Built in Honda’s Swindon, UK manufacturing plant and making landfall in the U.S. before it’s available anywhere else, the five-door Civic brings distinct European design influence coupled with a new platform that’s both lighter and substantially more rigid than before, with a low center of gravity that helps bolster Honda’s reported focus on agility and fun-to-drive characteristics while remaining eminently accessible for a mass audience.
More often than not, those seemingly disparate attributes are at odds with one another, but successfully striking a balance between the two has always been part of the charm that’s made the Civic an automotive institution for more than four decades. Yet with this new emphasis on dynamics, has Honda been forced to make concessions elsewhere in order to cater to a specific contingent of buyers? We headed to the picturesque back roads in and around Monterey, California to find out.
Honda has a pretty clear picture in their head of the typical Civic Hatchback customer. While young buyers are obligatory in this segment, they also see those who would opt for the five-door as more image oriented, performance-focused do-it-yourselfers that a skew male in comparison to Civic sedan and coupe buyers. That profile drives a lot of the Civic Hatchback’s design and tuning, one which puts as much attention toward a sense of sportiness as it does utility and safety.
Available in LX, EX, EX-L Navi, Sport and Sport Touring trim levels, all models will be powered by Honda’s turbocharged and direct-injected 1.5-liter DOHC four cylinder motor, making 174 horsepower in LX and EX trims and 180 horsepower in Sport and Sport Touring spec. Along with the CVT automatic, LX and Sport trim models are available with a six-speed manual transmission, with the latter trim level bumping the torque figure to 177 pound-feet versus the 162 pound-feet offered on CVT-equipped models.
This puts both turbocharged power and the ability to row-your-own gears on the docket for the first time in the tenth generation Civic, as the sedan and coupe only offered the three-pedal option in conjunction with the naturally aspirated 2.0-liter motor, though the lack of manual availability in the top-spec Sport Touring trim seems like an odd decision.
The Sport and Sport Touring models both kick the dramatic flare up a notch.
Nevertheless, the Sport and Sport Touring models both kick the dramatic flare up a notch with their standard center-mounted dual exhaust system, while the shortened rear overhang and standard rear roofline spoiler on all trim levels give the five-door an athletic vibe. LED daytime running lights, turn signals and taillights are standard on all models, while LED headlights are standard on Sport Touring.
Inside, the Civic Hatchback’s interior aesthetic largely carries over from the sedan and coupe models, with an available Android-based 7-inch capacitive touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. 25.7 cu. ft. of cargo space is available with the rear seats down in non-Sport trim models, and 36 inches of rear seat legroom puts the Civic Hatchback at the top of its class.
Honda Sensing comprises the Civic’s roster of available active safety features, which include forward collision warning, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, and road departure mitigation. This, along with the strategic use of high-strength steel around the door frames and front frame rails that are designed to direct the engine down and rearward in the event of a front end collision to help direct crash energy into the vehicle’s floor, clearly factored into the Civic Hatchback’s ability to secure a 5-star Overall Vehicle Score from the NHTSA.
Behind the wheel
Our initial stint at the helm of the new Civic five-door saw us departing downtown San Francisco for the greener vistas of Santa Cruz on our way to Monterey. Good thing then we found ourselves in a CVT-equipped Sport Touring model for the journey, as the city traffic seemed particularly ornery on the morning of November 9th.
Serving as the top level offering, the consolation prize for the lack of manual gearbox availability in Sport Touring trim is the presence of steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters, which offer as much direct involvement in the mechanical operation of the car as most buyers will likely ever desire.
Similar to the system found in the new Ridgeline, the touchscreen infotainment system is a welcome upgrade from Honda’s past offerings, though as we noted during our time with Honda’s pickup, the lack of a physical volume knob makes using the audio system more of a headache than it should be. Control design aside, the hardware is responsive and Honda’s partnership with Garmin for the navigation interface results in an intuitive map layout that’s pleasing to look at, while the overall menu interface is straightforward and easy to use.
At mid-day we swapped vehicles, landing in a Sport model equipped with a manual gearbox. No doubt bolstered by the additional output on tap, the 1.5-liter power plant seemed particularly well suited to the slick six-speed, which offers light but communicative clutch feel and satisfying shifter operation. It’s also worth noting that the three-pedal Civic Hatchback in Sport trim bests its CVT-equipped counterpart in highway fuel economy at 39mpg, while city fuel economy is identical at 30mpg.
The touchscreen infotainment system is a welcome upgrade from Honda’s past offerings.
Beyond variances in engine output, all Civic Hatchbacks have model-specific performance tweaks to steering and suspension characteristics, with the latter utilizing stiffer dampers for better handling in Sport trim models. Coupled with new fluid-filled suspension bushings, this Sport model offered an admirably compliant ride quality without wayward handling when driven on back roads with some verve, but enthusiasts looking to hit the occasional autocross will likely be rewarded for their patience if they choose to wait for the upcoming Si model.
But for the rest of would-be Civic buyers, there’s no shortage of choice here. The latest batch of Civic models is shaping up to be the widest selection offered in the U.S. to date, with the aforementioned Civic Type R due out next year and marking Honda’s earnest return to the high performance fray in the ‘States (Acura NSX notwithstanding).
In the meantime, those looking for a practical choice that doesn’t ignore the value of connecting with the driver have a well-honed option in this new five-door Civic.
- Sharp design
- Hatchback utility
- Good isolation from road noise
- Touchscreen infotainment system still needs a volume knob
- Manual transmission isn’t available on top trim level