This latest tenth-generation Honda Civic is a completely different animal than the Civics we’ve become used to throughout its 44-year run. This new one, introduced last year, is considerably larger, heavier, more complicated and refined. However, I reckon this is actually a return to form for Honda’s compact car. And now, the hatch is back! But more importantly, you can now buy all Civic variants with that new 1.5-liter turbo four-cylinder engine and a stick shift.
Writing that sentence felt like injecting a healthy dose of dopamine into my veins. Where the Civic hatch impresses the most, however, is in its most basic, cheapest, LX form. There are no frills here, just the stuff you want and expect from a Honda.
For me, this car is proof Honda is back. It’s back from building lukewarm, uninspiring products for the sake of generating sales. With this new Civic, it feels like Honda engineers were actually having fun while developing it. Like Honda actually gives a damn again.
(Full disclosure: Honda Canada wanted me to drive the Civic so badly, they booked the car during the same week as the Canadian Auto show, so I had no choice but to drive down to Toronto and back to Montréal to review it.)
Hatching Body Styles
I consider myself to be somewhat of a Honda Civic connoisseur. I’ve owned four in my lifetime. My current daily driver is a Canadian-spec 2004 SiR (EP3), which I consider to be possibly the best hatchback of all time. I also helped my little brother rebuild a right-hand drive JDM 1992 Civic SiR with a Type R engine swap. So, shyeah, I know a thing or two about Civics. Which is why I had high hopes for this thing.
Honda’s now gone full circle with the Civic by currently offering three distinct bodystyles—sedan, hatch and coupe—just like back when Tupac was alive. I’m happy Honda has finally decided to bring back the hatchback, because all millennials have a story to tell about a hatchback Civic, usually involving a fart can exhaust and the police.
What I’m less excited about is the way Honda has styled this new Civic. The eccentric design works in coupe form, but for the hatch? It’s busy. Weird-looking at best.
Even after seeing the Civic Type R concept, with its bulging fenders and many wings, I’m just not sure how to grasp this Civic. It’s a lot to take in, with intersecting lines, fake air intakes and diffusers. The light and grille configuration are something out of a giant robot anime. It’s almost as if Honda threw all past Civic styling elements at it. But hey, maybe it’ll grow on me.
Also, Honda. Wheels. What are those?
Anyway, looks are subjective. Kudos to Honda for not slapping the chrome grille onto the hatch. This blacked out treatment is much more attractive, especially when the car is also painted black.
Get to Know Your Civics
Before I go on rambling about how this Civic drives, here’s a little crash course on the powertrains currently available across the Civic lineup, because there are a lot of different variations to choose from.
Base Civic sedans and coupes come with a naturally aspirated 2.0-liter engine rated at 158 horsepower and 138 lb-ft of torque. If you know your Hondas, you also know this is essentially a slightly revised version of the indestructible 2.0-liter (K20) that has powered many vehicles at Honda and Acura in the past such as the Acura RSX Premium, 2002-2005 EP3 Honda Civic Si and the Canadian-only Acura CSX.
That 2.0-liter NA motor can be paired to either a six-speed manual, or a CVT.
Then there’s the turbo engine, which is smaller but actually more powerful and the one to get here if you can afford it. Available on higher Civic trim levels, it’s a 1.5-liter turbo that’s rated at 174 hp and 162 lb-ft of torque. It’s the same engine as in the 2017 CR-V. The turbo mill can be had with a CVT or (new for this year) a six-speed manual.
Now, the hatchback. The good news for the hatch, is that it can only be had with that 1.5T, both in a manual or a CVT. Although we’re all excited for the upcoming, performance-spec’d Si, you can meanwhile opt for a hatchback Civic Sport. It’s not as hot as the “Sport Injected” Civic, but does offer an extra six horsepower and 15 lb-ft of torque. I’ll take it.
The car you see here is a base LX hatchback manual. Unlike all the other Civics, which are built in the U.S. and Canada, all hatchbacks are built in Swindon, England, the same place they used to build the EP3 - possibly the greatest motor vehicle known to humankind. Have I mentioned that?
Just Drive the Crap Out of It
Of course, Honda fanboys and fangirls want to know how this thing drives, and how the turbo engine stacks up with that manual gearbox. Honestly, it’s fantastic.
Actually, one of the reasons I put so much emphasis on the car’s questionable exterior design up there, is because as a total package, this Civic LX hatch is simply brilliant. And I drove the crap out of this thing. A lot.
That shifter is typical Honda: Jesus Christ, it’s perfect. It’s precise, easy to use, fun to row around, and has a pleasant rubber-like grip around it that makes grabbing another gear very addictive. The clutch is light and engaging. The turbo engine, well it continues to be a peach, no matter what it’s powering. But with the manual box, since the transmission isn’t constantly keeping the revs in the meat of the powerband for you like with the CVT, you can really sense how and when this engine develops its torque figures.
Being just a 1.5-liter, there isn’t much happening under 3,000 RPM, but once the boost kicks in, you get the same punchy and eager power delivery as in past Hondas. The benefit of the turbo, however, is that you don’t need to rev the crap out of it all the time to overtake a minivan.
It still loves to rev though, all the way to 6,500 RPM. It also has that typical Honda, metallic, four-cylinder engine note, less frantic than the berserk VTEC days, but you still sense there’s a little mill in there working hard to generate power. In other words, you feel the mechanical components working in harmony with each other, and it’s a blast each time you rip through the gears.
Performance ain’t all that bad either in this base Civic hatch. Honda claims a 0-60 mph time of around 6.5 seconds. And the Sport does it in 6.2. In comparison, the last generation Civic Si did the sprint in 6.5 seconds. How cool is that?
Handling is also quite impressive but tends to lean towards the soft side. This is, of course, the LX, I’m guessing the Sport feels tighter. But you can still throw this thing into a bend hard and it will boogey. Being a much larger car than past Civics, you do feel this car’s weight as you throw it around. It’s just overall wider and longer, so it hugs the road, but does wallow about a bit. Body roll is somewhat excessive but once you’ve gotten familiar with the chassis, it’s actually quite stellar, and lays a great foundation for the Civic’s upcoming performance variants.
Steering in the Civic hatch is typical Honda light with minimal feedback. The suspension does a fantastic job of absorbing the garbage Québec roads. Turn in is sharp and the brakes are excellent. Overall, it’s a very fun and energetic car to drive. Appreciably more so than the Chevrolet Cruze hatch I drove a few months back, for example. Which felt a lot sleepier in comparison.
A Great Road Trip Car
One area where this new Civic has definitely changed is in the way it rides at highway speeds, and how spacious and comfortable it has become. My photographer Myle and I drove down to Toronto in it and spent a total of 10 hours in the car. Never did we feel like we needed to take a break, except to grab some Timmies (Editor’s note: A sugary Canadian delicacy, apparently), as one does, because the seats are downright supportive and comfortable.
The ride is also smooth and refined, but although wind and road noise have been greatly improved for this Civic, they are still very present. That Chevy Cruze, to its credit, was much quieter on the highway.
The Civic’s blown-up dimensions mean rear seat room and cargo space are no longer an issue. As consumers continue to gravitate toward high-capacity crossovers, it seems like Honda is hoping to win some people back by making more space in their small car. And this Civic doesn’t disappoint. Full-grown adults can sit comfortably in the back with their knees not growing through the front seats—unlike the tiny little Civics we all grew up in.
Being a hatch also means cargo space is abundant, go figure. Total cargo space in this Civic hatch is 25.7 cubic feet, a good 10 cubic feet more than the sedan. The Honda also edges out the already spacious Volkswagen Golf at 22.8 cubic feet.
I do have the same gripes with the Civic hatch as with its siblings: The infotainment system is a huge letdown. The absence of an actual volume knob is infuriating (the Sport gets one, but also has a more rudimentary infotainment system), forcing the driver to use the silly touch-operated slider controls. They never work properly and explain why new Civic owners are always yelling at drive-thrus.
The system itself is also very confusing, where simple commands such as accessing the sound system’s settings are impossible to find and distracting on the road.
Honda, just buy a Chevrolet and copy its system why don’t you?
Otherwise, interior build quality is excellent. There’s a clever use of cool materials such as a grippy plastic-like fabric on the steering wheel. And the overall interior design is very attractive, contrary to my opinions on the body design.
Another upside is that this being a base LX, my Civic only had the basic necessities such as power windows and locks, cruise control, and automatic climate control. If you happen to live in Canada, your LX will even come with heated seats, Android Auto and Apple Carplay connectivity. Although I admire Honda for cramming higher Civic trim levels with all the latest semi-autonomous tech and other creature comforts such as Bluetooth charging and a cool camera in the passenger side mirror that detects blind spots, it was refreshing to drive a straight forward naked Civic. My tester even needed an actual key to start it.
Pricing for the 2017 Honda Civic hatchback ranges from $19 700 for an LX like my tester, and tops out at $28,300 for a Sport touring with a CVT. But you don’t want that one. Get the Sport manual instead, it sells for $21,300. Now that’s a lot of car for the price.
To wrap it all up, what I love the most about this 2017 Honda Civic hatch LX manual is that, like back in the good old days, you can finally go to a Honda dealer, buy a stripped out Civic hatch for cheap and still have a hell of a lot of fun with it.
Even naked, it remains competitive by offering the latest advancements in technology and safety. Its road manners are on par with those of a Volkswagen Golf, it’s as energetic to drive as a Mazda 3, and it’s priced like a Hyundai. It also offers as much cargo space as some compact crossovers.
In other words, Honda is back at kicking ass with the Civic. And it feels amazing.
Engine: 1.5-liter turbocharged inline four
Power: 174 HP at 5,500 RPM / 167 lb-ft at 1800 RPM (for LX model)
Transmission: 6-speed manual or continuously variable automatic
0-60 Time: 6.5 seconds (claimed)
Top Speed: 125 MPH (claimed)
Drivetrain: Front-wheel drive
Curb Weight: 2,837 pounds for LX / 3,013 for Sport Touring
Seating: 5 people
MPG: 30 City / 36 Highway (from EPA, for LX manual)
MSRP: $19,700 for LX as tested / $28 300 for Sport Touring
William Clavey is an automotive journalist from Montréal, Québec, Canada. He runs claveyscorner.com