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Honda Civic: From Plain Vanilla to Hot Adrenalin

By Frank A. Aukofer, December 19th, 2015

At the Olympics, a floor assistant raises the bar for pole vaulting and the high jump. The 2016 Honda Civic sedan does the same thing for compact sedan buyers. And that's just the beginning.

The all-new Civic, which was bench-marked against high-performance European sports sedans from BMW and Audi, promises to deliver other variations with even better capabilities for 2016, including a sleek hatchback sedan that resembles the Audi A7, plus a coupe, an Si sport model, and even a new Type R that Honda says raise the adrenalin level even higher.

Rarely has a car been so transformed between model years; in this case morphing from a plain and reliable compact family car to an exciting roadrunner.

It does all this at prices that are lower than the average price of many new cars sold today. Even the base trim, the LX, with a sticker price well below $20,000, tempts the enthusiast with a fluid-shifting six-speed manual gearbox mated to the base 158-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine.

That powerplant is new, as is the first U.S. turbocharged engine from Honda, a 170-hp, 1.5-liter four with 162 lb.-ft. of torque and city/highway/combined mpg of 31/42/35. Unfortunately for now, that engine is available only with Honda's continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), which despite its contribution to fuel economy may turn off some enthusiasts.

A CVT, unlike a conventional automatic transmission, has no shift points. It uses internal belts and pulleys that seamlessly change gear ratios. Under hard acceleration, to some ears, the CVT sounds as if the transmission is slipping. That's more obvious in the new Civic when the Sport mode is selected for quicker response. However, in Drive it is mostly unobtrusive.

Though Honda officials dodged the question of whether there would be other Civics with manual gearboxes, it seems obvious that they will proliferate, depending on the demand. The Si and R Type will almost certainly offer them.

Honda's Civic dates back to its introduction to 1973, when the company delivered a tiny two-door economy car. Where the new 10th-generation model especially shines is in its chassis rigidity and handling accuracy: The steering has a firm, precise feedback and feel not unlike that of a Mercedes-Benz C-Class sedan.

At speed on twisting mountain roads, the Civic takes an accurate set around curves, corners flatly with negligible body roll, and delivers a taut but supple ride. The brakes complement the athleticism with a solid pedal feel.

This sophisticated chassis engineering comes with every Civic, starting with the entry-level model. All the rest is frosting and there's plenty of it.

Five variants start with the 2.0-liter LX manual and automatic models. Though they come with steel wheels and attractive-though-plastic wheel covers, they are anything but bare bones. All Civics come with full safety equipment, automatic climate control, and an electronic parking brake; this last feature facilitated the design of an unusually functional center console.

The instrument panel, with a pleasant design and quality materials, is the same across the lineup. Higher-priced models have leather-wrapped steering wheels but the lower-priced vinyl-covered variants have their own satisfying texture and feel.

Next up are the EX, EX-T, and EX-L, which mark the dividing line between the base 2.0-liter engine and the 1.5-liter turbo. The EX comes with the 2.0 and the EX-T and EX-L both have the 1.5-liter standard. All are equipped with the CVT. At the top of the line is the Touring model with all the goodies Civic has to offer.

That includes forward collision and lane departure warning, lane keeping assist, automatic emergency braking, road departure mitigation, and adaptive cruise control. Civics do not offer blind spot warning because all models (except the base LXs) come with Honda's innovative LaneWatch, which displays a panoramic view of the right rear area on the center screen when the right turn signal is activated.

Inside, the Civic delivers long-distance comfort for four. Front seats are supportive and comfortable, though with limited adjustments on the manual seats. Even the center rear seat, usually a punishing perch in most cars, is almost tolerable. There's plenty of head and knee room, and the trunk, with 15 cubic feet of volume, is large for a compact car. The rear seatback folds almost flat for extra cargo.

There are plenty of cliche?s available to describe the 2016 Honda Civic. They are not needed: It is now the class of the class.

Specifications

Base price $24,700 (as tested: $25,535)
Curb weight 2,910 lbs.
Displacement 1.5-liter
Engine type 16-valve turbo 4-cyl. w/DI
Epa mileage rating 31 mpg city, 42 mpg highway
Fuel capacity 12.4 gal.
Horsepower (net) 174 at 6000 rpm
Overall length 182.3 in.
Torque (lb.-ft.) 162 at 1700-5500 rpm
Transmission CVT
Vehicle type 5-passenger FWD compact sedan
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