Automotive critics have pounded Honda since the 2012 Civic debuted to lackluster evaluations. Bland, not fun to drive and seemingly everything that previous Civics had not been, that model was quickly redesigned despite reasonable sales levels, which often indicates that the pundits’ outlook may not always represent the buying public’s appetite for change.
For 2017, the 10th-generation Civic debuts in sedan, coupe and new hatchback configuration to generally high praise for its fuel efficiency, packaging and increased competence. Buyers and reviewers apparently agree this time around — Civic has become the top-selling car in America so far this year.
For drivers entertaining the idea of owning compact car models today, know that the dimensions on many of these cars have grown to what were once midsize measurements in length, wheelbase, width and overall interior space. This is especially true with the latest Civic. Call it maturity, call it meeting market expectations, but don’t overlook the advances in technology and performance.
With this latest Civic Sport Hatchback, Honda returns to one of its most popular early designs of this model. Practical utility combined with edgy performance and a potent new turbo engine gives the Civic Sport a demeanor that has been absent from the brand for far too long. With CVT transmissions and green-based hybrids dominating future product discussions and production plans, building a versatile, fun-to-drive car seems almost unholy.
The Sport features a finely tuned independent suspension and is powered by a new 1.5-direct-injected and turbocharged four-cylinder engine that makes 180 hp running through a crisp-shifting six-speed manual gearbox. Clicking through the gears results in immediate hand, clutch and throttle synergy as the eager Honda engine will remind enthusiast drivers of racy former powerplants used in models like the S2000 — albeit without the raucous roar and unnecessary mechanical clatter of that motor. A notable power bump occurs as the tach spins past 3,500 rpm as the Civic Sport encourages high-rpm romps through the gears — and still achieved a heady 37.2 mpg after three fill-ups. Best performance is realized with premium fuel, but still a 30/39/33-mpg EPA rating (with 180 hp) beats every other competitor in this end of the compact class.
Inside, the Civic Sport’s black interior won’t create a lot of visual excitement, and the standard layer of equipment will seem more basic than extravagant, but this is how Honda baked the Sport so its price can come in at $22,175 all in. Leather shift knob and steering wheel with redundant controls, auto-climate, aluminum-pedals, back-up camera, fog lamps, one-touch power windows up front, tilt and telescoping steering column, electronic parking brake, cruise and 18-inch wheels all are standard. The rear seats split to fold to maximize the expansive cargo hold — with a cover — while rear seat space is decidedly midsize.
Missing are Sirius/XM radio, a CD player and any hint of Apple/Android compatibility. There is no push-button ignition or keyless access, or automatic stop/start with the Econ button, which actually is OK. The driver’s seat adjusts manually and could be larger, and while Honda claims that the new Civic Sport (built in England) has increased sound insulation installed, it was not evident during any sustained highway travel. And some turbo-motor fans will be surprised that the Civic Sport’s torque output, 169 foot-pounds, is lower than its horsepower peak, which is very uncommon.
The styling of the Civic Sport will either enthuse or disappoint your excitement level about this car. Adorned with too many fake intake and outlet scoops and rather unusual proportioning, the Civic Sport is at once unique and almost Porsche-like from certain angles. The split hatch panel — with windows above and below the spoiler (à la Prius) — provides increased rearward vision, while the exaggerated dual exhaust setup surely will please the Fast and Furious fans among us. No matter your take, the Civic Sport looks like nothing else in the segment; critics can no longer complain about “bland” styling.
A base Civic sedan will start at under $19,000, with a standard hatchback — with a 158-hp 2.0-liter four — begins at $19,700. An EX or EX-L hatch start at $23,675 and $26,175 respectively with some of the features missing from our sample model.
Buyers will find a wealth of choices in the compact segment with prices much lower and higher than the Civic. Few rivals offer the zippy performance of the Civic Sport combined with the functional practicality of a hatchback body at this price point. Honda has come back from the woods with a car that returns to its roots.