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2016 Honda Civic: First Drive Review

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author photo by Jason Fogelson October 2015

Civic is an extremely important car for Honda, attracting the elusive young buyer. Through nine generations of Civic, it has been the company's top-selling vehicle globally and is second only to Accord for Honda in the United States. In some ways, it is the flagship vehicle for Honda. The 2016 Honda Civic begins the 10th generation for the mainstream compact-car line, which has been gracing American roads since 1973. Honda's pulling out all the stops on this one, and smart economy-car buyers are going to reap the benefits.

Revolutionary Changes

For 2016, Honda started with a clean sheet. They've promised a full lineup of Civics this year, from the 4-door sedan to a 2-door coupe to a 5-door hatchback, along with Si variants and a new Type-R. The coupe has been revealed at recent auto shows, but the first Civic that we got a chance to explore and drive at a press event in Los Angeles was the 4-door Civic Sedan.

Here's a little insider information about how Honda goes about designing a new car: The global design team comes up with a descriptive name for the car. Past names have included Super Civic, Miracle Civic, Wonder Civic and Grand Civic. The new Civic is Epic Civic. Rather than benchmarking the economy-class competitors for the new Civic, Honda looked at the entry-level luxury compacts for inspiration. They examined the Audi A3, BMW 1 Series, Mercedes-Benz CLA-Class and others.

The results are evident in the Civic's exterior, interior and performance. On the exterior, the Civic is lower and wider than before, with a sportier stance. The hood looks longer, with the wheels pushed further out to the edges of the car with a longer wheelbase and track than before. The roofline is a little lower and swoops toward the back of the car, eliminating the notchback trunk appearance. The lighting package is more dramatic, integrated in a front mask and forming bold chevrons in the rear. In a first for the class, full LED lighting is available on upper trim levels. The 2016 Civic is elegant, mature and sporty, a big improvement over the outgoing model.

Elegant Interior

Inside, the low and wide theme continues. The dash spreads across the front with lines and materials that continue on to the front doors, further emphasizing width. The center console and center stack are one continuous unit, housing the gear shift lever, electronic parking-brake switch, storage cubbies, HVAC and audio controls, touchscreen monitor and vents. There's some concealed storage under the center armrest and a clever system of sliding panels to cover and reveal the cupholders. USB and 12-volt connectivity is smartly integrated, with holes to route wires for easy access. The cabin feels bigger than before -- because it is. American-sized drivers and front-seat passengers won't feel cramped, and only the tallest adults will find the second row too confining in the outboard positions.

Particular attention has been paid to material selection inside the Civic. Cloth seats get contrasting panels, and there's a leather package with visible stitching available in the upper trim. Dash materials favor soft-touch plastics up front. The rear doors have harder plastic uppers, which is a little disappointing but not overly objectionable. Overall, it's a fine upgrade.

New Powertrains

Two new engines are available for the Civic, along with two transmission options. LX and EX models get an inline 4-cylinder 2.0-liter engine (158 horsepower and 138 lb-ft of torque). The LX comes with a 6-speed manual or available continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), while the EX gets the CVT exclusively. The EX-T, EX-L and Touring (a new trim level) feature a turbocharged 1.5-liter inline 4-cylinder engine (174 hp/162 lb-ft of torque) mated with a unique CVT. All Civics are front-wheel-drive. Both engines deliver sporty performance. The most fun can be wrung out of the 2.0-liter with the manual transmission, but the turbo engine/CVT combination is not bad, either.

Engines are just one part of performance, and Honda didn't ignore suspension and handling when it redesigned the 2016 Honda Civic. A new setup of the MacPherson strut front/multilink rear-suspension system, combined with Electric Power-Assisted Rack-and-Pinion Steering (EPS), delivers handling that is flat and controlled through the curves and rock-solid on the highway. Most impressive is the overall serenity and quietness in the cabin, which is partly thanks to the newly stiffer body structure.

If Honda had stopped here with the Civic, it would have been a very good new model. But they've gone a step further with technology, making the Honda Sensing suite of active safety features available on all trim levels. Featuring adaptive radar cruise control and active lane-keeping assist, along with Honda's LaneWatch (on all trims but the LX), the Civic can be equipped with safety features that have not trickled down to economy cars in the past.

A Competitive Class

Price is a very important dimension in the economy class, and the Civic will be competitive in 2016. Base LX models will start at $18,640, and top-of-the-line Touring models begin at $26,500.

Other automakers haven't been standing still in the compact economy class: Toyota's Corolla reached its 11th generation in 2014, and Nissan's Sentra hit its seventh generation in 2013, while the Chevrolet Cruze has its fans, as do the Mazda3 and Ford Focus.

Honda has elevated the Civic by targeting premium competitors. Now it will be the job of the other mainstream compact-car makers to step up to the plate and take a swing.

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2016 Honda Civic: First Drive Review - Autotrader