2016 Honda Civic test drive

Damned if you do, damned if you don't

2016 Honda Civic from the front
2016 Honda Civic from the front. Photo © Honda

First, the Bottom Line

The Honda Civic is one of the best and most enduring compact sedans ever sold, and developing a new one must be a task that is fraught with peril. Honda has come up with an all-new Civic for 2016—so can this new version uphold the Civic's reputation? Read on.


  • Sexy new shape
  • Feels agile and light on its feet
  • Good use of space, especially in the trunk
  • Most high-end safety equipment available on all models


  • Overly-complicated touch-screen stereo
  • Brilliant LaneWatch feature can't be had in base model
  • Larger photos: Front – rear – interior – all photos

Larger photos: Front - rear - interior - full photo tour

Expert review: 2016 Honda Civic

Imagine being the project manager for the new Honda Civic. Now there's a job I would never want. The Honda Civic is one of the hottest players in what is now one of the hottest segments in the new car market, and if you screw it up your career is toast, baby.

And yet Honda has learned all too well that they can't just keep giving us the same-old same-old. They got a royal tongue lashing in the press when they redesigned the 2012 Civic, and felt they had to rush a revised version to market for 2013. Personally, I thought the 2012 version was just fine, and judging from the sales numbers, so did the buying public. Poor Honda: Damned if they do, damned if they don't.

And when that is the situation in which you find yourself, I suppose the best thing is to do is to do whatever the hell you want.

And so we have a radical new Civic, one that truly advances the state of the art of the compact sedan—for the better in most ways, for the worse in a couple.

A slick new look

I am in love with the new Civic's styling, particularly the fastback roofline (link goes to photo), which almost makes the car look like a hatchback. (Which reminds me: An actual hatchback version of the Civic is on the way.) The grille is sporty and aggressive, and the taillights are beautifully sculpted. No question, this is the best-looking Civic sedan to come along in ages.

One of the problems with a swoopy rooflines is that it limits back-seat headroom. Honda nipped that one in the bud by lowering the Civic's floor, ensuring that there's plenty of noggin-space in the Civic's back seat. They had to sacrifice the old Civic's flat floor; there's now a hump running down the middle to make room for the exhaust pipe and other mechanical bits. As a consolation prize, they've provided the new Civic with a massive 15.1 cubic foot trunk, which is (literally) a big improvement over the 12.5 cubic feet of cargo space in the old Civic.

Honda has also gone to a more conventional dashboard layout. I loved the old Civic's split-level dash, and I thought I'd miss it like crazy—but I don't. The new Civic's dashboard is clean and contemporary, a nifty mix of analog and digital.  The new dashboard's low profile improves visibility through the windshield and enhances the Civic's small-car feel. As you'd expect from a Honda, the interior is very practical, with a roomy center console and lots of storage space.

Gimme Those Old Time Driving Dynamics

That brings me to another thing I love: The way the new Civic drives. One of the reason people fell in love with Hondas in the 1980s was their small, sporty feel, something that had started to fade away by the turn of the millennium. The new Civic has that old-time agile feel, and yet it's also more refined—noise isolation has never been a Honda strong point, but the new car is pretty quiet, at least by Honda's somewhat lackadaisical standards.

There are big changes under the hood as well. Honda is never quick to adopt new technology; rather, they like to perfect the proven (and perfect it they invariably do)--usually with better results, particularly in the area of real-world fuel economy.

In the Civic, we see two approaches. LX and EX models show Honda's more conservative side with a 2.0 liter engine that produces 158 horsepower and 138 lb-ft of torque. (That's 15 more HP and 9 more lb-ft than the 1.8 in the outgoung Civic.) This engine has noticeably more mid-range pull (think passing and merging) than the old 1.8), but in typical Honda fashion, this more powerful engine gets better fuel economy: 31 MPG in the city and 41 MPG on the highway according to the EPA, up from 30/39 in the old Civic.

By the way, they entry-level LX is the only Civic you can get with a manual transmission, and if you like stick-shifts, I highly recommend it. Honda does some of the best sticks in the biz, and the Civic's light clutch and direct-feeling shifter are just lovely, though fuel economy is slightly lower at 27 city/40 highway. (There are other reasons to buy the base-level LX, and I'll get to those in a sec.)

Embracing the new

For the EX-T and new top-of-the-line Touring model, Honda has embraced the new trend of small turbocharged engines, which (theoretically) deliver power on demand with better fuel economy when the driver isn't demanding power. (In truth, real-world fuel economy is all over the place.)

Honda's new engine is a 1.5 liter four-cylinder, and thanks to the turbocharger it delivers a strong 174 horsepower and 162 lb-ft of torque. These small turbo engines often suffer from turbo lag (a lack of off-the-line power until the engine builds up a little speed). The Civic uses a continuously-variable automatic transmission, or CVT, which allows the engine to accelerate quickly, and minimizes turbo lag. What's cool about Honda's little turbo engine is that it doesn't feel like there's anything special going on under the hood—it feels like a Civic with a nice big engine.

EPA fuel economy estimates are 31 MPG city, 42 MPG highway, and 35 MPG combined, but as I said earlier, real-world results with a small turbo engine can vary significantly. We averaged just 32.1 MPG during our week-long test drive—not a terrible, but well short of the 35 MPG combined estimate.

The stereo that's got to go

My one complaint about the Civic—and if you've read my other Honda reviews, you know it's not a new one—is the stereo and navigation system. For one thing, it lacks a simple power button and volume knob (though Honda has provided a strip on the steering wheel in place of regular buttons; sliding your finger down it turns the volume down). There is no easy way to switch between functions such as navigation and phone—everything requires going through the menu system, which takes the driver's eyes off the road.

In my opinion, Honda's infotainment system takes too much attention away from the road—and that's potentially dangerous. During my week with the Civic, I waited tried to wait until I was stopped at a traffic light to use the system. But sometimes I didn't have a choice—for example, if a phone call comes in, the screen switches to phone mode. If I'm using the navigation system, I have no choice but to fiddle with the system to get the map display back.

The ironic thing is that Honda has actually improved the navigation system itself. Their old one was hopelessly outdated, and they have switched to Garmin's software, which is among the best in the biz.

It is possible to avoid this overcomplicated system by buying the least-expensive model, the Civic LX, which gets a lovely stereo with good ol' fashioned buttons. Priced at $19,475, the LX comes with a  lot more equipment than you'd expect in a base-model car: Automatic climate control, automatic headlights, power windows, locks and mirrors, cruise control, and Bluetooth phone and stereo connectivity.

Safety for everyone

Best yet, the LX is available with Honda's new suite of advanced safety features, which includes a lane- and road-departure warning system (which will shake the steering wheel if you start to drift out of your lane, and apply slight steering and brakes if you don't correct) as well as a forward collision warning system with automatic braking. This package , called Honda Sensing, is only available on LXs with an automatic transmission, but it adds just $1,000 to the price. Good on Honda for making these important safety features available on all Civics and not just high-end models.

The $21,875 EX model adds a sunroof, alloy wheels, keyless entry and ignition, and another one of my favorite safety features, LaneWatch. This Honda-exclusive system mounts a camera in the right-side mirror. Hit the right turn signal and the center display screen shows a wide-angle view of what's to your side. It provides more information than the side-view mirror and takes less time to see than looking over your shoulder.

Options for the EX include the 1.5 liter turbocharged engine (tehnically the EX-T model), leather upholstery (EX-L), and the Honda Sensing safety package. Topping out the lineup is the new $27,335 Touring model, which gets all of the above plus LED headlights and jazzier trim. It's nice to see Honda offering so many optional features on a small, fuel-efficient car. Go, Honda!

A move in the right direction

So, overall, I am inclined to like the new Civic. It has all the fine attributes we've come to expect from a Civic—bulletproof reliability and (with the non-turbo engine, at least) good fuel economy, plus more space and a better driving experience.
The infotainment system is a big let-down; it's just too complicated. Honda needs to add a knob for volume and power and quick-access buttons to switch between major functions (stereo, phone, nav). Honda has been taking a drubbing for this system in the press, and I hope we'll see changes before too long.

Other than that, though, there isn't a lot I'd change about the new Civic. But I do think we'll see a lot of Honda's competitors changing their cars to be more like the Civic. One thing is for sure: Whoever led the team that developed the new Civic, his or her job is secure. – Aaron Gold

Details and specs:

  • Honda's ubiquitous compact sedan is all new for 2016
  • Price range: $19,475 - $27,335
  • Price as tested: $27,335
  • Powertrain: 2.0 liter four-cylinder/158 hp or 1.5 liter turbocharged four-cylinder/174 hp, 6-speed manual or continuously-variable automatic, front-wheel-drive
  • EPA fuel economy estimates: 27 MPG city/40 MPG highway (2.0 manual), 31/41 (2.0 automatic), 31/42 (1.5T automatic)
  • Observed fuel economy: 32.1 MPG (1.5T automatic)
  • Where built: US and Canada
  • Best rivals: Toyota Corolla, Mazda3, Hyundai Elantra

Disclosure: This test drive were conducted at a manufacturer-sponsored press event with travel, accommodations, meals, vehicles and fuel provided by Honda. Honda supplied a loaner vehicle for further evaluation. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.