A strange thing happened when I went to return my 2015 Honda Civic press demonstrator. When the fleet company rep asked me what I thought of the car, all I had to say was “well, it’s a Civic.” He nodded sagely, as if he understood exactly what I meant. Whether or not he was just being polite, it says a lot; the Civic badge carries such weight that just saying the car lives up to the name is enough.
For better and worse, living up to the name, is exactly what the 2015 Civic does. It has the traditional Honda qualities of practicality, efficiency, comfort, and even a nice driving experience. That doesn’t mean it is perfect: It lacks the flair of the Mazda3, and the overall refinement of the Volkswagen Golf. Yet even as the Civic enters the latter half of its lifecycle it remains a compelling choice for sensible buyers.
Relaxing from A to B
First let’s talk about the driving experience. The average Honda Civic buyer isn’t an enthusiast seeking knife-edge cornering and brutal acceleration, and that’s a good thing: the Civic lacks both. Honda’s engineers clearly put a lot of attention into the car’s driving performance, however — they were just focused on a different goal. They wanted to make the Civic easy to drive.
This focus is most evident in the way the driver interacts with the car. The controls are all light, and smooth. The steering trades a little precision for ease of motion, and the brake and throttle response are gentle rather than sharp.
The Honda Civic remains the epitome of practical transportation – for better and for worse.
Even the powertrain — a 1.8-liter 143-horsepower four-cylinder mated to a continuously variable transmission (CVT) — provides steady and unruffled performance. Under hard acceleration, the engine builds to about 4,500 rpm and simply stays there as the CVT changes ratios. Like most CVT’s its buzzy soundtrack and lack of drama is frustrating for the enthusiast driver, but it’s better than average by CVT standards. Most important for the average Civic driver, the transmission does most of its work in a completely invisible fashion.
Even the way the cabin is arranged contributes to driving ease. The Civic’s instrument cluster is divided into two layers, with the top layer raised and set closer to the windshield. This set of instruments contains the most important items, like the speedometer. At first glance this setup might seem nothing more than futuristic styling, but it’s actually shockingly useful. The placement of key instruments high in the dash means the driver doesn’t have to look away from the road. It’s a small change, but it actually makes a real difference in the driving experience.
A good deal or not a good deal?
My Civic press demonstrator was the top of the line $25,130 EX-L model. On the face of things, it’s a pretty reasonable price, especially considering what buyers are getting for their money. The EX-L comes with leather trimmed seats — emphasis being on trimmed — a seven-inch infotainment display, navigation, and best of all Honda’s lane-view camera mounted on the passenger’s sideview mirror (yet another feature contributing to stress-free driving).
These features for 25K are a pretty solid get, especially when buyers are paying a small premium for getting one of the industry leaders. The problem is that while all of the features help contribute to the Civic’s overall pleasant and comfortable feel, they don’t change the car’s fundamentally utilitarian character. Competitor cars in this segment offer more interesting and more upscale looks for less money, even when they can’t compete with the Civic on features. In particular the Mazda3 and Golf stand out as far more charismatic and fun to drive choices. Meanwhile the Kia Forte and Hyundai Elantra come close to the Civic’s utility, but for less money.
The challenge for the Civic is that what it does best is a bit of everything. When making a case for the Honda, it’s about the small things. The styling may not make a dramatic statement, but the Civic is a nicer place to spend time than just about any of the competition.
The average Honda Civic buyer isn’t an enthusiast seeking knife-edge cornering and brutal acceleration.
The large sloping windshield, sun roof, and comparatively low waist line make the cabin bright and airy. This doesn’t just stand out as a pleasant contrast to the dark, cave-like competition, it also makes the large cabin seem even larger.
The Civic offers truly usable back seats, something far from universal in its segment. It also avoids the claustrophobic closeness that can turn long trips in otherwise comfortable cars into stressful ordeals. These factors don’t make the Civic jump out in a comparison test, but for a car that is going to spend much of its life stuck in traffic, or on boring commuter runs, these factors matter.
In fact, when you go back to just how stress-free driving this car is, it is easy to see why the Civic has built up such an enduringly positive legacy among consumers. It may not be sexy, but if anyone ever asks you what you drive, and you reply “a Honda Civic,” no one will ever wonder why.
- Large interior
- Exceptionally easy to drive
- Good tech package
- Competitive pricing
- Numb handling
- Whiny, underpowered power-plant