In 2016, Honda unleashed its new 10th-generation Civic sedan to rave reviews — even taking home the crown as the 2016 North American Car of the Year. It was a refreshing return to form for the Civic after the steady-selling, but critically panned, ninth-generation model.
Last year, Honda sold nearly 367,000 10th-gen Civics in the US — making it the second-best-selling car in the country. And for good reason: It’s comfortable, roomy, loaded with tech, and incredibly fuel efficient. In fact, a few of my friends were among those who bought new Civics last year and are head over heels in love with them.
But I, for one, was never truly smitten with the new model. Perhaps it’s the lackadaisical continuously variable transmission that muffles any and all dynamism from the driving experience or the infuriatingly ill-conceived infotainment system or even the oddly proportioned rear-end styling.
You see, when it comes to Civics, I’m a traditionalist. That means I’m partial to one with a peppy four-cylinder engine, a lively transmission, and nimble driving dynamics wrapped up in a user-friendly package.
Recently, Honda dropped off the latest variant of its hot-selling compact — the Civic Sport — for Business Insider to check out.
Our Civic Sport came with no optional extras, which meant the $US22,135 base price is also our as-tested price.
Here’s how it fared.
Since it debuted for the 1973 model year, the Honda Civic has been one of the most consistently high-achieving cars in the automotive industry.
Armed with a gutsy-yet-buttery-smooth four-cylinder engine and an affordable price tag, along with ...
... the Civic has, over the years, proved itself to be a favourite for those looking for something fun ...
... a potent track weapon when called upon. In other words, the Honda Civic had something to offer to just about anyone looking for a car.
The ninth-generation Civic, however, seemed to have lost a bit of its edge. The Civic's once universally praised ergonomics and trademark peppy driving experience were not what they once were. In 2012, Consumer Reports went as far as removing the ninth-generation Civic from its recommended list, citing poor driving dynamics, high road noise, and a cheap-feeling interior.
Speaking of ninth-generation interiors, Honda's attempt at a futuristic two-tier instrument cluster looks awkward and is complex purely for the sake of complexity.
For 2016, Honda addressed many of the ninth-generation Civic's shortcomings. Still, all is not perfect.
First, the new Civic's rear-end design is somewhat controversial. Its fastback roofline slopes down toward a trunk, instead of a hatch like on an Audi A7. That means you get the diminished headroom of the sloping roofline without any of the added functionality of a hatch.
Then there's the Civic's new infotainment system. While the graphics and overall presentation are solid, it's difficult to use. The layout and user interface is convoluted and complex.
In addition, Honda replaced all physical buttons on its infotainment system with touch-sensitive versions. While it certainly looks sleek, it's infuriatingly imprecise to use. I have yet to come across a manufacturer that has mastered the touch-sensitive panel. Honda joins that list. The system is, however, available with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto -- which are its saving graces here.
And finally, there's the CVT. An automotive concoction so insipid and soul-sucking only Lucifer himself could dream it up.
Instead of fixed gear ratios, a CVT finds the optimal engine revs and continuously varies the gearing to fit that RPM. While this type of transmission is great at producing solid fuel-economy numbers, a nasty side effect is that CVTs aren't great at effectively transmitting torque to the road. This makes for loud and labored acceleration runs -- especially in cars such as the Civic with smaller displacement engines that produce less torque.
All of this brings us to our 2017 Honda Civic Hatch Sport test car. Here it is clad in a Darth Vader-esque Crystal Black paint job with black 18-inch wheels. For me, this is the Civic that Honda has needed to build all along.
Inside, the British-built Civic Sport is handsomely restrained (it's assembled in the south of England). The materials feel solid. More important, this model has buttons instead of annoying touch panels to control the radio.
Like all other 10th-gen Civics, the split-level instrument cluster has been replaced by this tasteful and easy-to-use analogue unit.
Under the hood of the Civic Sport is a standard 1.5-litre, 180-horsepower, turbocharged four-cylinder engine -- mated to ...
... an old-school, slick-shifting six-speed manual. (A CVT is available as an option Don't do it!). I found the clutch feel to be a bit vague, but the shifter itself was very smooth and precise.
But my colleague Matt DeBord disagrees. He found the transmission to be 'disappointingly un-sporty' in its demeanour.
To drive, the Civic Sport feels nimble and peppy. The turbocharged engine and the six-speed stick shift mesh together like Michael and Scottie.
Because of its small displacement, the 1.5-litre engine requires a little work to pinpoint its torque curve.
As for handling, the Civic Sport's suspension is set up more for comfortable daily driving than for track work. If you're looking for a hardcore track-day special, wait for a hotter Civic Si or Type R variant.
In normal operation, the Civic Sport is expected to return 30 miles per gallon on fuel economy in city driving and 39 mpg on the highway, according to the Environmental Protection Agency*.
*For the CVT-equipped Civic, the EPA reported fuel-economy figures of 30 mpg city, 36 mpg highway, and 32 mpg in combined driving.