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I’ll be honest, I haven’t given Honda too much thought the past few years. Growing up, they were a shining beacon of quality and design. In recent years, I hardly even bother to remember them, except for when I see the occasional candy-colored Fit. This new 2016 Honda Civic Coupe, though, has woken me up to what I once liked about Honda. Holy shit, I think I like a modern Honda.

(Full disclosure: Honda needed me to drive the new Civic Coupe so badly they dropped one off at my house for a week with a full tank of gas.)

I enjoyed my time with this Civic. In spirit, it feels not so much like a Civic, but more like the Civic’s fun cousin who’s back from college and will buy you beer: the Prelude. Especially the early Preludes, when they were just slightly more fun Civics without all the weighty pretensions of boy-racer dipshittery. A fun but still useful car.

After a run of grey and silver Kia and Hyundai press cars, I found myself in a position where people actually noticed the car I was driving. Maybe it was the vivid red color, but for whatever reason, I saw people in parking lots doing double-takes and neck twists and making that wait-what-is-that? face. On a modern car that costs less than an average American wedding (I checked), that’s a big deal.

The Civic Coupe Touring was pleasing and useful and I could easily see how someone who owned this car would grow really attached to it. It’s inexpensive but remarkably well equipped, sporty without sacrificing daily utility, frugal without being cheap, and eye-catching without being too showy.

Here, I’ll go into some specifics before I elaborate: The car is $26,960, with a 1.5-liter, 174 HP turbo 16-valve four. The EPA guesses it’ll do about 35 MPG combined.

The front wheels are driven by a CVT, there are discs all around, and there are enough toys and electronic crap to make you make that huh, not bad nod/face combo. Got it? Great.

The Look

My initial thought about the Honda Civic Coupe was that, really, it should have been a hatchback, not a trunked car. I’m generally pro-hatch, and the fastback shape, I think, would have worked really well as a hatchback and afforded the car a lot more utility.

I remember those old first-gen Civics and their ridiculous, lunchbox-like trunked versions, and I still think that, in a car like this, having a small trunk opening when you could have a hatch is just ridiculous hatch-stigma.

I told all this to my wife, Sally, while I was driving the Civic, expecting some words of support or maybe the eager suggestion, accompanied by a series of vigorous nods, that these were the sorts of thoughts that got people Pulitzers. Instead, when I looked over at her, she fixed me with a dead-eyed stare and made an obscene gesture with her hand. “This is what I think of your hatch-lust,” she said, her big blue eyes staring at me, defiantly, unblinking, her hand stroking a phantom dick with pure contempt.

And, you know, maybe she’s right. Maybe my obscene hatch-lust needs to just take a break here, because, overall, the exterior of the Civic Coupe works really well, hatch or no hatch.

It’s a design quite free from any retro influences, an evolution of the Civic look, modern and sleek and purposeful. Compared to the 2015 Coupe, it’s a big improvement; pretty much every line has been tightened and sharpened, the front end’s prominent chrome bar actually works, and the look is full of interesting creases and details without straying into the overdone baroque mess that Toyota’s buried themselves in.

The car’s a bit longer than last year, but the overhangs have been shortened, pushing the wheels to the corners more; a wider track than last year helps with that, too. The window line is dramatic, the proportions are good, and the novel rear spoiler/taillight arch is a pleasing detail. It’s taut and it works.

Plus, I have to commend Honda on having the stones to offer the Civic Coupe in colors that are actually colors. In addition to the red of the car I had, Honda offers a no-apology blue and a vivid green, as well. I hope to see more of these in those colors on the road. There’s no need to hide in white or silver for this car; it can handle a real color just fine.

The Inside

One of the things I liked best about the Civic Coupe Touring was that it really didn’t feel like a sub- $30,000 car at all. My press car had a tan/charcoal two-tone interior that was bright and pleasant and almost every surface felt pretty damn good.

For a coupe, which, of course, means it has two doors no matter how Mercedes-Benz tries to bullshit you, the amount of interior space was quite good. It’s not cavernous, but I was able to sit my five-year-old boy in his child seat in the back without dislocating my pelvis to get him in, and once in you could have legroom in the passenger’s seat and not have his feet kick your kidneys into custard.

The trunk is a decent size, even though if it was a hatch it would so much – I’ll stop. Okay. It’s a usable size, and the rear seat folds down if you need to carry your six-foot party subs or whatever.

The Controls

My biggest issues with the car are all here, but it’s not all bad.

First, the good: the main instrument cluster, a full-color LCD flanked by some vivid blue LED fuel and temperature gauges, is excellent. The graphic design of the instruments isn’t so slavishly skeuomorphic, and gives a nice outer-rim tachometer with speed on the inside in bright, clear digits, and below that a variety of other information – turbo boost, fuel economy, range, nav, infotainment data, whatever you want.

It’s legible, attractive, well-designed, and has some fun animations that show that people are having some fun with instruments that are computer screens.

My issues, though, are with the other controls. Honda is making use of flat, touch-sensitive buttons on the infotainment center stack, and also some more tactile but still touch-activated buttons on the steering wheel, for things like radio volume. I hate those.

The volume on the center stack is a little slider that lights up behind the smooth, glossy glass of the stack, and it’s impossible to find while you drive. The touch control for volume on the wheel is frustratingly sensitive, and, to make matters worse, the climate control is handled by two knobs that are exactly where every muscle memory in your body wants the volume/tuning to be.

Plus, to make things worse, climate-wise, those knobs just adjust temperature for each side of the car; to get to fan speed or defrost or anything, you have to hit this climate button that somehow manages to be invisible, which then changes the whole display.

It all just kind of sucks, and with the rest of the car so good, it’s jarring.

The Tech

Even with my center-stack complaints, I was still impressed with what the Civic Coupe Touring offered electronic-equipment-wise, because it’s a remarkably full complement of stuff: lane keeping assist, automatic lights and wipers, dynamic cruise control, navigation, rear-view camera, and my favorite toy, the blind-spot-eliminating camera Honda calls LaneWatch.

I really liked LaneWatch. It’s pretty simple, really: it’s just a little extra camera mounted on the passenger’s side rear-view mirror, pointing backwards. When you turn on your right indicator, it activates automatically, and displays the image from the camera in the center stack display.

Guess what? It’s great. I’ve never had a blind-spot monitoring system that worked as well. Sure, other cars beep at you and blink lights, but this shows you what’s in that blind spot, lurking and laughing at you.

a niggling complaint, but thought I’d mention it anyway

You can even turn it on at will with a little button on the signal stalk, and it just stays on, which is weirdly fascinating to watch as you drive, so be careful, and remember to watch the view out the big window in front, dummy.

Non-electronically, Honda’s taken a page from Ford and has a capless fuel filler system, which is great if you think gas caps are for chumps. I’m a rag-in-the-hole man myself, but I get it.

The lane-departure system likes to jiggle the steering to remind you it thinks you’re departing a lane, but I found the steering jiggle just a little too much, like a friend who play-punches just a bit too hard. Not awful, just annoying.

I Drove The Damn Thing

Keeping with the theme here, I found the Civic Coupe Touring to be pretty enjoyable to drive. The 174 HP turbo engine gives good power, though how that power gets to the wheels via those CVT belts or gears or straps or whatever is significant.

Oh, one note about the engine: while it’s pleasingly and surprisingly free of any ridiculous modesty plastic covers, the name of the engine, Earth Dreams, is incredibly insipid. It sounds like some new-age collective that makes jewelry out of driftwood and reclaimed hair or some shit. Hey, look, it actually is some goofy New Age jewelry-making thing! Way to go, Honda!

In the normal “Drive” setting, you get the eco-benefits (and a little green band of light over the instruments) but you also get that unpleasant CVT throttle response and generally weird, lackluster performance that seems to be the hallmark of most cars who like to vary their transmissions continuously.

Putting the shift lever in the “Sport” setting, though, actually makes a good amount of difference in this car. You can shift on the fly, while accelerating in D and then kick it down to S and you’ll feel an immediate change in throttle response and speed. It’s great for pretending you’re in a Fast and Furious movie or some equally goofy shit.

With the lever shoved in S, the car feels quick and responsive. There’s minimal turbo lag, and what lag there is you can spend watching the little in-dash turbo animated gauge, which is fun, if useless.

As you can imagine, what would really make this car pop would be a nice little manual ‘box, which, at the moment, is only available on the lower-output normally-aspirated 2.0-lite engine, and it’s not available in the nicer Touring trim.

I asked Honda about this and they told me next year you will be able to get the six-speed with the 1.5 turbo engine, for “some trim levels,” so that may be worth waiting for.

Steering feels nimble and light, not the most feel in the world, but you do get some feedback from the road. Braking gave no issues at all, but, then again, I didn’t have this on a track, so I never really got a chance to see what the limits were. Since I wasn’t on a track, I guess that’s a good thing.

Overall, it’s a pleasing car to drive. It’s easy and undemanding, but give it a little urging and it’s willing to have some fun.

I’m pretty sure that at $26,960, equipped like the car I had is, the 2016 Civic Coupe Touring is a good deal. If all the electronic toys and an extra 20 HP don’t matter to you, you can get a manual version of the coupe for as low as $19,050. Not bad at all.

The EPA’s guesses of 31 city/ 41 highway / 35 combined MPG proved fairly close, as I was able to hit around 30 in the city, maybe 27 or so when I was driving like a moron, which I was, because I am.

This is a relatively cheap car that doesn’t feel like punishment, and you’re not constantly reminded of all the money you didn’t spend.

The Verdict

I’m going to stick with my assessment that the new Civic Coupe Touring feels like a modern re-birth of the old Prelude, which is a very positive thing to be. This is a car that should prove reliable, cheap to run, inexpensive to buy, full of good tech, and still understands that life can be fun.

It’s attractive and striking in a way that doesn’t feel gimmicky, and it does a coupe’s job well: as a small two-door that’s designed to be something more than a two-door sedan. It’s a small car that trades the out-and-out practicality of a hatchback for a small but significant amount of rakishness, a reminder that you’re either young or once were, and, while you’ve got shit to get done, you still have made a place to enjoy the things in your life.

That’s what a coupe should do, and I think Honda has managed to build one that does just that.

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About the author

Jason Torchinsky

Senior Editor, Jalopnik • Running: 1973 VW Beetle, 2006 Scion xB, 1990 Nissan Pao, 1991 Yugo GV Plus • Not-so-running: 1973 Reliant Scimitar, 1977 Dodge Tioga RV (also, buy my book!)