by: Mike Ginsca
Hatchbacks are making a comeback. After more than a decade long hiatus, Honda has reintroduced the Civic in hatchback form. Set to take on the Chevrolet Cruze Hatchback, Mazda3 Sport, Ford Focus Hatchback, Hyundai Elantra GT and so on, the Civic has quite a bit going for it.
Performance – Available with only a turbocharged 1.5L engine, the Honda Civic Hatchback doesn’t need anything more. The engine develops 174 hp and 162 lb-ft of torque when equipped with the CVT automatic as tested (167 lb-ft for the manual transmission). It is a very responsive engine and it doesn’t feel as though it is turbocharged. There’s no turbo lag to speak of and it has plenty of grunt down low in the rev range. Accelerating from a stop light, the rpm needle hardly ever goes past 2000 rpm unless you deliberately enjoy wasting fuel. And you would have a lot of fuel to waste because on a full tank, the Civic Hatchback can drive for up to 520-ish kilometers. Honda claims a city fuel economy figure of 7.7 L/100km and 6.0 L/100km on a highway with the CVT automatic but in my 2 week test of the vehicle, I only managed 8.7 L/100km with 80% city driving. Maybe I am a “jackrabbit” when it comes to accelerating from a stop but I think the poor fuel economy figures have to do more with the fact that I had to spend 3-5 minutes every morning with the engine running and scraping the ice and snow off the windows. Those claimed fuel economy figures get worse if you go for the higher trimmed Civic Hatchback and you would also need to buy premium fuel whereas the LX, as tested, requires regular fuel. The trade-off is a very slight increase in horsepower and torque figures.
Driving the Honda Civic is more enjoyable than some of the competition. The engine provides good and even power throughout the rpm range while the suspension keeps the body roll to a minimum. The steering feel is pretty numb but it is precise and most owners will appreciate how easy it is to turn at parking lot speeds. However, if you’re going to buy the Hatchback version of the Civic and want to have a more enjoyable driving experience, opt for the manual transmission. The CVT automatic takes away from some of the fun. It does not have any “virtual gears” unless you go for the more expensive Sport trim level. This CVT behaves exactly like a traditional CVT automatic in the sense that it holds the engine rpms at a constant point while accelerating. Most buyers will probably still choose the CVT automatic and it’ll be enough for their needs but the manual would definitely be more fun. Or if you’re looking for an outright fun to drive mainstream hatch, Mazda3 Sport is still the king.
Comfort – Like many other manufacturers, Honda has positioned the Civic Hatchback as more of a premium vehicle compared to the sedan version. This base LX trimmed Civic is equipped with standard climate control, backup camera, automatic headlights, Apple CarPlay & AndroidAuto, steering wheel mounted controls, and heated seats. The base price for all of these goodies is $21,390 CAD which puts the Civic Hatchback in the middle of the competition. If you want more features, the Honda can be equipped with just about anything that you can think of. Navigation, sunroof, push button start, lane departure warning with lane keep assist, LED headlights, 18” wheels, forward collision alert with braking, leather upholstery, and so on. But expect to pay more than $10,000 CAD for those features and Honda does not have 0% financing options.
Sticking with the base model though, it is still a nice cabin to be in. There are some soft touch materials on the dash and center console but strangely not on the door arm rest. The black roofliner though does make the interior a slightly darker place to be in and some occupants may find it a bit claustrophobic. The seats are comfortable for both the front and rear occupants and the front heated seats warm up very quickly. Unfortunately the engine does not warm up so quickly and it could be a good 5 minutes before you start to feel the warmth from the engine blowing through the air vents when the climate control system is in full auto mode. It could also be another 10-15 minutes of driving before the coolant temperature gauge reaches its optimal point. However you would have a fun time watching it on the neo-retro water temperature and fuel level gauges. They’re reminiscent of 1980’s digital gauges when they were becoming a big trend among auto manufacturers. In between them is a TFT display that displays the tachometer, speedometer, vehicle and infotainment information.
The Honda infotainment system is controlled by a 7” touchscreen that is fairly responsive. Once in a blue moon it requires you to tap a specific function again before it gets selected but that happens very rarely. It is not the simplest system to get used to but after a few minutes of playing around, you can get the hang of it and it becomes second nature for the most commonly used features such as radio settings. However a problem is still the lack of a volume knob rather than touch sensitive buttons. For the driver it may not be a big deal because there are physical buttons on the steering wheel for the audio but for passengers on a bumpy road it could be a bit tricky to accurately press the volume up or down buttons.
When the car is moving, the cabin is quiet and the wind & road noise levels are kept to a minimum. However the engine noise is very prominent when accelerating due to the nature of the CVT automatic. For the Hatchback version, Honda had slightly retuned the suspension to give it a more “European-like” ride and responsiveness. The result is that it does feel a bit on the firm side but it’s not uncomfortable.
Odds and Ends – The Honda Civic Hatchback does not have a traditional hatchback design. It takes more inspiration from its bigger brother, the Accord Crosstour. The hatch has a sloping angle rather than a more vertical design like the Chevrolet Cruze Hatchback. Surprisingly this design does not take away from rearward visibility as it is still good. The overall exterior design has an upscale look especially if you opt for a higher trim level with the LED headlights. You can almost take off the Honda badge and replace it with an Acura badge and no one would be the wiser.
While the Civic Hatchback is an all round good vehicle, it does have two or three little niggles that make me scratch my head as to what the engineers were thinking when installing them on the car. Firstly, the projector halogen headlights are too dim. Secondly, the intermittent setting on the wipers only has one setting on it. You cannot adjust how often they should wipe. Lastly, I don’t understand the point of the brake hold feature. When enabled, it holds the vehicle stationary allowing you to take your foot off the brake pedal. However, the car already has an automatic hill assist to prevent it from rolling backwards while setting off on a hill. In my opinion, the brake hold feature is just an accident waiting to happen.
Overall the new Civic Hatchback is a well equipped car for the price. It’s fun to drive (if you avoid the CVT automatic), it’s spacious, it has an upscale look and feel, and best of all it’s Honda so you know that it’ll last a long time.
Thank you to Honda Canada for providing the vehicle. www.Honda.ca