The redesigned 2016 Honda Civic looks nothing like its predecessor. Dramatic new looks, especially from the rear, are bound to turn some heads. But Americans will quickly get used to seeing the new Civic, which went on sale today. This new model is a clear effort by Honda to assert its dominance of the compact car class – and as lofty as that ambition might seem, the company has achieved it.
It’s no secret, of course, that Honda builds some very nice cars. Despite some years in its recent history in which the company was coasting on its reputation, and despite a series of oddball models that tried and failed to create new niches, the latest Hondas have generally received both critical and popular acclaim and have reliably won comparisons conducted by this reviewer.
But one thing that characterized most of these Hondas was caution. The most recent redesigns of the Accord, Civic, and CR-V – the carmaker’s three best sellers – were slow, steady improvements over earlier models. Evolution, not revolution. Tally up the numbers, carefully weigh the facts, and these models frequently edge out the competition.
Honda is apparently no longer content with that approach. The redesigned 2016 Civic, which goes on sale today, seems to be crafted with the goal of screaming “I am the best compact sedan!” Gas mileage is best-in-class with either available engine, at an EPA-estimated 35 miles per gallon in mixed driving and over 40 mpg on the highway. There’s more power, and improved ride and handling. There’s more interior space. There are more features, including a suite of available safety technology and an infotainment system with Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. And to call extra attention to these strengths, Honda has adorned the Civic with bold new styling that would never be confused with past models.
Perhaps even more notable, even though Honda has expanded the Civic’s range with a new luxury Touring model and an available turbocharged engine, the company isn’t hiding away its new goodies for buyers who pay close to $30,000 for a top-of-the-line model. Just like last year, a decently equipped Civic LX is less than $20,000. Even at that price, the Civic’s driving dynamics and interior quality take the “economy” out of the term “economy car.” Even at that price, the Civic has power windows, locks, and mirrors; hands-free Bluetooth connectivity, automatic climate control, an electronic parking brake, a backup camera, and a new 2.0-liter engine with punchy acceleration and fantastic gas mileage.
And even on that base model, you can pay just $1,000 to add the “Honda Sensing” suite of safety features offered on almost none of its competitors (and none so affordably): forward collision warning, automatic collision-mitigating emergency braking, automatic lane-keeping steering, lane-departure warnings, road departure mitigation, and automatic cruise control that varies the car’s speed all the way down to a stop based on the traffic in front of it.
This is quite a change for Honda. It was less than a decade ago when the Civic followed all of its competitors to even add standard air conditioning, and not much time before that when antilock brakes were still reserved for the top-of-the-line model.
The tested 2016 EX model, up one tier from the LX, adds the Apple CarPlay or Android Auto smartphone integration, along with a sunroof, alloy wheels, and an eight-speaker sound system, along with a standard continuously variable automatic transmission (a six-speed manual is standard on the LX only). The EX also includes Honda’s exclusive LaneWatch sideview camera, which displays an image on the dashboard screen of the lane to your right either when you signal a right turn or push a button. (Note that there’s no conventional blind-spot monitoring system, and nothing for the driver’s side.) That brings the 2016 Civic to a sticker price of $21,875 as tested, roughly in line with comparably equipped compact sedans, and you can then add the $1,000 safety suite to really set the feature content apart.
To be sure, the new Civic isn’t unseating the Mazda3’s dominance as a sporty car. Nor is it undercutting the price tag of a Ford Focus, Hyundai Elantra, or Toyota Corolla, or offering the stretch-out interior space of a Nissan Sentra, Subaru Impreza, or Volkswagen Jetta. (Comparison review: 11 2014-model compact sedans)
But the 2016 redesign does everything well, and a great many things very well, at a fair price with lots of features. And the Civic’s newfound style and unexpectedly premium ambiance lend it a higher degree of sophistication than you’d find by merely looking at its specifications. It’s a credible alternative to any car in its class, and even to those that are technically one class higher. This is an impressive car, and for the time being, it’s clearly the dominant compact economy sedan.
Why to buy it
Quite simply, the new Civic is a decidedly likeable car – even lovable. If you’re familiar with the excellent competition, you’ll find it that much more impressive that Honda has done so much more than other small cars. The car generally succeeds at fading quietly into the background when you don’t want it to distract you, yet it’s also ready to impress you if you push it harder or stop to reflect on its many virtues.
Honda is clearly hoping that some car-buyers will want to buy the new Civic sedan based on their first impression – the styling. The car had looked pretty much the same since 2006; there’s not one evident design cue that carried over into the 2016 Civic’s exterior.
One of the most prominent new design elements is the sleeker profile. The Civic’s roofline now flows gradually all the way toward the end of the car, without a visual cue distinguishing the cabin from the trunk. It looks like a hatchback, though it’s really a sedan with a traditional trunk. (Hatchback and coupe body styles will be future additions to the Civic lineup.) Also notable are the taillights, which are roughly C-shaped when seen directly from the rear and vaguely resemble Florida at other angles. There’s nothing else like it on the road, so at least until the new Civic has been on sale for a while, this unusual element is sure to stand out from traffic.
From the front, the new Civic shares its grille and headlight design with a growing number of Honda cars and crossovers. The Honda logo sits on a thick chrome bar between the horizontally oriented headlights, and the chrome also extends above the lights. There is a lot of black plastic on the front end of the car, both around the grille and in the area of the bumper where higher-trim Civics would have foglights. (But even those are small compared to the allotted space.) Opinions will be mixed — this reviewer was not a fan — but buyers who object can mitigate the issue by choosing a dark paint color.
It’s worth noting that, to this reviewer’s eye, the new Civic’s design looks more cohesive in person than in pictures. Even looking over the photos taken during this test drive produced a different reaction on a screen. The proportions felt better live, and the 16-inch wheels didn’t look too small for the car’s body. Also notable was that from some angles, the 2016 Civic looks particularly big and substantial for its class. It’s slightly longer, wider, and lower than today’s typical compact car or than the 2015 model. For some buyers, this will boost its appeal as an alternative to a midsize sedan.
The Civic’s interior styling is more conventional than the exterior. Gone is the two-tiered display that placed a digital speedometer above an analog tachometer, a dominant element of the Civic dashboard from 2006 to 2015 that never took off. The 2016 Civic eliminates the upper tier and places the digital speedometer readout within the semicircle of the tach. Materials are high quality and assembly feels solid, even on the early-production test car. Storage space abounds, with a cubby below the climate controls and an open area between the seats below that. The center console is configurable with a tray that glides on tracks to different spots between the seats, and with a fore-aft armrest adjustment.
All but the LX model retain the touchscreen infotainment system that’s been on the Civic since the 2014 model year, though it now has a different color scheme and supports Android Auto and Apple CarPlay – essentially, the ability to use some smartphone apps via the car’s touchscreen. The advantage of this system will grow over the years unless you expect to update your car more frequently than you update your phone.
The Civic has comfortable front and rear seats, with supportive shapes and comfortable padding. It’s easy to feel natural behind the wheel, and visibility is quite good for such a curvy car. Honda made a particular effort to keep the front roof pillars slim, and it shows.
Trunk space, a weak point on the old Civic, has greatly improved for 2016. Volume has gone from among the worst in the class at 12.5 cubic feet to among the best at 15.1. There’s also a larger opening, and you won’t have to lift items as high.
The driving experience is an important strong point – one that used to be a Honda staple but had faded to just-okay in the previous generation Civic. The 2016 model is livelier in every way. It’s still not as sporty as a Mazda3, but it now seems to be near the top of its class for steering and handling rather than somewhere in the middle. There’s natural weighting and feel to the steering, even if it’s not as responsive as the Mazda’s. The Civic shows great composure on a straight or twisty road, with a smoother and quieter ride than before. It’s easy to drive, and pleasant to drive. There just isn’t quite the sharp, direct, quick response that you’d get in a truly sporty car. (A replacement for the sportier Civic Si version, with a bigger engine and sharper handling than other Civics, isn’t yet on sale but is slated to join the lineup in the future.)
In another big improvement, the old car’s 1.8-liter 143-horsepower engine is gone in favor of a 2.0-liter 158-horsepower unit on the LX and the tested EX models. It’s peppier, it’s smoother, and it’s quieter than the engine it replaces – all while improving fuel economy by 2 mpg. Higher-trim Civics get a 1.5-liter turbocharged engine with 174 horsepower and even better gas mileage.
EPA ratings with the CVT automatic transmission are 31 mpg city / 41 mpg highway / 35 mpg overall. The turbo’s highway rating increases to 42 mpg. (LX models with the manual transmission have much lower ratings, likely due to less eco-friendly gearing.) Even the old Civic was among the most fuel-efficient gas-powered sedans, and the new model further accelerates away from today’s competition.
As noted, the Civic is also a decent value proposition. Depending on what options you want, some similarly equipped competitors will likely undercut it by up to about $2,500. And for the next few months, while the newness of the 2016 model makes it harder to haggle down the price, their advantage will likely be better still.
And some buyers may well find the 2016 Civic is also a viable alternative to a midsize car – those who were choosing it more for the look, feel, and feature content than for massive interior volume. The Civic has decent space inside and in the trunk, and its driving dynamics, interior quality, and feature content are at least competitive with midsize sedans. Definitely consider trying it out before paying more for a bigger, less fuel-efficient sedan.
Why to skip it
The redesigned 2016 Civic pulls off a pretty impressive feat of being all things to all people while also bringing some unique strong suits to the table. That said, not everyone will find it to be the best fit for them.
One main area in which the Civic is merely okay is functionality – the passenger space and the user-friendliness of its controls. Function wasn’t completely sacrificed to form, but there was definitely a compromise made. These are largely issues shared with the outgoing Civic: a rear seat that’s tighter than the best competitors, and fussier controls and displays.
In the rear seat, two adults will find enough head and leg space on a comfortable cushion, but there’s not much extra. Some compact sedans force taller rear occupants to bow their head down (Toyota Corolla) or jam their knees into the front seatback (Ford Focus, Mazda3). The Civic isn’t at that level – there will be few complaints, but still a healthy competition for the “shotgun” position. One step back is the loss of the flat rear floor, which makes it harder to squeeze in a center-rear passenger. If the front seats are very far back, their plastic bases also get in the way of the third passenger’s feet as they try to get in and out. (On the plus side, as noted earlier, Honda did greatly improve on the Civic’s trunk space.)
Regarding the controls and displays, Honda has frustrated on a number of its recent cars with touchscreen-only audio controls. Two control knobs – on/off and volume, and radio tuning – are a splendid way of handling these basic functions. Relegating them to a touchscreen is an annoying distraction. The Honda infotainment system is simpler to use than some other carmakers’, with large icons and generous space between them, but the sweet spot is to use fixed buttons and knobs for quick basic changes and the screen for more advanced adjustments. The Civic doesn’t do that. Steering wheel controls are cleverly designed but shouldn’t have to be relied upon.
The gauge cluster is also a little convoluted. The digital speedometer has large, clear readouts but the tach surrounding it is harder to keep track of. And the digital fuel gauge is also unnecessarily hard to read – there’s not enough contrast between the bars indicating empty and full, making you take an extra moment or two to register what you’re seeing.
Another factor that will likely drive some buyers to the Civic’s competition is its price. While the Honda’s price tag is reasonable, and while its class-leading fuel efficiency adds to its value proposition, the fact remains that a number of rather nice compact cars sell for less money. The Toyota Corolla – for many buyers, the top competitor to the Civic – doesn’t have the Honda’s polished driving dynamics or long list of features, but it’s generally pleasant to drive and generally costs several thousand dollars less than the Civic, depending on what options you want. The Hyundai Elantra is another strong value proposition – the Civic is probably better in each way (except the simplicity of its controls), but not necessarily so much better that it’s worth paying a lot more for.
And if you’re craving the most driving enjoyment from a compact economy car, you’ll still want to shop the Mazda3. If the Mazda’s higher price and tighter interior volume make you cross it off your list, the Civic’s performance isn’t half bad, but it would be a car you’re accepting rather than truly desiring.
Another note is that a growing number of compact cars are available as versatile hatchbacks: the Ford Focus, Hyundai Elantra, Kia Forte, Mazda3, Subaru Impreza, and Volkswagen Golf. A five-door Civic is expected to join their ranks at some point, but for now buyers seeking extra cargo space will have to look elsewhere or choose the subcompact Honda Fit.
Lastly, there are also a couple of interior quality points worth noting: the 2016 Civic’s glovebox drops straight down without dampening, and there’s still a sharp edge on the end of the turn signal stalk – as on last year’s model – around the button that activates or disables the side-view camera. If you’re picky about those items, poke around a few other compact cars to see if something else might suit your standards better; in general, though, the Civic is one of the better-finished small cars.
If you just love it
If something about the Civic really resonates with you personally – the way it looks, the design of its cupholder, a particular rare feature, or anything else – you should find it to be a supremely pleasant and well-rounded compact sedan. Do consider checking out a few competitors also, especially if price is important to you, but it’s a car that shouldn’t really provide any ownership regrets.
If you just hate it
If something about the Civic simply rubs you the wrong way but you do want a car much like this one, look first to the Hyundai Elantra and Toyota Corolla. Neither has the new Civic’s splendid balances of ride with handling, and acceleration with fuel economy. But both are fairly well-rounded and economical sedans, with the Corolla being a little smoother-riding and the Elantra being a little more agile and having better safety ratings.
Another option – while supplies last – is the 2015 Civic. It comes with less power, refinement, agility, technology, and style than the new 2016, but it’s still a pleasant enough economy car at (presumably) a discounted price. Even in its last year it was among the best compact cars. The 2015 Civic is a nice economy car, and while the 2016 model hits a higher standard, the old car won’t be half bad as a bargain option.
If you’re interested in something more fun to drive than those models, the Mazda3 is the first place to look but, as noted, has a tight interior and a relatively high price. The Dodge Dart has driving dynamics somewhat similar to the Civic’s – composed and somewhat fun to drive but not outright sporty – and an affordable price, but its gas mileage is poor for a small car. The roomy Subaru Impreza is also nice to drive but it’s a little expensive, it’s less fuel efficient than the Civic, and it makes few styling efforts.
The impressive 2016 Civic moves the class standard for fuel efficiency and safety technology, while pulling together a superbly well-rounded package that’s nice to drive, that’s polished and solid, and that’s decently roomy and practical, all at reasonable prices. This is at last a Civic that people can at last get more excited about, yet one that doesn’t alienate buyers who weren’t seeking an elevated heart rate.
Redesigns of some top competitors are on the way in the next calendar year: the 2016 Chevrolet Cruze and the 2017 Hyundai Elantra and Subaru Impreza. Any could turn out to be a strong challenger to the Civic’s new class dominance. But that remains to be seen. The fact, right now, is that this Civic is clearly the compact sedan to beat, the yardstick against which these upcoming models must be measured.
Review: 2014 Honda Civic EX sedan
Comparison review: 2014 compact sedans
Comparison review: 2015 midsize sedans
Comparison review: 2015 subcompact hatchbacks
Review: 2016 Honda HR-V EX-L
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More about the 2016 Honda Civic:
Gallery of exterior and interior photos
Vehicle base price (MSRP): $18,640
Version tested: EX
Version base price (MSRP): $21,040
Vehicle price as tested (MSRP): $21,875
Test vehicle provided by: Sport Honda; Silver Spring, Md.
Length: 182.3 inches
Width: 70.8 inches
Height: 55.7 inches
Wheelbase: 106.3 inches
Weight: 2,795 pounds
Trunk volume: 15.1 cubic feet
Turning circle: 35.7 feet
Engine (as tested): 2.0-liter I4
– Horsepower: 158
– Torque: 138 pound-feet
Transmission (as tested): CVT automatic
Drive wheels: Front-wheel-drive
EPA city mileage: 31 miles per gallon
EPA highway mileage: 41 miles per gallon
EPA combined mileage: 35 miles per gallon
Fuel capacity: 12.4 gallons
Assembly location: Indiana
For more information: Honda website