Honda's Civic is a mainstay in the small car market. Why? It has been around for years, remains affordable, and comes in three body styles, sedan, coupe and hatchback.
All of those traits make it unusual. And for the past few years Honda designers have been trying to create a bit more visual excitement with Civics that feature sharp creases and angles that frankly, always make me think of a kid’s Transformer toy. Some love it, others, not so much. I find the nose appealing, the profile acceptable, and the rear end rather garish.
But that all comes down to individual taste, while its many benefits do not. They are tasteful to most any buyer, a main reason why Civic remains so popular.
My test car was the top-level Civic 1.5T Touring sedan in a bright Rally Red that was indeed redder than the Kia Soul tested last week that skewed a tad orange. The Touring model tops out Civic pricing at $28,220 including delivery charges. But it’s loaded with nearly everything a buyer could want. This one had no options.
First, the Touring upgrades from the base 2.0-liter I4 offered in the LX entry-level model. That engine creates a reasonable 158 horsepower for a car that tips the scales at slightly less than 3,000 pounds. But the Touring’s turbocharged 1.5-liter I4 delivers 174 horses and 162 lb.-ft. of torque, and it does it smoothly via a fine CVT (continuously variable transmission).
While not as racy as last week’s Soul GT-Line, the Civic is peppy and fun to drive. You’ll never feel you’re dogging it in a Touring model, especially because it handles well too. There is just slight play in the wheel, but solid road feel and feedback. Whipping around winding country roads, or even some portions of the freeway, is a blast in the Civic.
However, the Honda isn’t as quiet as last week’s Soul — partly because there’s noticeable transmission groan during heavy acceleration. If you take it easy accelerating, the CVT is fine.
Ride? Well, even with the car’s reasonable 106.3-inch wheelbase its ride is more small-car than midsize car. It’s stiff and sometimes can deliver a fair jolt motoring over crumbling roads.
Not helping that are the car’s hard seats. Several riders took notice, a few comparing them to VW seats, although even that German make has gotten better of late.
This red rocket featured a black interior with leather-trimmed cloth seats. And to their credit, the front seats were heated (three levels), a near must in Wisconsin. The seat bottoms are relatively tight in the hips, but with better shaping and support in the seat back. The driver’s seat also is powered, but had no adjustable lumbar support.
The Civic sedan also has plenty of head and legroom front and rear. Several passengers rode in the back seat and all praised the leg and knee room. Cargo room is generous too at 14.7 cubic feet, and yes, the rear seat splits and folds down.
Civic’s dash layout is good with a 7-inch infotainment screen that is simple to adjust while driving. It now includes knobs for the radio and the climate control system, a change for the better in 2019 models.
The manual tilt/telescope steering wheel has the usual assortment of radio, phone, trip computer and cruise controls on its hub and the dash itself is attractive. A fake black carbon fiber look trim spiffs up the dash and doors, while other dash, door and instrument trim is a matte silver.
Overhead is a standard sunroof, while to the sides the A-pillars seem large when combined with the rearview mirrors. That can somewhat obscure side views at intersections.
On the positive side though Honda includes its LaneWatch system on all Civics. It uses a camera to show you on the infotainment screen what’s on the curb-side of the car once you flip down the right turn signal. However, there’s no blind-spot warning system, so use your mirrors when signaling to move to a left lane.
Yet that’s the only safety system faux pas — Honda Sensing is standard on all Civics. That includes a lot of safety sensors and equipment, such as dynamic cruise control, a forward collision warning, lane-keeping assist, road departure mitigation, and low-speed collision avoidance system with emergency braking. All of these are aimed at avoiding fender benders, or crossing a center line or slipping off a road’s edge, if perchance you become inattentive (drowsy or texting).
Bravo to Honda for including all these features even on the low-cost LX model that lists at $20,350.
Congrats too for offering two gas engine choices that both deliver excellent fuel economy. The base 2.0-liter is best on mpg, but the tested 1.5 turbo is rated at 30 miles per gallon city and 38 mpg highway. I managed 34.2 mpg in a fairly even mix, and with up to four folks aboard.
Maybe because all Civics get such good mileage there isn’t yet a hybrid model. A few competitors have those though. And if you prefer a car with AWD, better consider a Subaru Impreza since a Civic doesn’t offer AWD.
It does offer a 6-speed manual transmission on its lower Civic trim levels with the 2.0-liter I4. Once you move up to the 1.5 turbo as on the test car, just the CVT is available.
Lest you think the Touring is as good as it gets for sportiness, there are two Civics aimed at power-hungry and tuner handling aficionados. The Si bumps its 1.5 turbo power up to 205 horses, while the Type-R is the power king. Its turbo unit boasts a crazy 306 horsepower. Plus, the R features a monster rear spoiler, hood scoop and three, that’s right, three tailpipes. Ah, but the Type-R will run you $35,000.
For budget conscious small car buyers the LX is the low-cost leader. Moving up to the Sport or EX models will add more features you might like while still keeping pricing in that low- to mid-$20,000 range. Both also will give you the added power of the 1.5-liter turbo.
Even the tested Touring, at $28,220, is well below the $35,000 average price of a new car these days. That’s a bargain.
But if sporty and low-cost are both part of your buying desires, also consider the Soul GT-Line, Mazda3 and VW Jetta. They’re speedy and handle well too.
Hits: Fun handling and peppy acceleration, along with good interior space and layout. Sunroof, heated seats, LaneWatch, substantial list of safety equipment standard, plus excellent gas mileage.
Misses: No blind-spot warning, just LaneWatch on right side. Big A-pillar/mirror combo, small car ride, hard seats with no driver lumbar adjustment, transmission groans under heavy acceleration.
Made In: Greensburg, Ind.
Engine: 1.5-liter, turbo, I4, 174 horsepower
Transmission: CVT, automatic
Weight: 2,963 lbs.
Length: 182.7 in.
Wheelbase: 106.3 in.
Cargo: 14.7 cu.ft.
MPG: 30/38, 34.2 (tested)
Base Price: $28,220 (includes delivery)
Major Options: None
Test Vehicle: $28,220
Sources: Honda, Kelley Blue Book
Editor's note: Mark Savage's auto review column, Savage On Wheels, looks at a new vehicle every week and tells consumers what’s good, what’s not so good, and how the vehicle fits into the marketplace.