It’s fair to say that the Civic made Honda. Since the nameplate’s introduction in 1972, it has become renowned the world over for its class-leading dynamics and fuel efficiency. In the decades that followed, it revolutionized “the car for all people” and has thus embodied Honda’s challenging spirit. The 2000s though have been largely unfavorable to the Civic with duds such as the 2000-2005 ES (7th generation) and the 2011-2016 FB (9th generation). Though people still bought them, it raised Honda’s vulnerability in the compact car segment. Today, there’s this: the all-new, tenth-generation Honda Civic. Is this, finally, the Civic re-born?
Arriving by flatbed carrier, the security guards had their gazes permanently fixed on the car, shrouded in mystery by the reflective covers. The sloping fastback roofline didn’t look like any car they’ve seen before. Is this a sports car? Is this a muscle car? As the covers came off, it sat there in all its Cosmic Blue Metallic glory: the all-new RS Turbo. And even before the car was completely unloaded, the guards were busy snapping photos away on their mobile phones. It’s for their Facebook, they said. Throughout the morning, the story’s the same: full of interruptions from bikers, joggers, Honda owners, and curious by-standers armed with mobile phone cameras and curious questions. If this is the power of the Civic’s new design, then Honda’s done something right.
Normally, photographers would swear against working on any car with a dark hue. This time though, the bluish-black paint accentuated the sleek, swept-back bodylines. It has sportier proportions which make the body lower, longer, wider, and with less overhang than before. The gloss black solid wing grille is actually pushed out and angled downward creating a meaner, more aggressive stance. Either side, it’s sandwiched by the complex headlight cluster with full LED lighting. The side is less fussy, relying instead on the long wheelbase to create a taut and tidy appearance. Meanwhile, the backend serves as the perfect exclamation point with its distinctive C-shaped “light-pipe” LED tail lights and angularly shaped trunk. Interestingly, the Civic is one of the few cars that look better with the standard rear spoiler, though 18-inch alloy wheels (as opposed to the standard 17’s) could have made a welcome addition.
Inside, the Civic presents a modern and sophisticated looking interior. The dash itself is simple, laid out in a horizontal manner and together with the sweeping ends, creates a feeling of space unmatched by any other compact car. Sitting in for the first time, the abundance of space is noticeable. It’s easy to sit with the legs spread out and still not hit anything. Plus, there’s so much cubby holes from the usable center bin (that can swallow an Apple iPhone 6S or Samsung Galaxy S7), the bin behind the high deck center console (that’s where the USB inputs are) to the uncharacteristically deep arm rest console which can swallow one-liter bottles whole. Interestingly, the rear seats now fold in a 60/40 split, supplementing the already cavernous trunk. Unfortunately, it can’t be accessed from the seat itself; a lever must be pulled in the back. Quality-wise, all the touch points have been upgraded with soft touch plastics, brushed aluminum accents, piano black trims, and leather (with carbon fiber-like detailing on the seats).
Getting comfortable in the Civic is quite easy with the 6-way power adjustable driver’s seat. There’s no adjustment for lumbar support, but there’s little need for that. The seats feature excellent bolstering and support. The steering wheel also offers tilt/telescopic adjustment and because it’s angled more vertically, offers a sportier driving position. With the key fob in the pocket, starting the engine requires just a push of a button. The full-color TFT instrument cluster comes to life with breathtaking animation before settling down for business. Apart from showing the usual vehicle information—speed, engine revs, and so forth—it’s also configurable to display entertainment functions, turn-by-turn navigation, fuel mileage information, and even a turbo gauge. You can even shut everything off (including the tachometer) and just drive using the speedometer alone. The purely graphical interface and the touch-sensitive steering wheel controls need some getting used to, and after this half day drive, is still confusing. The 7-inch Advanced Display Audio, a common feature in new Hondas, is finally updated with sharper graphics and animation. It looks and operates much snappier, but the wealth of new functions requires a quick read of the manual to understand.
Much more straightforward is the way the 2016 Civic operates. Aiming to set the bar in the compact sedan category once more, Honda has worked on areas such as steering feel, handling precision, ride quality, and NVH. In other words, responding to all the failings of the previous generation model.
The powertrain alone is enough to give it a leg up with its brand-new Earth Dreams 1.5-liter DOHC VTEC engine featuring both direct injection and a mono scroll turbo. The maximum output of 173 horsepower and 216 Nm of torque makes one dream of a Civic SiR successor; and on paper it is, with a 0-100 km/h in 6.5 seconds and 14.9 seconds to the quarter mile. In reality though, it feels more of a smooth operator. It has less of a “turbo feel” compared to other force-induction motors as there’s minimal lag. Power delivery is extremely linear, providing tractable performance even from idle. The engine note is also satisfying with the right amount of growl. The CVT isn’t the first choice of enthusiasts to pair with the engine, but it’s a good match this time. It’s only under the most enthusiastic driving that the gearbox feels like it is neutering the performance somewhat. Still, there’s no denying its contribution to fuel economy: 10.9 km/L after around 50 kilometers of driving.
Riding on an all-new platform, the Civic has reduced its bulk by around 30 kilograms but has upped its torsional rigidity by 26 percent. And connected to this is a suspension system that enhances ride and reduces vibrations. With the exception of the audible tire noise (at speeds above 60 km/h), it’s much more composed in riding road imperfections. Going full speed through cobblestones isn’t enough to unsettle it. There’s still a bit of roll to the suspension, but the character is still fun and tossable. Coupled with this is new dual pinion electric power steering rack with a quick 2.2 turns lock-to-lock. It’s a big step compared to previous models in the way it turns and makes the entire car rotate briskly. The steering is light, but linear. The excellent sight lines also make it easy to position through corners. Overall, it feels less tiring to drive than another compact car with a sporty bent.
The all-new Civic is one of the most competitive vehicles to wear the Honda badge in a long time. With criticisms that the previous-generation model simply stayed the course rather than blazed a trail, Honda has finally come back to form with the tenth-generation Civic (FC). Whether or not it’ll be as sought after as the 1990s EK series remains to be seen, but judging from casual observers from the shoot and personal seat of the pants experience, the signs of greatness are there. This marks the return of the Civic and its rivals have every reason to be afraid.