David Booth: My significant other captured the appeal of Honda’s latest Civic hatchback in one sentence so pithy that, if you are so inclined, you can easily forgo the rest of these 1,400 or so words and just stick to her brief, but all-encompassing, assessment. To wit: “After weeks of driving electric cars and ego-reinforcing SUVs, it’s so nice to get back into a car that does everything well and nothing weird!”
From the mouth of babes — as in she’s always reminding me that she’s the “jeune poulette” in our relation-dinghy — doth words of wisdom emanate. After spending a week driving the Civic in pretty much every condition from dry to wet, hot to cold, my lasting impression is how the Civic is exactly that: It performs admirably in almost all regards and remain at least adequate in those few arenas where it doesn’t excel.
The engine, for instance, is an absolute sweetheart. No one builds four-bangers as sophisticated as Honda. Not BMW. Not Audi. And certainly not Mercedes. Cool, calm and collected in ordinary circumstances, authoritative and aggressive when it needs to be, its 1.5 litres out-performs its meagre displacement thanks to turbocharging. It’s grunty down low, powerful when you get the revs up and smooth all the time.
It’s this last that sells it for me. Inline fours are supposed to buzz, rattle and drone. Not the Civic’s 1.5L. I don’t know many V8s as smooth and certainly no V6s. If you want a markedly more vibe-free example of internal combustion, you’re going to need a BMW inline six. Colour me totally impressed.
Nadine Filion: Impressive indeed, and there are two (at least!) good reasons behind the harmony of this powertrain. First, it is newly adorned with Honda’s legendary VTEC — the electronic variable valve timing that brings the best in low-rpm and in high-revs. Second, this turbo engine (as well as the natural aspirated 2.0L found in the base Civic) gives the driver the chance to play with its 180 horsepower and 177 ft-lb of torque via one of the most fantastic manual transmission. The (close) six-speed are among the most creamy — I would even dare say the most erotic passages of the moment [uhm, dearheart, this is a PG-rated car column].
And here, even you, with your 37 years of writing about cars, will have to admit that it’s turned the automotive world up-side-down. Instead of being delivered with a manual gearbox, something that usually grants a $1,500 savings compared with an automatic transmission, the Civic Hatchback comes standard with the CVT. The result? The Sport Touring trim we test-drove — the top-of-the-line hatch starts at $35,000 — precisely the starting-price of the new Acura Integra about to invade our showrooms…
First Look: 2023 Acura Integra
Car Review: 2022 Honda Civic Hatchback
DB: Yeah, the stick is a marvel, so much better than the CVT. That said, I will offend purists and say that, given my druthers, I’d take a dual-clutch manumatic if Honda offered it, the speed of shifting perfect for the engine’s quick revving nature. Nonetheless, Nadine is absolutely right; this is the best manual transmission you can buy right now.
The new Civic’s chassis is not hardly half bad either. In fact, the suspension’s damping is some of the best in the biz regardless of segment or size. Coddling over even large bumps, it’s still firm enough that there’s a hint of the Type R in its steering. Quite how Honda manages a ride this sophisticated in this price segment is amazing. Even a few key players in the entry-level luxury segment could learn a thing or two from the Civic’s suspension calibration.
NF: For once, I’m 100 per cent agreeing with you. For one thing, Honda’s new “compact” car is built on a new and substantially more rigid (+19 per cent) platform. For another, where some entry-level competitors’ models still use a cheap and bumpy torsion beam at the rear, the Civic rides on independent suspension front and rear (MacPherson struts in front and a multi-link system in the rear).
In fact, everything in the new Hatchback exudes sophistication. One of the best examples is the cabin. Did you note that class, er classic, interior? Remember that this is the same manufacturer who gave the Civic’s infamous — that should be read butt-ugly — two-level digital instrument display. Good on Honda for coming to its senses.
And here we are, in front of one of the (rare) automobile interiors, all categories combined, which ticks all the boxes. It’s ergonomically correct, with large climate controls and a touchscreen just at eye level; managing all the technology is fairly intuitive; and it is built with materials of impeccable quality and finish, my greatest coup de coeur going to the honeycomb panel concealing — in a very skilfully way — the ventilation vents. As a bonus, the unexpected addition of acoustic glass makes everything ultra-quiet inside.
To be honest, the new Civic Hatchback exudes such a luxury feel that it shouldn’t be compared to the likes of Toyota Corollas, Nissan Sentras, and Hyundai Elantras. It should go against the compacts, even the intermediates from luxury divisions, including Acura. You think I’m exaggerating? Just have a look at the awards that have already started to rain down on the new Civic, starting with Canadian and North American Car of the Year for 2022.
DB : You took the words right out of my mouth. Most of the Civic really is more luxurious than its price point promises. That said, my two nits to pick are both inside. First is the infotainment system. For one thing, the screen is perched, like some tribute to infotainments systems past, atop the centre dashboard. It looks retro and not in a good way. On top of that, the graphics are so very ghetto. Seriously, in a car whose finish and materials, as we’ve both said, stand head and shoulders above the rest, it stands out as looking dated. Worse yet, it leaves the impression that Honda doesn’t think that infotainment graphics are important. Can you say Blackberry?
My other aggro was with the seats. Oh, they look good and finished well they are, but the padding was simply too soft for my skinny butt and lumpy lumbars. I always felt like I was sinking into the seat like in my dad’s old La-Z-Boy. I’ll leave She-Who-Must-be-Obeyed to pass final judgement but I was expecting a little Audi-like firmness to match the sporty handling.
NF: He-Who-Drove-All-the-Super-Cars-Around-the-World will for surely prefer the sport seats that will grace the next Civic Type R. But, for now — and since you’re talking about the seats — let me tell you that the rear ones are now offering the same legroom as in the Civic sedan. At 950-millimetres, it’s an increase of 34-mm over the 2021 Hatchback — something passengers will surely appreciate.
Cargo-wise, the 693 litres behind the banquette is a little less than what a compact SUV might offer, especially in height of course, but with gas hitting $2.00 a litre — and more in my home province of Quebec — you’ll appreciate a 180-hp car steadily averaging a steady 8.5 L/100 km.
All that remains for us is to hope for the return of a hybrid version of this Canadian best-selling car for a quarter of a century. And please, don’t tell I’m dreaming; with this week’s Alliston plant announcement about the CR-V Hybrid will be built in Ontario, we can start to dream about a real hybrid Civic, right?
DB: I agree wholeheartedly, dearest, with your request for a hybridized Civic. A sporty little normal-looking hatch that sipped say 5.0 — or even less — L/100 km is always welcome. As long as they don’t use that woefully underpowered Insight powertrain.
In the meantime, the Civic Sport Touring is an impressive package performing like a car with intentions a few segments higher. That said, the tester’s all-in $35,000 pricing isn’t quite the cheap little runabout I remember the Civic being. It’s a little shocking to be paying 30-something for a non Type R Civic. On the other hand, so is the fact that a base Civic now costs $26,300 (plus taxes). I guess that’s the inflation that has the world’s economists in such a roil.