First Drive

FIRST DRIVE: 2016 Honda Civic proudly made in Canada

The all-new Honda Civic raises the bar in design, performance, efficiency

2016 Honda Civic

BLUE MOUNTAIN, ON. – When Honda set out to create the 10th generation of its iconic Civic, it set a goal of developing a car that would be a success globally, not just a hit in North America. The result is a compact-segment vehicle that’s unlike any Civic we’ve ever seen.

Virtually everything about the 2016 Civic is new – the chassis, the body, even the engines, including the first turbochargrd Honda to be offered on this continent.

After spending a couple of hundred kilometres behind the wheel during a national media preview in the Collingwood area, there’s no question in my mind that this is not the Civic my daughter drove – and it’s surely not like any of the Civics I’ve owned.

As Honda Canada’s senior vice-president of operations says, “Everyone has a Honda Civic story . . . they’ve either owned one themselves, or they know someone who has, either family or friend.” Well, those stories will have a whole new spin when this Civic sedan arrives in showrooms in November.

Coup for Canadian plant

The latest chapter in the Civic story starts with a huge coup for Honda Canada’s Alliston, Ontario, assembly plant. This facility has produced more than 4.5-million Civics since 1988, including more than 1.89-million that have been sold to Canadians.

The high quality of its products (it currently also builds the CR-V compact crossover) has been rewarded by being designated as the global lead plant for the 2016 Civic – the first time the global start of a model’s mass production has been assigned to a plant outside of Japan.

Its teams of associates have been planning and fine-tuning the production processes for three years and are now sharing that expertise with eight other assembly plants around the world. The Canadian plant has also been responsible for developing the tooling that will be used in all Civic production.

Many of its 4,000-plus associates were on hand Tuesday to celebrate as the first 2016 Civic rolled off the Alliston line.

Designed to be the best

Honda says the 10th-gen Civic has been designed to be the best compact car on the planet. To achieve that goal, its engineers spent time driving and evaluating some of Europe’s premier C-segment products, including models from such upscale brands as Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz.

They were looking to benchmark such features as ride refinement, steering precision, high-speed stability and cabin quietness. The result of their research is what they call “an epic Civic,” with a solid new chassis and components that will serve as the single platform for all Civics globally.

They include the four-door sedan just introduced here, as well as a coupe, a five-door hatchback, a high-performance Si model and a hot Civic Type-R (a North American first.) You can expect all these variants to be in the marketplace within 18 months.

Longer, lower, wider, roomier

At first glance, you’ll notice this Civic is longer (by 75 millimetres), lower ( 20 mm) and wider ( 126 mm) than the current model. The wheelbase has been stretched 30 mm, while the front overhang has been trimmed back by 36 mm. The result is a sleek silhouette with a decidedly aggressive new stance that suggests this is a more sporty sedan, not simply a means of conveyance.

Completing the Civic’s total redo is a fresh new interior. The current two-tier instrument panel has been replaced by a clean, sweeping panel that enhances the wider, more spacious cabin. The front seats are well bolstered, especially the backrests, and there’s more than adequate legroom.

The cabin is lined with soft-touch materials throughout, though there could be a bit more emphasis on the “soft” element. The trimmings have a more premium look and feel. In fact, when I first got into the car, I thought it could be an Accord, rather than just a Civic.

The 30 mm of added length have been put to good use by creating more rear legroom, although the sleek, fastback roofline has chipped away a bit of headroom in back. I didn’t knock my noggin on the headliner, but it was close.

Sportiness that's more than skin deep

Driving the car demonstrated that its sportiness is more than skin deep. The engineers have developed a suspension system that feels pleasing firm, but never harsh. Even on some bumpy roads on our drive route, the suspension soaked up the impacts well, resulting in a level of ride that was very comfortable while still retaining good handling dynamics.

Credit a new multi-link rear suspension plus several “Civic firsts,” including larger anti-roll bars with bonded bushings, rigid aluminum rear damper brackets and hydraulic compliance bushings that enhance the ride and isolate road vibrations. A new brake torque vectoring system, dubbed Agile Handling Assist, contributes to the Civic’s impressively precise cornering capabilities and its stability at speed.

A new dual-pinion electric power steering system has also been added to improve steering feel and maneuverability. At first, on the highway, the steering felt a bit heavy, but I quickly started to appreciate this feature, which required minimal corrections to stay on track. Yet in tight, parking lot maneuvers, the steering was quick and required minimal effort.

Solid and quiet

Regardless of the road surface, the Civic felt solid. That’s due to a stiffer unibody that’s comprised of 59% high-strength steel and 14% ultra-high-strength steel. Honda says it’s the most extensive use of high-tensile steel ever in a Civic. Its use has also reduced the weight of the unibody by 31 kilograms, despite the fact it’s larger than previous iteration.

Interestingly, to compensate for the inherent brittleness of hot-stamped, high-tensile steel, Honda has developed a unique process that imbeds “in-die soft zones” in the rear frame rails and lower B-pillar that allow controlled crushing in an impact.

This new body is also more tightly sealed – it’s 58% better in air leak performance than the current Civic. On the road, the reduced noise level was definitely apparent – there was just a bit of tire noise that occasionally spoiled the serenity, although there was some noticeable engine noise penetrating into the cabin when the powertrain in my test car was urged to work hard.

All-new engines

Two all-new engines are offered in the 2016 Civic, the big news of which is the first turbocharged engine offered in a Honda in North America. The EX-T trim and the premium Touring model (which was my tester) get a forced-induction, 1.5-litre four-cylinder with double overhead cams, direct fuel injection, variable cam timing and an electronically controlled turbo waste gate.

This peppy four-banger churns out 174 horsepower at 5,500 rpm, while its peak torque of 162 lb-ft kicks in at a very useable 1,800 revs. Its output is channelled to the front wheels through a new CVT that combines with the low-inertia turbo, variable cam timing and electronic waste gate to optimize power delivery across the engine’s full operating range.

As expected, the turbo four had plenty of hustle and the boost came in smoothly, rather than with a bang. It loafed along quietly at highway cruising speeds, but really came alive when the go-pedal was punched. Unfortunately, those demands also revved up the noise level, creating some raucous sounds up front. Perhaps it was because the cabin was otherwise so quiet that the engine noise was so noticeable.

Base engine surprise

The real powertrain surprise, however, was revealed during a brief opportunity to check out the normally aspirated base engine, available in the DX, LX and EX trims. A 2.0-litre, double-overhead camshaft, four-cylinder powerplant, with port fuel injection and Honda’s i-VTEC valvetrain controlling its 16 valves, it generates 158 horsepower, making it the most powerful base engine ever offered in a Civic.

It’s mated to either a slick-shifting six-speed manual transaxle or the CVT (continuously variable transmission) with Honda G-Design shift control. But the big news for me was  six-speed/base engine combination, which proved to be downright fun. The engine was smooth and responsive and seemed well-matched with the manual gearbox. It also seemed to be quieter, even when pressed hard.

This package really brought out a sporty edge to this new Civic, one that would be even more fun with the turbo and six gears to stir. Hopefully, this fantasy will become a reality with one of the upcoming variants. Don’t be surprised also to see the turbo kicking out more boost in the performance models.

Loaded with new technologies

The new Civic is also loaded with new technologies, including many that are standard features. A rearview camera and colour audio screen, for example, are standard on the base DX trim, which also gets LED daytime running lights and taillights.

All models are fitted with an electronic parking brake, which frees up more storage space in the centre console. Techno fans will appreciate the addition of Apple Carplay and Android Auto to the new infotainment system and wireless charging for cell phones with such capabilities.

Other available features include Honda Sensing, a package of safety technologies that includes electronic brake force distribution, collision mitigation braking and a forward collision warning system, hill start assist, lane and road departure warning systems, vehicle stability assist and stability control – features not always available in the compact segment.

The 2016 Civic is indeed an “epic” leap beyond its predecessors, a car that should resonate well with the legions of loyal Civic owners, as well as attract newcomers to the Honda brand. And it should virtually guarantee a continuation of the Civic's 17-year run as Canada's best-selling car.

SPECIFICATIONS:

Model: 2016 Honda Civic Sedan

Pricing: DX (base), $15,990; LX (manual), $18,890; LX (CVT), $20,190; EX, $22,590; EX-T (1.5L turbo), $24,990; Touring, $26,990

Engines: 2.0L four-cylinder, 16 valves, DOHC, i-VTEC, port injection, 158 hp @ 6,500 rpm, 138 lb-ft torque @ 4,200 rpm (DX, LX, EX trims); 1.5L turbocharged four-cylinder, 16 valves, DOHC, direct fuel injection, 174 hp @ 5,500 rpm, 162 lb-ft torque @1,800 rpm (EX-T, Touring)

Transmission: Six-speed manual (DX, LX only); CVT (continuously variable transmission), available in LX, standard in EX, EX-T, Touring

Length: 4,631 mm

Width: 1,878 mm (mirrors folded)

Wheelbase: 2,700 mm

Height: 1,416 mm

Fuel Consumption (city/highway/combined): 1.5L turbo and CVT – 7.6/5.5/6.7 L/100 km; 2.0L and 6MT – 8.8/ 5.9/7.5 L/100 km

Competitors: Chevrolet Cruze, Ford Focus, Hyundai Elantra, Kia Forte, Mazda3, Toyota Corolla

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