The Civic has been Canada’s best-selling car for 17 years. 17. Three months ago, if I’m honest, I’d have written that with a touch of bitterness. Auto scribes and enthusiasts alike viewed the Civic as a whipping boy. To them/us, it was proof of our superior taste and knowledge that others would buy these cars in droves.
“They’re just an appliance,” we’d scoff pompously.
Of course, we were idiots.
Honda produced a car that sold like hotcakes because that’s what people wanted. For 17 straight years. Now, Honda looks on track to do it for another year – if not three or four – and the great shock of it now is, this time the car is making auto scribes and enthusiasts put our sniping pens down and pay attention.
The Civic is good. Really good. Not all good, mind you. There is a rather large niggle taking up most of the interior and I’ll get to that later. But it’s still good. The 1.5T engine – that thing is fantastic. The CVT? Proof that CVTs can be good. The handling – better than any previous generation despite this one’s significant growth spurt. The styling? Edgy, funky, downright appealing.
Normally, when we have a long-term tester after a while we get bored and want to book something else for a week or so. Normally, but not this time. I thoroughly enjoyed the Civic’s manners in stop-and-go commuting traffic, where it was easy to drive, frugal and had enough sound insulation and smoothed out the vibrations enough to keep me feeling sane and comfortable.
I enjoyed it too on the long haul, where the steering was well-weighted and appropriately assisted, so neither bumps and crowns in the road nor side winds had me feeling busy at the wheel. This was easy motoring.
And when the rare Ontario corner did present itself, the Civic was legitimately fun to drive. The wheel is light but the car responds quickly to its inputs – there’s even the potential for some lift-off oversteer should you feel so inclined. It’s bigger than the previous Civic yet weight is unchanged at 1,332 kg. The roof is 19 mm lower while at 4,631 mm long and 1,878 mm wide. The Civic has a much larger presence on the road. It looks dramatically bigger and feels a little bigger inside, yet drives like a car that’s smaller than its predecessor.
The 416 L truck swallowed up my entire family’s luggage and our camping equipment without any fuss whatsoever. Lower trims get more cargo volume at 428 L since they don’t have the subwoofer that’s part of the Touring’s 10-speaker audio system.
The 2,690 L passenger volume puts the new Civic in mid-size sedan territory – there are no compacts anymore. They’ve all bloated. My daughter got adequate ventilation in the back and had plenty of room for her active legs – saving our backs from her booting.
Even the doors open in multiple “steps”. Some doors open either a little or a lot and the door will move around of its own accord if not fully open. The Civic’s doors would open to detents and stay put – this is a small, easily overlooked feature but when your daughter is five and you park in tight confines, it means a great deal.
So much of this car for so long has been engineered to “work” for regular people doing regular driving things. This dedication to ease of use and ownership shows in all but one area: the infotainment system.
We were curious when we started this test if the infotainment system would hamper my relationship with the car, or if familiarity would breed fondness. I can tell you that the existence of Android Auto dramatically improved my relationship with the car – but also that its operation was sketchy. It only functioned properly 50 percent of the time. This could be a phone issue, but I’ve only experienced this unreliability in the Civic. VW products don’t have the same issue.
The touchscreen-only system comes under a lot of fire but has improved. At least now there’s only one screen in the centre stack and one in the instrument cluster. The awkward two-screen setup for both units is now gone.
Still, there’s no ledge to rest your hand, meaning to find “buttons” you have to hover your hand. The amount of times I’ve been hovering, waiting until I had a moment to look at the screen and make sure I hit the right spot, only to hit a bump and hit an entirely different button is infuriating.
Likewise, if you’re anywhere else in the system it takes three entire clicks to get back to the audio screen. One to click “Home”, one to click “Audio” and another to select the source because the source menu pops up automatically when you go to the audio screen and this setting couldn’t be turned off. That’s horrific UX and makes using the system an exercise in pure frustration. There is an “Audio” button on the left side of the screen – but it turns off the audio. That’s it. Getting back into Android Auto to the map screen after changing stations is a bit rubbish too.
And while the Civic does have a function to read your texts to you while you’re driving which is handy, the menu for it is buried and took me six weeks to find in the phone settings.
Lastly, the SiriusXM channel list format is among the least user-friendly in existence with very limited info. While other systems can show you the song playing or artist in the Electronic Program Guide – the Civic will only show channel titles. Some players have replay, rewind, pause or will even record your preset favourites for you – the Civic system does none of that.
The steering wheel control for tuning the station only does presets which is probably fine for most people. A long press does change the station but in three months I never got the hang of making it skip to the next station, I always went two when I wanted to go one and one when I wanted to go five.
Worse, there are two real dials under the touchscreen for the automatic climate control. I don’t know about you, but I set my temp to 23 and “auto” and leave it there. I’d be happier to do that with the touchscreen and repurpose those knobs for audio tuning and volume.
Having had that epic whinge, I need to point out that this dashboard and touchscreen layout has a lot of redeeming features. It is clear, the display looks great and the instrument cluster equally so. The green ring around the tachometer that glows when you’re driving efficiently is rewarding to look at too. I did acclimatize well and came to love the slider control on the steering wheel for volume. I’ll give Honda that one.
I’ll also pay the argument that their dashboard and interior design is clean and futuristic.
I expected the infotainment system to hinder me forming a bond and enjoying this car but in the end it really didn’t. I think the Android Auto helped a lot with that, but also the other redeeming features.
Aesthetically, the new Civic is all killer, no filler. From the angled, space-ship taillights to the command-centre cockpit and the detailed front end the Civic packs an aesthetic punch previously unrivalled in the segment. There are equally good-looking cars, but this one visually looks like a leap forward. It has made the others seem dated in one fell swoop.
The 174 hp/162 lb-ft turbo 1.5L engine is a genuine gem. I remarked in an earlier update that I found it coarser than I expected but as time grew I noticed that less and less. In the meantime the power was accessible nice and low making the Civic feel peppy around town and making short work of any overtaking moves I needed to make elsewhere. The CVT transmission is well-matched and the result is a smooth drive. Even the CVT drone I was expecting was pretty much non-existent. Cars fitted with a CVT often feel like a manual with a slipping clutch when you put your foot down, not so here. Somehow Honda has tuned it to give good response.
This is the company that produced one of the best manual transmissions in the marketplace, so maybe they’ve managed to put that knowhow to use in the CVT era. If they were all like this one, we’d whine about them a lot less.
Fuel economy is rewarded too. We drive almost all city, my stop-start commute is murder on the petrol tank yet we finished the three months on an average of 7.8 L/100 km. That number compares well to the official ratings of 7.6/5.5/6.7 L/100 km city/highway/combined.
So far this year Civic sales are up 11 percent year-on-year and I predict that to continue. The new Civic not only has curb appeal but will win over most people who drive it. It’s priced well and has Honda’s reputation behind it.
One of my neighbours asked me recently where the Civic went – I explained that I’d returned it as its test was complete.
“Oh I just bought one!” he said. “What did you think of it?”
I told him I think he made a very good decision.