The Civic exemplifies automotive excellence and blends fun with efficiency and practicality. Precise steering, a solid chassis, and a well-tuned suspension provide both a compliant ride and sweet handling. Sedans and coupes get a 158-hp 2.0-liter four or a 174-hp 1.5-liter turbo four paired with a six-speed manual or a CVT. The turbo is standard on the hatchback; a 180-hp Sport version is optional. Interior room is good, but taller drivers may find that the front seats lack thigh support.
Honda Civics used to come in a lot of different shapes and sizes, from the stubby little CRX to the tall, all-wheel-drive Civic wagon. But long ago, the funneling effect of mainstream consumer tastes (another way to say that we are all sheep) caused Honda to pare the Civic line to its two biggest sellers, the sedan and the coupe. America even got its own Civic platform, while Europe and other overseas markets continued to enjoy a hatchback body style, which was last seen around these parts as the 2002–2005 U.K.-built Si.
Well, that Anglo-American pipeline is back in business as Honda’s Swindon, England, assembly plant once again swings into action to produce a Civic hatchback for America. The return of the hatch as a younger, sportier, and more male-oriented alternative to the sedan and coupe was made possible by last year’s introduction of a common Civic platform for all global markets.
Now that there is One Civic to Unite Us All, Honda has a better business case for importing less-popular variants to the U.S. Here, the hatchback, which carries a $500-and-up premium over the sedan, is being plugged into the compact segment as a way to grow incremental volume—basically, it’s found money—and, possibly, as a way to stanch the outflow of compact-sedan buyers to crossovers. Honda finally sees some movement in America’s long-dormant ardor for hatchbacks and is hoping for 40,000 to 50,000 sales per year, a number that would give total Civic volume a healthy bump indeed. That is, assuming they aren’t mostly swiped from the Civic sedan and coupe buyer pool. The forthcoming hatch-only Type R will certainly help draw attention to this new bustleback body style as well.
A Sedan with a Garage Door in Back
This is not the return of the CVCC or any of the other thrifty hatchback versions of the Civic that have come here over the past four decades. Along the lines of the Mazda 3 and Ford Focus hatchbacks, the new Civic hatchback is basically a sedan with a garage door in back. Besides the body style’s namesake cargo opening as well as the roof, rear doors, and rear quarter-panels, all of the outer sheetmetal is in common with the sedan. Inside, the structure was reinforced around the large hatch hole to maintain rigidity, but the wheelbase and width are identical, and overall length shrinks by just 4.3 inches.
The most obvious physical differences, besides the lack of a trunk, are the goth black face paint for the exterior trim and the faux duct inserts in the bumpers, which make the hatchback seem less like a car and more like a robot with terminally flared nostrils. As we said, it’s supposed to appeal to youth, who, apparently, want to be seen as having a lot of hot gas to expel.
There are two trim-level tracks for the hatch, with the mainstream LX/EX/EX-L on one side and the Sport/Sport Touring on the other. The latter have gauges illuminated in red instead of blue, faux-carbon trim, aluminum pedals, and leather wraps for the gearshifter and the steering wheel. Honda’s new and increasingly ubiquitous turbocharged and direct-injected 1.5-liter four-cylinder (it’s in the new CR-V, too, and odds are the Accord will soon have it) is the sole engine available, but peak horsepower rises from 174 hp in the mainstream models to 180 hp in the Sport. A six-speed manual transmission can be ordered to sub in for the continuously variable automatic (CVT), but only on the base LX and Sport. Once again, as on the Civic sedan and all Accords, Honda punishes you for wanting a manual by locking out access to the upper trim-level features such as navigation and the Honda Sensing suite of electronic safety aids. That may be a worthwhile sacrifice.
The Sport with a six-speed is a pleasure to drive, the 1.5-liter making strong torque across the rev range (rated peak torque in the manual is slightly higher, at 177 lb-ft, up from 162). The requisite lag and drop-off of an intake pressurized up to 16.5 psi have been earnestly, if not perfectly, smoothed over, and the car goes like a dart. If you want, you can be the fastest car on the freeway, as long as everyone else is in ordinary cars, and when the road turns, the Civic likes to play. The grip is tenacious, the brakes are stout, and body motions are well damped, just as you’d find in a Civic sedan or an Accord. The largest wheels you can get are the Sport and Sport Touring’s 18s, with 235/40 Continental ContiProContact tires—neither the fanciest rubber nor the cheapest but a solid tire for the hatchback’s modest price point. The sportier tires generate some noise, but in this car class, it’s not excessive.