpler Civic EX doesn’t come with the turbo’s bragging rights and quicker acceleration, its sweet-sounding engine and lower price point offset its disadvantage in straight-line acceleration. Its overall competence goes to show how seriously Honda took the task of making the Civic great again, whether one is a hotshoe or just wears sensible shoes.