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Friday
Nov132015

First Run: 2016 Honda Civic

By Jim Meachen, Motorway America

Honda was accused of cutting corners when it launched the ninth-generation Civic for model year 2012, and the accusation was not without basis. It seemed the Japanese car company was content to live on its reputation of building solid, affordable and reliable entry-level transportation. Unfortunately, that wasn’t what had propelled Honda into the pantheon of small car makers. It was the fact that its cars ticked all of those boxes, and were a ball to drive. Thus, the '12 Civic, wasn't the leap forward we had expected. Thankfully, that’s not a problem this time around. Honda has raised the bar with the 10th generation Civic to the point where it may well be the new compact car benchmark; leapfrogging such vaunted brands as Toyota Corolla, Hyundai Elantra, Nissan Sentra and Ford Focus.

Only the sedan is available as the Civic goes on sale across the country in November, but coming on its heels early in 2016 will be a coupe and a five-door hatchback. Yes, a five-door. Later in the year, the sporty Civic Si and the horsepower-infused Type R will follow.

The new sedan is 0.8 in. lower, 1.8 in. wider and 3 in. longer with a 1.2-in. longer wheelbase than the outgoing car, and these seemingly minor changes have allowed the styling to take a big leap forward. For the most part, we like the new look, but the rather massive family grille — similar to the ones added to the recently-refreshed CR-V, Accord and Pilot — doesn’t make our top five "most wanted" list. Fortunately, the rest of the car is less controversially styled. The cabin has been shifted backwards, making for a more dramatic, long-hooded silhouette, and bulging wheel arches and sculpted sides give the Civic a more muscular appearance than one might expect from an economy car. Standard LED daytime running lights and C-shaped taillights add some more flair with full LED headlights available as an option.

The cabin is spacious and uses premium materials, and this gives the Civic the feel of a much more expensive sedan. Adding to this are such standard features as remote engine start, dual-zone automatic climate control and rain sensing wipers. Honda Sensing is corporate speak for its suite of safety technologies such as forward collision warning, lane departure warning and lane keeping assist, and road departure mitigation. It's available even on the entry-level LX with its starting price of $19,475, which includes an $835 destination charge.

But you have to look no further than the two new engines to determine just how far Honda has taken this new Civic. The standard engine is a new 2.0-liter four-cylinder mated to either a six-speed manual transmission or a continuously variable transmission (CVT) making 158 horsepower and 138 lb.-ft. of torque. Driving a variety of winding, rolling roads near Los Angeles, we found the standard setup exceeded our expectations for a family compact sedan, a definite step up from the outgoing 1.8-liter 143-hp engine. 0-to-60 acceleration numbers will probably be about 8 seconds, and keen drivers will definitely want to opt for the manual in place of the CVT. Handling is rewarding with very little body roll, and the Civic exhibits excellent on-center feel. The interior is surprisingly quiet at highway speeds and visibility is excellent, something we have come to expect in a Honda.

The new optional engine may make you sit up and take notice, however. For the first time in the U.S., Honda is selling a turbocharged engine. The new 1.5-liter four-cylinder makes 174 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and 162 lb.-ft. of torque from 1,800 to 5,500 rpm. Unfortunately, this zinger is only mated to a new CVT that combines with the low-inertia turbo, VTC and electronic waste gate to optimize power delivery across the engine's full operating range. Unfortunately, we did not get the opportunity to drive this coimbination, but one publication has estimated 0-to-60 at or very near 7 seconds. The icing on this cake is its fuel economy of 31 city/41 highway/35 combined, but that is little consolation for losing the intimacy of a manual gearbox in a sporty small car. On the plus side, the Si motor should exceed 200 hp, and come standard with a six-speed manual.

Inside, the Civic has a more traditional dash design that eliminates the sins of the split-level dash that has been used since 2006. We think the new setup should please virtually everyone with all the necessary information — including the continued use of a digital speedometer — being displayed in a clear and readable fashion.

While the base level car continues with areas of hard plastic here and there (they are well executed), the materials in the up-level Touring trim could easily live in an entry-level Acura. There are some neat interior storage touches including USB and 12-volt power outlets tucked under the center stack with an ingenious cord management system. Plus, the new electronic parking brake makes room for a large center bin with a sliding armrest and removable cupholder tray. A seven-inch touchscreen placed mid-dash features new Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration that allows for smartphone control of the infotainment system. The navigation screen mow uses pinch-to-zoom and swipe gestures we have all become used to with our iPads and smartphones. Rear-seat room is generous and the trunk is one of the biggest in the segment with 15.1 cubic feet of luggage space.

The Civic sedan comes in five trim levels — LX, EX, EX-T, EX-L and Touring. The LX and EX comes standard with the 2.0-liter engine and the top three trims get the new turbocharged engine. The LX with manual transmission will start at $19,475 including destination charge. The Civic range tops out at $27,335 for the loaded Touring.

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