Honda’s Civic has been Canada’s best-selling passenger car for 18 consecutive years but the stakes were high when its latest generation debuted last fall.
The previous Civic’s design and quality faced criticism in the media while North Americans’ growing love of crossovers and compact SUVs threatened the entire compact sedan segment.
“The previous generation of the Civic was not a hit,” said Bernard Swiecki, senior analyst at the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Honda performed a mid-cycle revamp of the ninth generation but the 10th-generation Civic underwent an overhaul for 2016.
“In this case, it was being replaced into the teeth of a market where sedans are really struggling, especially here in the U.S.,” Swiecki said. “It’s especially important for Honda because so much of its corporate identity is tied up in the Civic brand.
“So there was a heck of a lot of pride on the line with this vehicle.”
Regardless, the reboot was more than welcome, said Hayato Mori, Honda Canada’s senior manager for product planning and business development.
“We were already at the No. 1 ranking, but to remain there you can’t just be better than the other competition,” he said in an interview. “You have to be much, much better.”
Honda ditched everything, Mori said, giving the Civic a new platform, new engines, new styling, “new everything, to leapfrog the competition to keep our dominance in the market intact for the next considerable future.”
The Civic’s longer, wider and lower platform improves interior space, with added head and shoulder room for the front and rear occupants and more legroom in the back. In LX trim, the sedan has 91 litres of additional passenger volume compared with 2015 while a lower seating position creates a sportier feel.
“The hip point is actually equivalent to an Audi TT on the sedan and the coupe is slightly lower than that,” Mori said.
Swiecki also points to the swept-back C pillar that gives Civic a more coupe-like silhouette while still offering good rear-passenger space. “At Honda, they are masters of packaging,” he said.
Honda claims improved body rigidity with increased use of high-strength and ultra-high-strength steel while achieving a 31-kilogram weight reduction in the sedan despite it being bigger that its predecessor.
The redesigned body and frame elements improve collision performance, and there’s a claimed 58-per-cent improvement in air-leak performance to help reduce cabin noise.
The chassis redesign features a new multilink independent rear suspension and larger stabilizer bars to cut body roll. It’s the first Civic to use hydraulic compliance bushings and rigid aluminum rear damper brackets, which help isolate the cabin from road vibration and boost ride quality.
Handling is aided by new dual-pinion electric power steering with variable gear ratios and Honda’s trademarked Agile Handling Assist that lightly applies braking to selected wheels during cornering.
Thinner A pillars improve outward visibility, and a tilt adjustment for the driver’s seat cushion provides better thigh support. Other upgrades include increased use of higher-end soft-touch materials plus the requisite array of electronic driving aids and infotainment features.
Previous Civic owners will notice a redesigned electronic dash layout. Gone is the two-tiered display.
The old design put the big speedometer at eye level so drivers could check it without taking their eyes off the road, with secondary gauges on the lower tier. The interior redesign ruled it out.
“The new generation, because you sit lower, most of that stuff was at eye level anyway,” Mori said.
The biggest change, however, is under the hood, with the availability of a 1.5-litre turbocharged engine, a first for a Honda-branded model in North America (a previous Acura RDX offered a turbo). The turbo motor, available on EX-T and Touring models and only with a paddle-shifting continuously variable automatic transmission (DX and LX models get six-speed manuals), produces 174 horsepower and 162 lb-ft of torque as early as 1,800 rpm, using regular gas. The base 2.0-litre engine puts out 158 horsepower and 138 lb-ft of torque. The turbo pips the base engine slightly in fuel economy, especially with the CVT.
Honda expects about two-thirds of buyers will stick with the 2.0-litre that comes with the DX, LX and EX models.
“Most of the customers who buy Civics wants to be in a certain price range,” Mori said. “The 2.0-litre combination seems to be the right mix for them.”
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