The 2016 Honda Civic brings the Japanese company’s A-game to the most competitive segment in the market.
The tenth-generation Honda Civic sedan continues a nameplate that has been around for more than four decades, with the first examples sold in Australia in 1973. Since then, more than 327,000 Honda Civics have been sold locally (23 million globally), making it one of the most successful car models in history.
But as brands like Nokia, Kodak and IBM know, historical success is no real measure for the future, a fact Honda clearly understands, given the new Civic does a lot more than simply rely on its credentials.
From a design perspective, the 2016 Honda Civic sedan is a mixture of sporty, edgy and youthful styling without being over the top. It’s the sort of car that should appeal to buyers of all ages, although Honda admits that its aim is to attract a younger buyer to the new Civic, those that may not have previously considered the model.
So, what makes the new Civic a worthy competitor to the likes of the Mazda 3 which, alongside the Toyota Corolla and Hyundai i30 (and its Elantra sedan counterpart), have dominated the small car segment for the past few years?
With prices starting from $22,390 plus on-road costs, the Civic sedan is now available with two engines. Firstly, there’s the previous-generation 1.8-litre four-cylinder petrol (104kW, 174Nm and 6.4L/100km claimed fuel economy) carried over in the base VTi and mid-spec Civic VTi-S – now coupled with a new continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). No manual is offered in the new Honda Civic range. The top-choice, though, are the models fitted with the new 1.5-litre four-cylinder turbocharged engine.
Overall, the new Honda Civic consists of five variants, with the top three models - VTi-L, RS and the range-topping VTi-LX - equipped with that brand-new turbo engine with 127kW of power and a useful 220Nm of torque (6L/100km).
They also make use of a CVT transmission, which is the same belt system as the 1.8L models but with differing gearsets that have higher torque tolerances. Full specification and pricing breakdown of the new Civic can be found here.
Another notable change to the new Civic - apart from the exterior - is on the inside. No longer a confusing mess of multiple screens with oddly placed buttons as found in the outgoing model (such as the start and hazard light buttons in close proximity, both in red), but a more sophisticated and well-structured interior with nicer materials and a better ambience altogether.
Tech lovers will adore Honda’s new advanced audio system, which incorporates a 7.0-inch LCD screen with a 1.5-amp USB port that supports both Apple Carplay and Android Auto (there is also a second USB bus that can be used for trickle charging or USB playback).
This is standard across the whole range, even on the base model. In fact, not only does the new specially made USB port charge your power-hungry smartphone at the same rate as a wall-charger, but it also allows for direct CarPlay connection to your iPhone with the cable neatly stored through a clever storage compartment.
The addition of CarPlay and its Android Auto equivalent means your iPhone will drive the majority of your tech needs, from music to navigation and messaging, with only the top-spec VTi-LX actually getting a built in Honda navigation system – which is nowhere near as good as just using your smartphone’s brains to drive it. On the tech side, the new Civic gets a big tick from us.
Once you’ve finished fiddling with the interface you’ll quickly notice the front seats are pretty comfortable, though on the non-leather wrapped models the texture on the seat can be a little hit-and-miss depending on your personal taste. The seating position is excellent, with great forward visibility (though not so great for the rear). In many ways the new Civic feels like the old Honda Accord Euro behind the wheel.
The parking sensors and rear-view camera make up for that though, and unless you go for the absolute base model, Honda’s clever lane watch system is standard kit, and is an absolute treat.
When you indicate left, the camera positioned in the left hand mirror will show you a wide angle view of what is on the left hand side of the vehicle in the LCD screen, this basically eliminates the need to shoulder check (though it could be argued that may be safer to do), and is hugely beneficial for motorcycle/bicycle riders stuck in your blind spot. You can even activate the system without indicating by pressing a little button at the end of the indicator stalk. This is also fitted to the HR-V small SUV.
There’s a lot of room in the back too, with two ISOFIX points capable of taking bulky forward- or rear-facing child seats, but two big adults could also easily and comfortably survive back there for long drives and if you need to put in a third for short trips you definitely could.
Overall, the dimensions of the tenth-generation Civic are certainly not that of a traditionally small car and with a 519L boot, it’s awfully practical for a car in its class. That boot is bigger than some models in next size bracket up. Prefer a hatch? It'll be here in the first half of 2017.
Behind the wheel the new Civic is a significant improvement over the old when it comes to vehicle dynamics. A new inner frame structure allows for much more advanced body joining techniques, which when accompanied by new suspension systems both front and rear have given the car a new lease on life.
The Civic’s chief engineer told us that when work on the tenth-generation car began in 2012, they basically started with a clean sheet of paper to avoid the dynamic-deficiencies of the outgoing model. Their work is certainly felt when you start to push it hard into corners.
The cornering capability of the new Civic is certainly amongst the best in its class, it’s smooth and relatively sure-footed around the twisty stuff, though in fairness it’s let down by its choice of tyres. In terms of ride comfort, we found the base model and the second grade up - both of which ride on 16-inch wheels - comfortable without being floaty. Meanwhile, the larger 17-inch wheel size on the higher-spec cars provided more grip but with a firmer setup.
The new dual-pinion electric power steering system is on par with the Volkswagen Golf for best in class, a far better unit than that of the old Civic. It’s heavier when it needs to be and yet more responsive. We found it to be an ideal compromise between practical city driving in and out of car parks and yet still very capable on the open road. It can now go from lock-to-lock in just 2.2 turns, as opposed to 3.1 turns of the old car, meaning less arm effort is required to move the car at lower speeds. The Civic's turning circle is respectable at 10.7 metres.
Furthermore, the real party trick is the 1.5-litre turbo engine, which is a great engineering feat, with its actual power and torque ability feeling significantly more than the aforementioned numbers would suggest. The turbocharged Civic is faster than it has a right to be, but it’s somewhat undone by the CVT transmission that tends to delay your acceleration input, regardless of whether that’s asking for more or less power.
The turbo is definitely the pick of the two engines if you want something fun to drive, however it can be a little abrasive in its torque delivery at times and if you get it out of shape there is some torque-steer (where the torque through the front wheels prevents the car from going in the direction the wheels are pointing to). It does sound good, though.
Based on our time in the cars at the launch, the sweet spot in the range for us is the second from the bottom VTi-S, which is still powered by the old 1.8-litre engine. It’s certainly not as gutsy or efficient as the smaller force-fed unit, however it’s far smoother and easier to live with day to day and at $24,490 with all of its standard kit, it’s pretty darn good value for money.
On the road the 1.8-litre unit is a solid performer, with linear acceleration (something that can’t be said to the same extent of the turbo) and a more city-friendly character. Having ditched the old five-speed automatic transmission in favour of the CVT, it can drone a bit at times, but it’s not off-putting and is now easier on fuel, too.
If you’re wondering, the Honda Civic RS is an interesting variant. Despite wearing an RS badge, which in most car companies is associated with the highest-performing variant, the currently sportiest Civic (until the Type R arrives late 2017) is more about sporty style than anything tangible.
It gets its share of black bits and a rear spoiler but that’s about as much of a performance upgrade as you’re going to get over the other turbocharged variants. We do think it’s the best looking car in the range, however.
Honda's ownership promise includes a three-year/100,000km warranty, while capped-price servicing is also available - intervals for both engines are set every 10,000km or twelve months (whichever occurs first), up to 100,000km. Maintenance will average out at about $300 per visit.
Overall, the 2016 Honda Civic sedan is a very decent package. On the surface it may appear more expensive than it ought to be, but once all the standard features are taken into consideration it’s actually on par if not marginally better value than some of its direct and more popular rivals.
We will have to wait to put it up against its direct rivals for a proper comparison, however if you’re after a well equipped and highly competent sedan in the small car segment, you would be mad not to have the new Civic on your shopping list. In many ways the tenth-generation Honda Civic sedan does justice to a nameplate that had spent the last few years lost in the wilderness.