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car review

Exterior of the 2022 Honda Civic HatchbackJeremy Sinek/The Globe and Mail

The trend of manuals dwindling into obsolescence seemed confirmed when Honda first unveiled its redesigned 2022 Civic last year. For the first time, Canada’s best-selling sedan would not be available with a stick shift. But then Honda flipped the trend with a hatchback available with three pedals and a new Civic Si sedan that only comes as a manual.

This stick shift won’t save any money versus the automatic, which has been the case with most cars. With either transmission, the hatchback LX starts at $28,000 - a lot more than the $24,465 for the LX sedan. All are powered by the same 158-horsepower, 2.0-litre naturally-aspirated engine. That said, the LX trim is new for the hatchback, so the price of entry is less than last year when only Sport and Touring were offered.

Two other 2022 hatchback trims, Sport ($31,500) and Touring ($35,000), graduate to the 180-horsepower, 1.5-litre turbo engine, now with the same outputs regardless of the transmission (previously, there was less torque with the CVT); on the sedan the 1.5T is exclusive to the Touring trim and asks $30,265.

Six-speed manual shifter on the 2022 Honda Civic HatchbackJeremy Sinek/The Globe and Mail

I drove the hatchback with both transmissions, and despite being a die-hard stick-shifter, I’m not in love with the Civic’s manual. The clutch is fine and the shifter has a well-defined, short-throw gate, but the lever action is stiff. To the Civic’s credit, there’s little turbo lag, and the power builds linearly. But on the flip side, there’s no point when the engine really “kicks.” It’s all a bit flat. I wonder if this is one of those turbo engines that would benefit from premium gasoline, even though officially it’s fine on regular.

The engine doesn’t sound as tuneful as, say, a Golf GTI, and paired to the six-speed it sounds busier on the highway than with the CVT. While gearhead ears may be bothered by the CVT’s seamlessly continuous ratio shifting and “random” surging and sagging of engine speed, its ability to always be in the right gear, right now, delivers effortless performance.

Perhaps one reason Honda charges so much is the dwindling competition in the hatchback category. Volkswagen now offers only the GTI and R editions of the Golf in Canada. The Chevy Cruze and Ford Focus are history, and Hyundai hasn’t reprised a 5-door version of its Elantra.

On the other hand, hatchback versions of the Kia Forte, Mazda3, Subaru Impreza and Toyota Corolla all also offer manual gearboxes - and similar performance to the Civic’s base engine - for thousands of dollars less. For about the same price as a Civic Hatchback Sport, a Golf GTI brings 241 horsepower, and Civic Hatchback Touring money could get you a Mazda3 Sport GT Turbo with up to 250 horsepower and all-wheel drive.

Honda’s engineers have done their job well, but the marketing people need to give their heads a shake.

Tech Specs

2022 Honda Civic Hatchback

Price: $28,000 - $35,000

Engines: 2.0-litre, 158-horsepower naturally-aspirated four-cylinder; 1.5-litre, 180-horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder

Transmission/drive: 6-speed manual or CVT automatic/FWD

Fuel consumption (L/100 km): 2.0 6MT: 9.1 city/6.6 hwy; 2.0 CVT: 8.0 city/6.2 hwy; 1.5T 6MT: 8.5 city/6.3 hwy; 1.5T CVT: 7.7city/6.3 hwy

Alternatives: Kia Forte5, Mazda3 Sport, MINI Clubman, Subaru Impreza Sport, Toyota Corolla Hatchback, Volkswagen Golf GTI

LOOKS

Exterior of the 2022 Honda Civic HatchbackJeremy Sinek/The Globe and Mail

Exterior of the 2022 Honda Civic HatchbackJeremy Sinek/The Globe and Mail

Apart from its five-inch “trunk-ated” tail, the 5-door largely shares the more sophisticated styling of the 2022 sedan, without all the former faux air vents – but also without the previous dual-centred exhaust pipes.

INTERIOR

In the age of the crossover, the Civic is still unapologetically a car, built low to the ground and with a correspondingly low-slung driving position – albeit adjustable up to a point, with an eight-way power seat on the Touring and six-way manual on the lower trims. Oddly, I found the padding at the leading edge of the seat cushion rather obtrusive, which is unusual, because in most cars I can’t get enough thigh support.

Display on the 2022 Honda Civic HatchbackJeremy Sinek/The Globe and Mail

Front seats on the 2022 Honda Civic HatchbackJeremy Sinek/The Globe and Mail

Visibility and ergonomics are hard to fault. There are plenty of hard-button alternatives to using touch-screen icons with the notable exception of radio tuning. The centre screen is nine-inches on the Touring and seven-inches on others and the Touring also has a configurable digital gauge cluster.

A wide rear cabin with ample legroom adds up to near-midsize-sedans’ worth of interior volume.

PERFORMANCE

Expect the hatchback 6MT with the base engine to be a competitive performer, and with the 1.5T, quicker than most rivals – say, 0-100 kilometres an hour in about eight seconds. That’s peppy, but not quite pocket-rocket pace, and most independent tests show better results with the CVT. Other aspects of driving dynamics are more impressive: Honda says it benchmarked European sport sedans, and it shows in the Civic’s blend of a pliant ride, direct steering and lithe, confident cornering.

TECHNOLOGY

Dash on the 2022 Honda Civic HatchbackJeremy Sinek/The Globe and Mail

The driver-assist inventory may not be class-leading, but it’s close. There’s no all-speed lane-tracing assist, but the Touring’s traffic-jam assist can do that in slow traffic. All trims have adaptive cruise (including low-speed follow with the CVT), forward collision warning and emergency braking, lane-keeping assist, and blind-spot information. Rear cross-traffic warning is unique to the Touring. On the infotainment side, there’s the usual Bluetooth and smart-phone integration, wireless charging plus Siri and WIFI tethering. The Touring adds Navigation and an audio upgrade with HD Radio and SiriusXM.

CARGO

Trunk on the 2022 Honda Civic HatchbackJeremy Sinek/The Globe and Mail

Honda made the most of the space available, so the trunk is somewhat irregular in shape. There’s no hidden, under-floor storage or a bi-level deck and there’s a ramp up to the folded seat-backs. But the 693-litre cargo volume, while slightly less than the previous model, still beats most rivals. A flexible fabric cargo cover that pulls out from the side avoids the problem of where to store a rigid cover when you need it out of the way.

VERDICT

All the goodness of the North American Car-of-the-Year Civic sedan, plus hatchback versatility and an available manual transmission. But what’s with the pricing, Honda?

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