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2016 Honda Civic First Drive

Quite often automakers throw around words like “epic,” and just as often it’s in one ear and out the other for me. Except this time, I’m listening up, paying attention, and after just 24 hours with the new 2016 Honda Civic, I’m finding it hard to tell you why it isn’t.

Honda insiders refer to each generation of Civic with their own keyphrase: the “First Civic,” “Super Civic,” “Wonder Civic,” “Grand Civic,” “Sports Civic,” “Miracle Civic,” and so on. While some of these monikers aptly describe the vehicle, others seem to be a bit far-reaching. So, when I was told that this 10th-generation Civic’s development goal was to create the best compact car in the world, an “Epic Civic,” I was more than just skeptical. In fact, I thought the Honda spokesperson was downright accessorizing white horses and calling them unicorns.

I was wrong.

With a knock-out body, a driving experience that is properly satisfying, an incredibly well-thought-out cabin, and technology firsts that will come to define the next generation of all passenger vehicles, the 2016 Civic sedan impresses on a scale that has long been absent in the mass-market auto industry. 

The look
What about the design? That’s easy, just look. Then look some more. Every crease and line is arresting. Every detail has a detail within it: The closer you look, the more things you find. From the low and wide stance to those distinctive taillights, every inch of the new Civic begs to be stared at. Hold a gaze long enough and you might even forget all the bland Civics of recent past.

The power
Motivating this beautiful creature are two entirely new powertrains. The one we all want to talk about is of course the turbocharged 1.5L engine capable of producing 174 horsepower and 162 lb­ft of torque. However, those numbers don’t tell the whole story. Unlike a traditional step automatic transmission, the CVT it’s mated to doesn’t kill momentum at each shift point, instead allowing seamless, linear acceleration across much of the rev range.

That being said, the real beauty of the turbo engine is to combine its best-in-class acceleration with unsurpassed fuel economy. Rated at 7.6L/100km in the city and 5.5L/100km on the highway, it even edges out its built­for­efficiency competitor, the Toyota Corolla Eco.

On the road, it’s hard to believe you’re sitting behind the wheel of a Civic sedan. Power is delivered effortlessly at low- and mid­range speeds, and while throwing the shifter into Sport can liven things up, it seems rather unnecessary as revs build and it all gets a touch loud inside the cabin. 

Keep it in Drive and there’s barely cause for any of the usual “droning CVT” complaints. Honda made no efforts to disguise their new CVT as a regular autobox by programming in pseudo shift points, either, and although I would like to have seen at least an attempt at manually selectable electronic gears via paddle shifters or even a gated stick, I respect the decision not to.

Honda’s volume-selling Civic, however, is the LX trim, which will come with a new, more value-oriented powerplant – a naturally aspirated 2.0L unit that generates 158 horsepower and 138 lb­ft of torque. Mated to either a more compact, lightweight CVT or a 6­speed manual transmission, this new engine is more powerful than its 1.8L predecessor while offering greater efficiency.

There’s an appreciable drop in performance while behind the wheel of a DX, LX or EX trim Civic equipped with the 2.0L motor compared to the 1.5L turbo; but as proven by the nearly 50,000, 2015 1.8L Civics sold so far this year, loyal Honda buyers won’t complain. Actually, rejoice if you’re one of the many, even the budget friendly new Civic trims will now be more powerful and more fuel efficient than all the prior generation Civics.

The drive
Built on a global platform, this 10th-generation Civic is far removed from the previous ones. According to the North American Development Leader for the new Civic, Gary Evert, Honda engineers took on the challenge to create a chassis that is robust enough to withstand varying global market needs while simultaneously nailing lofty handling, NVH, and safety targets. What results is a platform that punches well above its class.

On the road, the 2016 Honda Civic takes on corners with confidence thanks in part to large front and rear stabilizer bars and brake torque vectoring, along with a host of other improvements. A first in the entry-level compact segment, dual-pinion electric power steering delivers the steering feel, performance, and comfort of a much more expensive sedan.

The inside
There’s an interesting story behind the cabin design of the new Civic. What we see today is not the design that was originally approved by Honda’s top brass. After having the more conservative of two final designs greenlighted, interior designers went back to the drawing board to refine their favourite, the one that wasn’t chosen. Upon a second inspection, in a rare move, the stylized, dynamic, more contemporary design was given the go-ahead instead.

In addition to looking gorgeous, the technology-filled, highly functional cabin made up of premium materials is the standard for the 2016 Civic. The incredibly geeky, well-thought-out centre console features a smartphone resting area (that doubles as a wireless charging zone in Touring models), a hidden pass-through with both USB and 12­volt charging ports, built­in clips allowing for neat cable management, and sliding cup holders inside a cavernous storage compartment that can easily hold an oversized water bottle and full­size tablet next to each other.

Some of this extra space was made possible by replacing the traditional hand brake with an electronic parking brake. Enthusiasts and hoons everywhere will bemoan the loss of what is arguably one of the best things about a FWD car, but old tricks must sometimes give way to novel efficiencies – such is progress.

The technology
Lots of impressive technologies make up the 2016 Honda Civic, but let’s focus on just two components, if you will. Standard on LX and higher trims, the 7” capacitive touchscreen that’s part of Honda’s Display Audio also supports Google’s Android Auto and Apple’s CarPlay. These two hallmark systems allow users to extend the navigation, audio and other infotainment capabilities of their respective smartphones into their vehicle like never before.

Priced at $18,890 with the manual transmission or $20,190 with the CVT, the Civic LX makes a compelling case for the best value in cabin tech on the market today.

In perhaps the ultimate move of democratizing safety technology, Honda has made its full suite of active safety and driver­assist systems available on every CVT-equipped 2016 Civic. Beginning with the LX and EX as a $1,000 option, Honda Sensing comes standard on higher-grade EX­T and Touring models. It includes a Collision Mitigation Braking System (CMBS), Lane Departure Warning (LDW), Lane Keeping Assist (LKAS), Road Departure Mitigation (RDM), Forward Collision Warning (FCW), and Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) with Low-Speed Follow which is a first for a Honda vehicle.

Stacking it up
Development for the new Civic began over three years ago with Honda benchmarking every C-segment vehicle in the world. This was followed by engineers not only taking aim at the mass-market cars, but also taking that deep breath to blow down even European performance vehicle targets. It represented a major shift in benchmarking focus for the company, and brought together two continents to pull it off.

While Honda Japan was responsible for the early concept and the new powertrains, Honda America took on all the remaining product development including design and chassis engineering. Playing a major role in a global product for the first time, Honda of Canada Manufacturing acted as the lead for manufacturing and assembly technology and processes, which are now being used in plants globally.

The Canadian-built 2016 Honda Civic sedan goes on sale in November. With prices ranging from $15,990 to $26,990, the Civic has never been more expensive, sure, but it also boasts the greatest advancement in technology, safety, style, comfort, and efficiency in the model’s history.

Honda Canada’s Senior VP of Operations calls the 2016 Civic “the most ambitious redesign of 
Civic ever.” I’m inclined to say that ambition has led to a creation of magnificence.

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2016 Honda Civic
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2016 Honda Civic
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