2016 Honda Civic Sedan EX Road Test Review

2016 Honda Civic Sedan EXGet ready to see a lot of these sleek, multi-angled new four-door models on Canadian roads soon. Some folks may need to do a double take in order to catch the chromed nameplate on this car's backside, however, and I'm guessing there'll be a lot of slack-jawed looks of puzzled amazement when people start to realize that this ultra-modern compact is actually a regular old Honda Civic.

Of course there's nothing remotely regular or old about it, other than the household nameplate and company behind it. The Civic has grown to legend status since it debuted in Canada in the early '70s, having been our country's bestselling car for the last 17 years straight. The numbers are staggering actually. Last year Honda Canada sold 66,057 Civics, which was its best year since 2008 when it delivered 72,463, the model's best Canadian sales ever. And today? Calendar year 2015 isn't even over but we already know the Civic will be Canada's top selling car once again, and if it has a particularly good December it might even eclipse that previous record for its best year yet. Wouldn't that be a good way for Honda Canada to ring in the New Year?

2016 Honda Civic Sedan EX
Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press

When you compare the take-rate of the Civic sedan and coupe to others in the compact segment its success is even more impressive. The Hyundai Elantra sedan and GT hatchback did well with 50,420 units last year, a number it will likely duplicate for 2015, whereas Toyota sold a respectable 48,881 Corolla sedans in 2014, although this number fell 17,176 sales short of the Civic. Granted, there's no Corolla coupe or hatchback, but even if you add Scion tC sales (which is a Corolla-based coupe) to the mix it would only increase the Corolla's impact by 1,179 units. Volkswagen arguably came in fourth by selling 31,042 Jetta sedans and 12,184 Golf hatchbacks, both compacts and therefore combining for 43,226 units (and I'm not even including Beetles in this number that compete in the same segment), whereas Mazda sold a total of 40,974 Mazda3 sedans and hatchbacks (although sales will likely only edge past 35,000 for 2015). The best selling domestic is Chevrolet with 34,421 Cruze sedans, while Ford managed to find 22,392 customers for its Focus sedan and hatchback. Nissan, a global powerhouse, could only coax 15,021 buyers into its Sentra four-door (they might want to rethink their approach to the Canadian compact market), while Kia acquired 11,867 clients for its Forte, Subaru 10,157 for its Impreza (2015 sales are up), Dodge a mere 7,623 Dart sedans (and this car's numbers drove off a cliff for the first 11 months of 2015 with just 2,917 sold), and Mitsubishi with its aging Lancer finding just 6,623 buyers.

2016 Honda Civic Sedan EX
Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press
2016 Honda Civic Sedan EX
Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press

Why does Honda sell 10 times more compacts than Mitsubishi? That's an easier question to answer than why it sells six times more than the Forte, three as many as the Focus, or twice as many as the Cruze, but if I have to give Honda kudos and place blame on others in the industry I'd say it comes down to delivering a product that's been so consistently good year after year and decade after decade that its maker didn't need to rename it multiple times in order to cause buyers to hopefully forget past mistakes. After all, as good as Chevrolet's current compact is, we don't have space enough here to document the number of mistakes that occurred between the '71 Vega (or '75 Chevette) and today's Cruze. Just so you don't think that I'm picking on Chevy, similar comparisons can be made of model lineage starting from the '71 Ford Pinto to today's Focus or the '77 Dodge Omni to today's Dart. These brands had more chances to deliver than they had a right to, but they didn't and Honda, plus the rest of the top players, did. In the end, it's difficult for old brands with questionable pasts to make comebacks and at least as problematic for new brands to get any traction at all. With respect to the Civic, it has long served its owners extremely well and by so doing built such a solid reputation that both old and new compact buyers have little reason to look elsewhere.

2016 Honda Civic Sedan EX
Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press

The Civic is produced globally, although the two plants that serve North America are in Greensburg, Indiana, which for a reminder is a state just south of Michigan, bordering Illinois to the West and Ohio to the East, although its near 12,000 population is closest to Kentucky near the south of the state, Greensburg infamous for its expulsion of African Americans after the turn of the previous century and "sundown town" status that followed; it's still 96.1-percent Caucasian and only 0.4-percent African American. Alliston, Ontario, which was technically made part of the Town of New Tecumseth in 1991, has no such sordid past, unless you have something against potatoes, don't like Degrassi's Ricardo Hoyos, aren't into Margaret Atwood's writings, or somehow have something against 1923 Nobel Prize recipient and co-inventor of insulin Sir Frederick Banting, but both facilities make excellent cars, the latter so good at their jobs that it was chosen as the first assembly plant to produce the all-new Civic worldwide, with production starting back on October 20th. Additionally, the Canadian team was responsible for developing all of the model's build processes and the tooling to be used in Civic plants globally. Honda's Alliston plant is a big export facility too, with most of the Civics built heading south of the 49th; just 1.89 million units sold in Canada of the 4.5 million Civics produced there since it opened in 1988. Still, that's a big number considering our comparatively small population. We do love our Civics.

2016 Honda Civic Sedan EX
Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press
2016 Honda Civic Sedan EX
Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press

I've got a feeling Canadians will fall head over heals for this new one too, even those who are at first overwhelmed by its radical design. Honda calls this 10th generation Civic "the most ambitious remake of the model in its 43-year history." I have to agree, especially when compared to the underwhelming 2012 model that was such a disappointment it required a thorough update just one year later. Honda responded quickly, however, proving its corporate intelligence and capability to reinvent on the fly, and after learning an important lesson is now teaching the rest of its compact competitors just how to execute a complete redesign.

2016 Honda Civic Sedan EX
Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press

On that note the word "redesign" somehow doesn't do it justice, being that every aspect of the 2016 Civic has been completely rethought. Back to the drawing board is a more appropriate expression, the new car completely different than its predecessor and ultimately unique in its category, its interior design and execution raising the bar within its class, its technology some of the segment's most advanced, and its powertrains not only ahead of most of its compact rivals, but all-new for Honda as well. Somebody high up in Honda must have asked the question, "What would we do if we were allowed to create an entirely new compact car?" and after the answers were compiled they were actually allowed to build it.

2016 Honda Civic Sedan EX
Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press

Sometimes I leave my thoughts about styling alone because you either like a car or you don't, so why should I try to influence you either way? Yet with the new Civic I feel compelled to comment, because it's such a complete departure from anything Honda has done in the past. First off, I like it. Where the Civic has long been a staid and conservative four-door sedan that appeals to those who appreciate quality, economy, dependability, comfort and performance, the 2016 model continues to maintain these core principles yet has embraced a new sense of style that, if it were from a brand with less credibility, might cause people to think it's become frivolously ambivalent to such previous sensibilities. The new Civic is all sharp creases, vertexes and angles combined in a thoroughly unorthodox shape. It starts with a bold, brash slab of chrome trim striking through two narrow grille slits before extending up and over each headlight assembly to the far corner of the front fenders. A sporty front spoiler is all sharp cuts and angles, not unlike that on a BMW M3, and incorporates the only glaring error in the design that was really more of a bean counter boondoggle than anything close to a mistake by the design team, but I'll get back to that in a moment.

2016 Honda Civic Sedan EX
Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press

The headlamps are wonderfully complex projectors wrapped around each side by narrow LEDs, while Honda trims out the top of each side window surround with chrome, the bottom done in matte black like the pillars. There were no side mirror turn signals in my mid-grade EX trimmed tester, but the mirrors' pillars and caps are nicely designed just the same. The rear glass is so large and gently raked that it makes the car look like a fastback, or dare I say four-door coupe, while its tail is so sharply cut off that it's as if the new Civic was designed for success in Touring Car racing. There's really nothing like the new Civic on the road today. It makes everything else look old. This may alienate some of Honda's more conservative buyers, but I've got a feeling most won't go anywhere else. Even those who prefer not attracting attention will reluctantly become stylish out of default, or maybe they won't even notice how cool they've become.

2016 Honda Civic Sedan EX
Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press

These are the types of buyers that probably won't notice the out-of-place fake fog lamp cutouts fused onto the lower fascia of my tester, that glaring error mentioned a moment ago. What a ridiculous looking omission on a design as forward thinking as this. How about simple fake brake ducts instead? Either include fog lamps or put something else there, but this lazy alternative makes the owner look as if he/she was too cheap to upgrade, not a very nice way to thank them for their purchase. It's similar to dummy buttons inside the cabin, although the whole neighbourhood doesn't see those as you drive up in your fancy new car. At least in the back, below those radical boomerang tail lamps, Honda has placed cool looking grillettes around its rear reflectors, but there's no excuse for what wasn't done up front.

2016 Honda Civic Sedan EX
Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press

I haven't been given the base LX model to test so I can't report on the number of dummy buttons inside, but at least Honda was careful not to fill this EX model's instrument panel with many. There's a tiny one on the right steering wheel spoke amid the adaptive cruise control buttons, two to the left of the steering column next to the stability control off button and optional Honda Sensing switchgear, plus two on the lower console beside the much more integrated new Econ button (yes the big green blob is gone) and across from the Brake Hold button and electromechanical parking brake toggle. And I must say they could just as well be trim bits. You probably won't notice them. What I did notice was the high quality of all the switchgear that was there, the various buttons, knobs and toggles so tightly fit with absolutely zero sloppy wiggle, the damping so nice, and the quality of plastics used so good that they make a variety of premium cars seem shoddy by comparison.

2016 Honda Civic Sedan EX
Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press

The best of the best is on the steering wheel, a touch-sensitive audio volume slider that curves to follow the left thumb's natural rotation. It worked perfectly throughout my test week, which can't be said for most that I've tried, while the surrounding multi-infotainment toggle and phone/voice activation buttons are second to none, as are the group of adaptive cruise control buttons on the right spoke.

2016 Honda Civic Sedan EX
Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press

I'm glad Honda finally dispensed with the two-tier primary gauge design, if only because it was time for a change. The new design won't leave anyone feeling like they're missing anything however, especially digital fans as there isn't a single analog element included in this upgraded version at least, while they're beautifully detailed with fine light blue and bright white illumination. The centre dial is more of a combination TFT multi-information display set within a large semicircular tachometer, speed displayed in a large digital readout. When something important needs to be displayed it flashes across the tachometer and speedometer, giving a warning or some other type of critical info. It's an active design that's totally functional and state-of-the-art. Two ancillary gauges are set to each side, the left for engine temperature and right a fuel gauge, both mirroring the shape of the touch sensitive steering wheel audio volume slider I mentioned a moment ago, but done out in the same bright blue as the tachometer.

2016 Honda Civic Sedan EX
Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press

This is all very nice, but the most artful bit of Civic interior design is the tablet style infotainment panel that appears to float about an inch above the instrument panel as it juts up out of the centre stack, beautiful textured metal-look trim underneath, while the dual-zone auto HVAC panel below is a lesson in minimalist simplicity and just plain good design. A very smart addition is a large rectangular button at centre that shows a fan image before reading "CLIMATE" that when pushed changes the infotainment screen to a simple set of HVAC graphics. Seat heater controls just below offer three-way temperature settings for both front passengers, the hottest position nice and toasty in the lumbar area for soothing relief from back pain.

2016 Honda Civic Sedan EX
Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press

Overall the dash design is very appealing, the layout conventional but the overall appearance new and contemporary. I mentioned the textured metal trim, which spans the entire instrument panel from just left of the primary instruments to the right side of those gauges where it continues below the infotainment display and over to the right side vent. A padded leather-look section under that strip of metal inlay circles around the vents before covering the entire dash top with soft-touch synthetic, the same treatment also flowing rearward overtop the door uppers. The remaining upper door panels are finished in a similar woven black cloth to the seat material, as are the armrests, those seats enhanced further with grey contrast stitching and a sporty grey and black stripe down the middle. There's plenty of satin silver metallic trim throughout the rest of the cabin that lends to the car's upscale ambiance, although more important to its overall livability are its myriad conveniences.

2016 Honda Civic Sedan EX
Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press

Of course these include the usual lighted vanity mirrors, map lights, glove box, lidded centre console/armrest, door pockets, etcetera, but something I found very handy was a floating centre console design with a rubberized compartment for dual smartphones along with USB and 12-volt chargers, plus another rubberized space ahead of the gear lever just above that comes complete with a hole that allows charging cords to connect through to the outlets below.

Those front seats just mentioned were extremely comfortable for my five-foot-eight medium-build frame with good adjustment including height-adjustable shoulder belts for better fit around the neck, while rear seating is much more accommodating than the previous Civic, with more legroom than anything I can remember in this class, plus adequate headroom. There was about three inches remaining above my head, which should mean that a person of about six-foot-two should be able to sit in back without butting head against the roof. I had plenty of room from side to side as well, while the seatback offered decent lumbar support and a centre armrest allowed a place to put my drink and rest my elbow.

2016 Honda Civic Sedan EX
Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press

The trunk has a large opening, but it's a rather flat vertical area so I expect some large awkwardly shaped items might be challenging to fit through. It's a big space, mind you, measuring 428 litres (15.1 cubic feet), which is 75 litres (2.6 cubic feet) larger than last year's trunk, while optional 60/40 split seatbacks add to its versatility.

2016 Honda Civic Sedan EX
Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press

My mid-grade EX model, priced at $22,590 plus freight and dealer fees, which is $6,600 more than the $15,990 base Civic DX, includes a standard continuously variable transmission (CVT), 16-inch alloys on the same 215/55R16 all-seasons as the base model, remote start, proximity-sensing passive access with pushbutton ignition, walk-away door locks, speed-sensing variable intermittent wipers, illuminated vanity mirrors, passenger-side seatback pocket, dual-zone auto HVAC, a powered moonroof, and my favourite Honda feature, the LaneWatch blind spot video system that uses a rearward facing camera on the passenger-side mirror to project a live feed of the blind spot when activating the right turn signal.

2016 Honda Civic Sedan EX
Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press

My tester included some additional convenience and active safety upgrades through its $1,000 Honda Sensing package that added adaptive cruise control with low-speed follow, lane departure warning, lane keeping assist, road departure mitigation, forward collision warning, and collision mitigation braking, all of which are the types of features being used to pilot self-driving cars. For now you can't get the Civic to drive itself, but some of its mitigation features could certainly prevent an accident and potentially save lives.

Behind the scenes with all Civics are two new standard systems that improve the driving experience. Agile Handling Assist (AHA) is a type of torque vectoring system that adds responsiveness and road holding during daily use driving via the stability assist system (that is normally just used for anti-skid purposes) by applying light unnoticeable braking force to the inside wheels when the steering wheel is rotated and then to the outside wheels when steering is returned. Additionally, standard Straight Driving Assist reduces steering effort when on a sloped or crowned road surface.

2016 Honda Civic Sedan EX
Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press

I honestly didn't notice these features were going about their business while I was on the road, having stated in my notes that there is "nothing unusual about this Civic over others that have preceded it." It once again balances a nice comfortable ride with better than average capability through the corners thanks to a fully independent suspension that includes a sophisticated multi-link rear setup plus front and rear stabilizer bars, while the steering is electric-assisted rack-and-pinion with reasonably direct response and fairly good feedback. Push the car hard through tight curves and some expected body lean ensues, but the car holds to its line and exudes a sense of overall confidence. Its ride quality actually feels better than the last Civic I tested, while overall it's quieter and more refined.

2016 Honda Civic Sedan EX
Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press

A competent chassis is more critical in this new Civic than it has ever been, because its new engine lineup delivers a lot more performance than any previous iteration. My tester featured the base 16-valve, DOHC, i-VTEC-enhanced 2.0-litre four-cylinder capable of 158 horsepower at 6,500 rpm and 138 lb-ft of torque at 4,200, although as noted in EX trim the CVT replaces the six-speed manual. Take off from standstill is excellent with Sport mode engaged, which improves the transmission's willingness to keep the engine at higher revs. Normal mode causes the transmission to drop into a higher gear more quickly, hardly letting it rev at all and causing near silent operation, but Sport mode lets all the best sounds out and happily revs this wonderful new engine the way it designed to.

2016 Honda Civic Sedan EX
Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press

Of course, the new CVT has a primary mission of minimizing fuel usage and therefore with Eco Assist and the Econ mode button engaged it gets a claimed fuel economy rating of 7.8 L/100km city, 5.8 highway and 6.9 combined, which doesn't quite meet previous Civic Hybrid levels, but it's better than last year's 1.8-litre with the CVT. On that note there's no hybrid for 2016 and none planned, a unique Prius-fighting plug-in hybrid said to be in the works. Also, I should mention that the six-speed manual, which is the only transmission available on the base DX and standard on the second-rung LX, is rated at 8.8 L/100km city, 5.9 highway and 7.5 combined.

2016 Honda Civic Sedan EX
Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press

That base car, which as mentioned can only be had with the manual gearbox, isn't even close to loaded but it comes fairly well kitted out with projector halogen headlights, LED daytime running lights, LED taillights, body-coloured door handles, remote entry, powered windows, tilt and telescopic steering, one-touch turn signals, a six-way adjustable driver's seat and a four-way front passenger's seat, a five-inch colour LCD display with a multi-angle reverse camera, Siri Eyes Free, a Maintenance Minder, four-speaker 160-watt AM/FM/MP3/WMA audio with HandsFreeLink Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, speed-sensitive volume, and a single USB port, plus the standard list continues with a capless fuel filler, immobilizer and security systems, as well as a full suite of active and passive safety features including four-wheel discs with ABS, electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist, hill start assist, vehicle stability assist with traction control, and all the usual airbags.

2016 Honda Civic Sedan EX
Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press

LX trim makes the CVT available and also adds auto-on/off headlights, body-colour mirror caps, an acoustic windshield, the nice big seven-inch colour TFT multi-information display ahead of the driver that I described in detail, cruise control, heatable front seats, those capacitive touch controls added to the base model's illuminated steering wheel switchgear, filtered auto HVAC, a larger infotainment display with HondaLink, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (the latter works very well, but I no longer own an iPhone to test the former), SMS text message and email functionality, Wi-Fi tethering, dynamic guidelines for the multi-angle rearview camera, four more speakers for the upgraded 180-watt audio system, an additional USB port, HondaLink Assist automatic emergency response, a rear armrest with cupholders, and the 60/40 split rear seatback mentioned earlier. LX trim starts at $18,890 or $20,190 with the CVT, while Honda Sensing can be added for $1,000.

2016 Honda Civic Sedan EX
Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press

You can fill those ugly fog lamp voids out with a set of actual fog lamps via the accessories catalog for a bit more than $700 (yowch!) or if you really don't want to look like a cheapskate I recommend you upgrade to $24,990 EX-T trim that also gives you a smaller displacement turbocharged 1.5-litre four-cylinder with a bigger 174 horsepower punch, not to mention 162 lb-ft of torque and even better 7.6 L/100kmk city, 5.5 highway and 6.7 combined fuel economy. It also provides all of the Honda Sensing equipment standard, plus 17-inch alloys, a rear spoiler, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel, or you can go whole hog with $26,990 top-line Touring trim that gets full low and high beam LED headlights, LED front turn signals, LED turn signals on the side mirrors, rain-sensing wipers, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, wireless charging, leather upholstery, an eight-way powered driver's seat and four-way powered front passenger's seat, heatable rear outboard seats, navigation, voice recognition, and a 450-watt 10-speaker audio upgrade with the addition of satellite and HD radio plus a subwoofer.

2016 Honda Civic Sedan EX
Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press

I must admit I'm looking forward to testing that very car, but overall I was thoroughly impressed by the Civic EX with Honda Sensing features. This car is a game changer in every respect of the term, no matter the model. It's all about risk. Where some might find the upcoming redesigned Hyundai Elantra a more comfortable design from front to back, and the current Corolla the best of its type to have ever been penned, Honda has gone and broken all the rules with this new Civic. I'll guess you'll either love it or hate it, there's probably no middle ground. Where its competitors are playing it safe, the Nissan Sentra so predictable that it is boredom on wheels and its sluggish sales prove our collective distaste, the Civic breaks totally new ground despite being the clear segment leader. That's why I love it, and that's why Honda gets my respect. It will be interesting to see how the market reacts.