Value-packed and fun to drive, the 2016 Honda Civic EX-L (I give it four out of four stars) compact sedan is a welcome return to form by one of America’s favorite automakers.
After traditionally targeting Japanese competitors like the Toyota Corolla and Nissan Sentra when it developed new Civics, Honda raised its sights to European compacts like the Audi A3. As a result, the 2016 Civic’s fuel economy, room, looks, value and handling rank among the best in any mass-market compact on the road.
Some of the car’s controls and features don’t live up to that standard, but the Civic sets a high bar for upcoming compacts like the new Chevrolet Cruze and Hyundai Elantra that go on sale early in 2016.
Prices for the 2016 Civic start at $18,640 for a model with a 158-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine and six-speed manual transmission. Selecting a continuously variable automatic transmission raises the base price to $19,440. The top engine is a turbocharged 1.5-liter that produces 174 horsepower and 162 pound-feet of torque and is only available with the CVT. Prices start at $22,200. Honda expects to sell roughly equal numbers of the two engines.
I tested a nicely equipped Civic EX-L with the 1.5-liter. It had leather upholstery, navigation, a touch screen, heated front seats, automatic climate control, Bluetooth phone and audio compatibility, voice recognition, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and more. It stickered at $24,700. All prices exclude destination charges.
The only Civic model on sale now is a five-seat sedan. Two-door, hatchback and performance models will follow over the next year or so.
The Civic is perennially among America’s best-selling cars. It competes with just about every non-luxury compact, including the Chevrolet Cruze, Dodge Dart, Ford Focus, Hyundai Elantra, Kia Forte, Nissan Sentra, Toyota Corolla and Volkswagen Jetta.
Prices for the new Cruze and Elantra aren’t available, but the Civic I tested compared favorably with the others.
The 1.5-liter engine’s power is in the middle of the pack, but the CVT works smoothly to deliver acceptable acceleration around town and on the highway. The transmission is quiet and unobtrusive.
The 1.5-liter Civic scored 31 mpg in the city, 42 on the highway and 35 combined in EPA tests. The 2.0-liter Civic delivers essentially the same fuel economy, 31/41/35.
The key combined figure beats the Dart, Focus, Forte, Sentra, Corolla and Jetta. The EPA hasn’t rated the new Cruze and Elantra yet. Both are likely to be competitive with the Civic, but neither looks likely to top 35 mpg combined.
The last couple of Civics were bland to look at and drive. The 2016 changes that. The steering is fast and responsive, delivering good feedback. The car is steady and stable in enthusiastic driving. The body remains stable and composed in quick curves, a return to the exhilarating handling that distinguished the best previous Civics.
The interior is roomy, with a deep storage bin between the front seats and an accommodating rear seat. Soft materials cover the doors, arm rests and dash. A capacious bin between the front seats has room for cups, glasses and other gear. The big trunk has a big opening that makes it easy to load large objects
Honda’s first application of Apple CarPlay worked well in my car, providing easy access to contacts, music web searches and navigation. Unfortunately, Honda does not provide a good place to put your smartphones. The USB and 12-volt connections are inconveniently located in a small tray located below the dash. Another little tray in front of the shifter is nearly equally inconvenient. Both are poor places to put phones that most drivers will connect and disconnect just about every time they enter and exit the Civic.
The audio and climate controls are equally inconvenient. There are no dials for volume, tuning or fan speed. Flat panel volume and tuning controls have been a bad idea in every car that’s used them. The Civic doesn’t change that. The fan can only be controlled from the slow-responding touch screen.
The Civic has a distracting and ineffective video display rather than the radar-based blind spot and cross traffic alerts other automakers offer.
As annoying — and frankly baffling in a car otherwise so well thought out and executed — as those faults are, the 2016 Civic’s virtues outweigh them. It’s a leading compact and a finalist for car of the year.
Behind the Wheel
2016 Honda Civic EX-L with navigation
Front-wheel-drive five-passenger compact sedan
Price as tested: $24,700 (excluding destination charge)
Rating: Four out of four stars
Reasons to buy: Fuel economy, features, value, handling
Shortcomings: Audio and climate controls; distracting video display
Competitive EPA fuel economy ratings
(Automatic transmission models)
Honda Civic EX-L w/nav: 31 mpg city/42 highway/35 combined. Regular gasoline.
2016 Chevrolet Cruze: TBD
Dodge Dart Unlimited: 23/25/27. Regular gasoline.
Ford Focus Titanium sedan 2.0-liter: 26/38/30. Regular gasoline.
2017 Hyundai Elantra: Estimated 35 mpg combined city/highway. Regular gasoline.
Kia Forte EX: 24/35/28. Regular gasoline.
Nissan Sentra SL: 29/39/33. Regular gasoline.
Toyota Corolla S Special Edition: 29/27/32. Regular gasoline.
Volkswagen Jetta GLI SEL: 28/39/32. Regular gasoline.
Comparative base prices (excluding destination charges)
(Automatic transmission models)
Honda Civic EX-L w/nav: $24,700
2016 Chevrolet Cruze: TBD
Dodge Dart Unlimited: $24,395
Ford Focus Titanium sedan 2.0-liter: $23,225
2017 Hyundai Elantra: TBD
Kia Forte EX: $19,900
Nissan Sentra SL: $20,720
Toyota Corolla S Special Edition: $20,635
Volkswagen Jetta GLI SEL: $30,380
Specifications as tested
Engine: 1.5-liter 16-valve turbocharged 4-cylinder
Power: 174 horsepower @ 6,000 rpm; 162 lb-ft of torque @ 1,700-5,500 rpm
Transmission: Continuously variable automatic
Wheelbase: 106.3 inches
Length: 182.3 inches
Width: 70.8 inches
Height: 55.7 inches
Curb Weight: 2,917 lbs.
Where assembled: Greensburg, Ind.
Key features on vehicle tested
Standard equipment: Anti-lock brakes; stability control; curtain air bags; front seat side air bags; electronic brake force distribution; brake assist; front seat side air bags; backup camera; LED daytime running lights; LaneWatch right-side camera; touch screen; automatic halogen headlights; power mirrors, locks and windows; push button start; power sun roof; cruise control; tilt and telescoping steering column; center console with sliding arm rest, cupholders and storage compartment; capless fuel filler; heated front seats; dual zone automatic climate control; leather wrapped steering wheel and shift knob; leather upholstery; power driver seat; Bluetooth phone and audio compatible; Apple CarPlay; Google Android Auto; USB port and USB charger; 12v outlet; 180-watt audio; 7.0-inch touch screen; SiriusXM satellite radio; navigation