By Scott Araujo
So I get a call from Andy. "I've got the 2016 Civic Touring with the 1.5 turbo engine. Have you got time to review it?" No. Not at all. Not even a little bit. But I'm certainly not going to turn it down. Who would do that?
As you may remember, I purchased a brand new 1997 Honda Civic CX hatchback and drove it for over seventeen years and 217,000 miles. It was basic, simple, and just fun to drive. Just the other day I had my wife's 2012 Civic LX sedan for the whole day by myself which doesn't happen too often. It was like putting on my favorite old sweater, familiar and comfortable. That feeling was still fresh in my mind when Andy called.
The 2012 Civic may be the most reviled Civic Honda has released in decades. It was panned when it was released for being boring and for the cheap feel from all the cost cutting that went into it, like the infamous "rice paper" textured hard surfaces used on the dash and door panels. While the dash was hard, almost everything else about the car was soft: suspension, brakes, steering feel, even the styling. Honestly, it's so bland that I think if you painted it beige it would just disappear.
Flash back to present day and Honda recently announced that they're kicking the bean counters and focus groups out and letting the engineers design the cars again; a wise move to be sure. Honda grew its business not just by making reliable cars, but for making reliable cars that were well engineered and designed. They had a distinctive character that owners came to know and love.
I had already seen a 2016 Civic at the dealer. I was there to get filters and such for my wife's Civic and saw one parked on the lot. The 2012 was hit hard by the critics for it's styling. I myself often refer to it as coming from the "melted bar of soap" school of design. Honda tweaked the front and rear clips and a few other details for 2013, but the 2016 is obviously a complete ground up redesign.
The front end is actually rather bold. The top edges of the fenders sit just above the level of the hood in a way that's reminiscent of Hot Wheels caricature cars. It's distinctive, and from a distance it makes the car look bigger than it really is.
The feel continues with sculpted sides that push aside boring horizontal lines and give a rakish forward slant to the whole car. Getting towards the back, the C pillars slope down cleanly and make for a really sleek and elegant finish to the roof line. The rear end brings the lines in making the tail look trim and tidy with a small spoiler on the deck lid. In a way it reminds me of the graceful rear end of a Porsche 911. All in all, it's a very attractive package that makes an instant impact.
The clean and enticing design continues to the interior. This is the top end model so the seats are trimmed in leather with a thin accent strip of faux carbon fiber vinyl down the center. They are comfortable and supportive but stop just short of what I'd call sporty. The front seats are power adjustable (six way driver, four way passenger) and all four seats are heated. That's a nice touch of luxury and helps the model live up to its Touring moniker.
The wheels are that silly combination black paint/machined aluminum type that look like they came off a Matchbox car. 'Nuff said.
The front visibility is fabulous and one of the first things you notice when you get in. I can't put my finger on how they did it but it makes the car feel amazingly open. The dash is clean with nice brushed blue steel accent pieces bringing the exterior color in.
The center instrument cluster is all LCD with a large round tachometer and a numerical speedometer in the center. The center display can also show you a selection of other info: music, turbo boost, trip computer, etc. (More on that later.) The center gauge is flanked on either side by temperature and a fuel gauges. Overall, it's clean and it works.
The infotainment/climate controls probably strike the best balance between elegance and functionality I've seen so far in a new car. As cars get more and more electronics, the user interface seems to grow and grow, often with a screen that's too big and climate controls that are either duplicated between physical knobs and the infotainment system and/or buried far too deep in the menus to easily find. Honda had a stroke of genius here: the dedicated climate button just under the screen. It's one of just a few physical climate control buttons, but just tap it and no matter where you are in the menu system it pops you right to the climate controls that are all on a single screen and easy as pie to use. Tap it again and you go back to wherever you were. There are also a few other dedicated buttons for fan on/off, front defroster, rear defroster, and recirc. There are two physical knobs for the temperature. You can sync the two knobs or have separate temps for driver and passenger side. Most of these controls are also available in the graphical interface and you need to go there to choose whether air blows out to the windshield, foot well or dash vents, but it's pretty slick. Aside from the recirc button, the physical buttons seem to cover every critical "I need it now!" feature and the single physical button that gets you in and out of the graphical UI in a flash is perfect. This is the first graphical climate control I haven't hated.
The rest of the menus on the infotainment system are pretty easy to get through. The car has Apple CarPlay and it connected to my iPhone very easily. I liked it, it worked very well. One thing I noticed is that it doesn't display texts or let you type responses. There is capability to have the car read you your texts and you can respond to them by voice, but it seems to completely subvert the quick easy nature of a text. I'm not faulting it, it's a great way to avoid distracted driving, it's just very cumbersome. I suppose if you have a long commute and nothing to do you could catch up on things if you really wanted, but I'd rather just wait until I stopped the car.
The steering wheel has all the usual radio and cruise control buttons you'd expect with one little difference: there's a touch sensitive slider for the volume. Instead of tapping up or down arrows, you just slide your finger along it and the volume ramps up or down smoothly. There's a similar slider on the radio face but the one on the steering wheel is just really slick and effortless to use. I did nudge it once or twice by mistake.
The GPS works well and is easy to use. Two things that stuck out were the rather antiquated sounding computer voice. It sounded more like the computer from the movie War Games than a modern GPS. It also still says "Recalculating..." when you miss a turn. I haven't had a GPS that still does that in a long time. The GPS itself works great so these are really just minor quibbles.
Being the top-end model, there are some serious bells and whistles in this car. A quick but not exhaustive list includes: adaptive cruise control, automatic collision avoidance, lane departure warning, automatic lane correction, blind spot warnings, and a blind spot camera that puts an image on the screen any time you put on the right turn signal or just tap the end of the turn signal stalk. It's also got automatic headlights and windshield wipers that both work very well. It's got brake hold mode. Turn it on, come to a complete stop, take your foot off the brake, and it will hold its place until you step on the gas again. This is a great convenience for stop and go traffic, and an obvious sneaky use of the electric parking brake for another purpose. It's pretty darn close to autonomous. With all this tech that works so well I almost felt bad not texting while driving.
So how does it drive? To make a long story short, Honda really got it right. It's not the Si model and it's not a sports car, but the watered-down soft feeling of recent Hondas has been totally washed away. Brakes and handling both feel solid. It tells you what's going on with the road and does what you tell it to do. I mentioned that out 2012 Civic evokes all the memories of my old 1997, but it is soft and bland. That's gone and we're once again back to a simple, honest car that's fun to drive.
The Touring model only comes with the 1.5l turbo matched to the LL-CVT. CVTs always seem to disappoint in some respect, and small turbo motors can do the same. Once again, it's clear that the old Honda is back. The motor and transmission are a perfect match. It seems they did a little computer trickery to keep you from roasting the tires and it's all but impossible to get them to spin from a standing start, but from about 15MPH to over 80 the thing just keeps on pulling. It's not a rocket ship but it's way more than you'd expect from just looking at the spec sheet. I never felt like I didn't have enough power or acceleration, it just works well everywhere. If you slam your foot down, you do get a bit of a lurch from the turbo lag, but if you just press smoothly it's hardly noticeable and the car just accelerates like it's got a much bigger engine than it does. You can tell the engine is spinning but the exhaust note and turbo whine are subtle and civilized.
Now the CVT works really well but it's got lots of different choices. You can just shift into D and drive like a civilized person, or go one notch farther into S for sport mode. Sport mode it a bit quicker and holds the revs higher a bit longer. One more notch and you're in Low mode. Good for whatever you'd shift into Low for on your usual automatic transmission. It does provide a modicum of engine braking for downhills. And of course in any of those modes you can choose to turn on Econ mode which seems to lag the throttle a bit but gets you better MPG. So putting all those together that's six different settings you can be in.
The Honda Touring MPG ratings are 31 city, 42 highway, and 35 combined. I'd like to say we got a really good sampling of different driving conditions and we could compare real world to those numbers, but I can't. We got around 23 MPG in six different modes of flogging the turbo. Also, as I mentioned above you can select from a few different displays for the center of the speedometer, but who would bother with anything other than the turbo boost? I mean c'mon, 174hp and 168lb-ft of torque. What would you do?
Now, if you were concerned that all the bean counters and focus group people at Honda lost their jobs, don't be. They all worked on the center console. The part up front is nice. Little shelves and a USB to plug in your mobile phone and mate up to the radio. Nice shifter with the electric parking brake, and then it goes so wrong. There's a twin cup holder. Oh, it slides. Oh! You can take the whole thing out! There's a tray that also slides. If you flip up the arm rest there's another tray you can get to. If you take out the twin cup holder there's a cavern nearly big enough to fit a child's lunch box and a single cup holder at the front that's maybe big enough to hold a one liter bottle of soda. A Super Big Gulp would easily fit, just make sure it's not leaking. At the bottom of the cup holder is another USB port. Who would put electronics at the bottom of a cup holder? The center console seems to be the one place they abandoned all reason. I couldn't even figure out a way to photograph it and show how ridiculous it was. I suspect most people will figure out the configuration they like and leave it that way forever.
The new Civic Touring model is not a sports car, but it's peppy and responsive and fun to drive. It seems Honda has reversed it's slide into mediocrity and gone back to its roots of solid engineering. Does it live up to its Touring moniker? It might be a bit tight for four full sized adults to take on an extended vacation, but it is a small car. I think two adults or a small family would find this is an excellent choice for a long trip. It's comfortable with decent power, and all the tech helps make it both easy and safer to cover long days behind the wheel. For $27,335 including $835 destination, it's quite a lot of car. And it looks cooler than any Civic has in quite a while.
|THE BASICS: 2016 Honda Civic Sedan Touring|
|MSRP As Tested:||$27,335|
|Engine:||1.5-liter DOHC turbocharged 4 cyl.|
|Curb Weight:||2,932 lbs.|
|Suspension:||F: MacPherson Struts |
|Brakes:||F: Disc w/ABS |
R: Disc w/ABS
|Fuel Economy (MPG):||31 city, 35 combined, 42 highway|
|Fuel Type:||Regular 87 octane|