Honda's Civic returns in its 11th generation as the one of the best-selling compact cars. Japanese and Korean brands now dominate this market as the American manufacturers have focused on small SUVs instead. Other entrants in this class include the Toyota Corolla, Nissan Sentra, Hyundai Elantra, and Kia Forte. Both the Mazda3 and Subaru Impreza also compete in this segment, but their sales are a fraction of the Civic's.
First to launch was the new Civic sedan, joined by the hatchback in late 2021. The entry-level Civic LX starts at $21,900 (sedan) or $22,900 (hatchback). Other hatchback models are the Sport ($24,100), EX-L ($26,600) and the top Sport Touring we tested ($29,400). The total MSRP including the $1,015 destination charge summed up to $30,415. An optional Honda Racing package (not included in the test vehicle) adds an underbody spoiler, tailgate spoiler, and 18-in. black alloy wheels. Honda loads up the Sport Touring with a long standard equipment list: leather seats (heated in front), 8-way power driver and 4-way power passenger seat, paddle shifters, 12-speaker Bose audio system, rearview camera, remote start, power moonroof, LED headlights and foglights, 9-in. touchscreen, navigation, 18-in. alloy wheels, and wireless phone charger. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard. Active safety technologies include: adaptive cruise control, blind sport information system with cross traffic monitor, and low speed braking control.
Depending on the model, a normally-aspirated 2.0L inline-4 or a 1.5L turbo four drives the front wheels. Civic LX and EX models get the 2.0L, rated for 158-hp @ 6,500 RPM and 138 lb.-ft. @ 4,300 RPM. The EX-L and Touring are powered by the 1.5L turbo four, developing 180-hp @ 6,000 RPM and 177 lb.-ft. from 1,700 to 4,500 RPM. Both powerplants have dual overhead cams and either i-VTEC (2.0L) or VTEC (1.5L) variable valve-timing technology. Both engines feature an idle stop system to reduce fuel consumption. A CVT coupled to a torque converter is standard for both powerplants. The CVT ratio ranges from 2.645-0.405, mated to a 4.81:1 final drive ratio. A 6-speed manual is optional in the Sport and Sport Touring models. EPA fuel consumption ratings for the CVT-equipped Sport Touring we tested are 30/37 MPG (city/hwy.). Opting for the 6-speed manual drops the city fuel consumption to 28 MPG, but the highway rating remains unchanged. We averaged 29-30 MPG in mixed city and highway driving.
Honda retains an all-independent suspension design for the Civic. In front are MacPherson struts and a stabilizer bar; at the rear is a multi-link setup with coil springs, dampers, and a stabilizer bar. The electrically-assisted variable ratio rack-and-pinion steering system is geared for 2.21 turns lock-to-lock. Brakes are power-assisted discs: 11.1 in. dia. rotors (front) and 10.2-in. dia. rotors (rear). Standard alloy wheels range from 16-in. dia. (LX), 17-in. dia. (EX-L) and 18-in. dia. (Sport/Sport Touring). Our tested Sport Touring had 235/40R18 Continental ProContact all-season tires. Other models get narrower 215/55R16 (LX) or 215/50R17 tires (EX-L). Curb weight ranges from 2,928 lbs. (LX) to 3,102 lbs. (Sport Touring). Weight distribution is approximately 60/40 front/rear (minor variation among models).
As compact car prices approach $30K, manufacturers have been compelled to enhance interior design and materials. Instead of painted plastic, Honda designers incorporated a striking metal honeycomb mesh spanning the dash. Matte aluminum trim throughout the cabin contributes to the sophisticated ambiance. Polished vent knobs exude a quality feel. The center console has a striated gray and black texture that resists fingerprints. Compared to the previous model, the premium materials in the new Civic are a significant upgrade.
A new 10.2-in. full digital gauge cluster (Sport Touring only) displays an analog-style speedometer and tachometer. Fuel and coolant temperature are displayed on bar graph gauges. Other Civics get a smaller 7-in. partial digital cluster and an analog speedometer. A leather-wrapped steering wheel has integrated audio, phone and cruise control settings. Dual paddles program the CVT to simulate a 7-speed stepped-gear automatic. Climate control settings are readily accessible via knobs and buttons on the center stack. A 9-in. infotainment display sits on the dash; an audio volume and seek buttons are adjacent to the touchscreen. A drive mode switch on the center console toggles the CVT from Economy, Normal, and Sport modes. Dual USB ports recharge mobile devices and connect to the infotainment system. A 12V power outlet is located next to the USB ports. A Qi charging pad on the center console enables wireless mobile phone charging. Rear passengers also get dual USB ports.
Among affordable compact cars, unsupportive seats and limited adjustability are common. Honda addresses this concern with superbly comfortable front seats and excellent lateral support. Both the driver and front passenger get power seat adjustments. Front headroom is adequate for occupants just under 6 ft. tall. Rear passengers are rewarded with ample legroom and excellent seat comfort. Although the Civic will accommodate three rear occupants, the center position is best suited for short trips. Rear headroom is tight for occupants taller than about 5'-11" tall.
Among affordable compact cars, the Civic is one of the few that focuses on driving dynamics. The Sport's sharp turn-in steering response, minimal understeer and body roll immediately confirms that this is a driver's car. A downside of the sharp handling is a firm ride that is just tolerable on patched and bumpy roads. Over the frost heaved highways in Michigan, the stiff sidewalls of the Continental tires lacked the compliance to absorb road impacts effectively. Braking performance is superb: a combination of a firm brake pedal and progressive actuation performed admirably on both highway and urban roads. Cruising at 80-90 MPH, the Civic is impressively stable and composed. Subdued engine, tire and wind noise make this hatchback an excellent road trip car.
Honda does not position the Civic Sport as a performance model, but the acceleration and throttle response of the 1.5L turbo is impressive. Turbo lag is nearly non-existent, and having maximum torque available at only 1,700 RPM ensures that the Civic Sport launches rapidly from a stop. Midrange response is especially robust, so executing highway passing maneuvers don't require advance planning. We kept the CVT mostly in Normal mode as it provides an acceptable balance of power and fuel consumption. Using the Sport mode increases engine RPM for better throttle response, but we preferred the paddle shifters for quick downshifts on demand.
Although the compact sedan segment is no longer a growth segment in the US, Honda has spared no effort to elevate the Civic from its already class-leading status. We consider the Civic Sport Touring as one of the best cars in this segment, but the near $30K sticker price may not fit the budget of younger customers. The Civic Sport is a less expensive alternative to the Sport Touring, even if it means giving up the 1.5L turbo for a 2.0L normally-aspirated four. Just below the Sport Touring, the Civic EX-L offers nearly the same equipment, but its smaller 17-in. wheels and higher profile tires should deliver better ride comfort. Even the base LX is an excellent value, especially at its below $23K MSRP. No matter which Civic you choose, you can't go wrong.