CHELSEA, MI – The Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla have been duking it out for leadership in America’s compact-car segment for generations, and the competition has grown more intense in recent years after General Motors, Ford and Stellantis gave up on the sector.
For now, the Corolla reigns, with 72,000 deliveries in the first quarter this year. The Toyota compact was completely redesigned two years ago.
Now it’s time for the Civic to shine, re-engineered from bumper to bumper as a ’22 model to attract those shoppers who remain drawn to sleek, upscale styling in a sedan or hatchback body while most of their neighbors opt for utility vehicles.
At the end of its lifecycle, the outgoing Civic remains formidable, handily outselling (with 56,000 first-quarter deliveries) the Nissan Sentra, Mazda3, Subaru Impreza, Kia Forte, Hyundai Elantra and Volkswagen Jetta, even though some of those vehicles were recently redesigned.
Based on our test drive here, the new 11th-generation Civic – arriving at showrooms this week – should extend its lead over these rivals and has a good shot at passing Corolla for the No.1 spot.
The new Civic manages to carry over the best parts of the previous-generation model while sporting sharper styling, a comfortable and upscale interior and competitive powertrains. All of this comes at an attractive price point that barely inflated, starting at $21,700 for the LX trim.
The biggest changes are aesthetic. The new Civic is less angular and more upright and horizontal. With its fastback-sedan body style, the car looks more substantial and mature – perhaps borrowing certain design cues from the larger Accord sedan. It bares a strong resemblance to the Audi A4.
The ’22 Civic is 1.3 ins. longer overall, with a similar extension in wheelbase and a slightly wider rear track. Height and width are the same, which explains why the interior dimensions for passengers are nearly identical, except for additional hip room front and rear.
The car gained 114 lbs. (with Touring trim), and yet the extra weight is not noticeable from behind the wheel with either engine.
The lowest-priced trims, LX and Sport, use the same 158-hp 2.0L naturally aspirated 4-cyl. that makes 138 lb.-ft. (187 Nm) of torque.
The uplevel EX and Touring trims (interior pictured above) get the 1.5L turbo 4-cyl. that’s now rated at 180 hp and 177 lb.-ft. (240 Nm) of torque (up from 174 hp and 162 lb.-ft. [220 Nm] in previous model).
Rated fuel economy improves with every trim level, and the EX is the most efficient of the bunch, expected to achieve 33/42 mpg (7.1-5.6 L/100 km) in city/highway driving.
During our test drives, topping 37 mpg with the 1.5L turbo-4 was not difficult at all.
Contributing to better fuel efficiency are improved turbo plumbing, upgrades to the CVT and the addition of Variable Timing and lift Electronic Control (VTEC) for better breathing of the exhaust valves in the 1.5L turbo-4.
Honda continues to impress with its smooth-functioning CVTs mated to both engines, and paddle shifters to emulate manual shift points are included with Touring and Sport models.
The Civic remains fun to drive with a suspension setup that is essentially unchanged: MacPherson struts up front and a multilink system at the rear.
Inside, the new Civic looks very clean from the driver’s seat. The central display screen (integrating a physical volume button) moves upward, closer to the road surface but not too high to block the driver’s forward view.
The previous interior wasn’t bad, but the new model is straightforward and almost Germanic, thanks to a brilliant design feature that uses a horizontal strip of honeycomb trim through which air flows into the cabin. Vents that usually take up so much precious real estate on an instrument panel are gone.
The shifter moves closer to the driver and hard buttons for HVAC controls are within easy reach for driver and passenger. Steering-wheel controls are intuitive and easy to use for driver-assistance technologies (on the right) and the full digital, brightly colored instrument cluster (on the left) is a first for the Civic.
The standard touchscreen above the instrument panel measures 7 ins. (18 cm) and integrates Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, while a 9-in. (23-cm) high-definition screen is available with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
The Touring model (pictured above) also gets Qi-compatible wireless smartphone charging and a 12-speaker Bose premium sound system – another first for Civic. Touring models feature real leather seating, while other trims use a touted durable cloth.
Civic shopping couldn’t be easier. There used to be five trim levels, including EX and EX-L. But those two have been combined, so now it’s just LX, Sport, EX and Touring, the top grade going for $29,295 with a $995 destination charge.
Sport (interior pictured above) tends to be the most popular trim level, making up about 40% of the mix, while LX represents about 30%.
For now, Honda is launching only the sedan, but a hatchback is coming and will be revealed June 23, with a manual transmission. In model-year ’21, sedans have dominated the mix with about 70% of sales.
Also to come are sporty Si and Type-R variants that come standard with manual transmissions.
Clearly, Honda has a Civic for every purse and purpose, and it is doing its best to hold – and even grow – its share of the compact car segment.