Do me a favour: put your boots on, brave the cold for a second, and go check the presets on the satellite radio in your car.
Go ahead. I’ll wait.
Did you find mostly big band stations and 50s on 5? If so, feel free to click through to the next article. If, however, your infotainment system is filled with programming from Lithium and 90s on 9 then please keep reading because, like me, you’re probably a child of the ‘90s and harbour some memories of the Honda Civic hatchback.
Good looking, cheap to operate, and easy to modify, leagues of young drivers in the 1990s found themselves behind the wheel of Soichiro’s Little Wonder. For 2017, after a nearly ten year hiatus, North American customers can once again stroll into a Honda showroom and drive out with a five-door Civic. Armed with a nifty new turbo engine, a tasty manual transmission, and a face only a mother could slug, can the new 2017 Honda Civic Hatch recapture some of that old Honda magic?
Honda has decided to position the Civic Hatch a little bit higher up the totem pole this time around, with the base LX starting at $21,390 with a manual transmission, all the way up to $30,690 for the top-spec Sport Touring with a continuously variable automatic. Honda’s suite of trick ‘sensing technologies’ fail to appear until the more expensive trims but, armed with greenhouse-like visibility and sight lines, attentive drivers can easily do without lane-keeping and collision-mitigation assists.
All trims are equipped with a 1.5-litre, 16-valve, DOHC turbocharged four-cylinder with direct injection. In a bizarre move, Honda rates the different trims and transmissions with distinct power output numbers. A manual-equipped LX makes 167 lb-ft of torque, while stickshift Sport and Sport Touring trims are said to make 10 more units of twist. All automatic transmission models can only find enough gumption to make 162 lb-ft. Horespower numbers are 174hp for the base model and 180hp for the Sport and Sport Touring, regardless of transmission choice.
Back when Will Smith was the Fresh Prince, the Civic Hatch was held up as an example of a practical car with great fuel economy. Twenty years later, it’s still rapping the same tune: NRCan rates the Civic LX at 8.0/6.2/7.2 L/100km with a manual transmission and 7.7/6.0/6.9 L/100km (city/highway/combined) for a CVT-equipped model. The Sport and Sport Touring models are rated at 7.9/6.6/7.3 L/100km with the auto, 8.0/6.2/7.2 L/100km with a manual box.
Our base model tester had plenty of motivation but strained against the CVT’s tight leash. More than once, I felt the need to utter “There’s nothing wrong with this car a manual transmission wouldn’t fix.” Happily, the six-speed manual seems to be widely available, with my own small-town dealer already stocking several examples. Turbo lag is a fact of life in any boosted engine – it’s an inescapable product of how they work – but Honda has succeeded in minimizing its presence.
Speaking of presence, Honda has imbued the Civic Hatch with plenty of it. In base trim it is devoid of external frippery such as fog lights, leaving large empty voids in the flat black jowls on its front bumper. The effect is alarming, particularly in our tester’s shade of White Orchid Pearl. Base model shoppers would do well to select Crystal Black or Aegean Blue to blunt the visual impact, as the enormous chops also make an appearance on the rear bumper. From the B-pillars forward, the Civic Hatch sheetmetal apes the style of its sedan and coupe brothers, while choosing to go its own way with a flying C-pillar towards the rear. The overall effect will either draw raves or repulsion from potential buyers; there will likely be no in-between.
Inside, despite its station as the entry-level Civic Hatch, the LX is well equipped. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are present and accounted for but, continuing an infuriating recent Honda tradition, satellite radio is absent and doesn’t appear until the most expensive trim. Comfortable heated front seats, a large infotainment screen, and a rearview camera round out the interior goodies. The backseat is more than spacious enough for a trio of kidlets and is large enough for two adults who will, naturally, be rocking out to the Stone Temple Pilots tune blasting from the speakers, just like they did in Civic hatchbacks during the ‘90s.
By measure, the Civic has 27 percent more cargo volume than a comparable Mazda 3 hatch. No tricks of the tape here: the Civic’s hatch area is indeed bigger but it is also better shaped for real life Canadian cargo such as hockey bags and Swiss Chalet takeout. Thanks to the hatch’s unique shape, only a small cargo cover is required to keep one’s quarter-chicken dinner from prying eyes, so Honda has seen fit to install a nifty retractable cover that retracts from left to right, tucking neatly out of the way in a world where most cargo covers are bulky things which hamper utility until they are removed in frustration and unceremoniously chucked into a dark corner.
For the ultimate test, I brought the Civic Hatch to a friend whose affliction for Honda hatchbacks ranges somewhere between fascination and obsession. With his automotive history littered with all manner of three-and five-door Hondas, and a first-gen CRX project currently residing in his garage, I figured he would be a good judge of Honda’s first hatchback since the turn of the millennium (yes, I’m discounting the bent-nail shifter, guppy-eyed SiR monstrosity of a Civic Hatch with which Honda saw fit to blight our shores in the early 2000s). Plus, he always has beer in the fridge. We’ll call him Craig, because that’s his name.
Weighing a great deal less (didn’t we all, back in the ‘80s and ‘90s? No? Maybe that’s just me, then) the CRX resting in Craig’s garage was originally marketed by Honda as an economy hatch with a low-slung design and room for two. It didn’t take long for its combination of performance and nimble handling to make it the darling of back-road carvers nationwide.
Presented with the new Civic Hatch, Craig immediately remarked on its height, saying it looked taller than other Civics. As usual, Craig is correct, as the Civic LX Hatch is nearly 20mm taller than its sedan counterpart, thanks to its elongated roofline. Hitting the road, all measures of modern power and speed far outstripped the little CRX, despite its similar engine displacement and near-1000lb weight difference. Equipment level and comfort is, naturally, far better in the new car.
A hallmark of the original CRX was its innate fling-ability, able to carve through corners at a speed which belied its double-digit horsepower. In this measure, the new Civic Hatch acquitted itself well, tackling one of Craig’s favourite roads with gusto, even in unfavourable conditions making the road surface slicker than chicken grease in a cemetery gate. The Civic Hatchback’s chassis employs MacPherson struts up front and a rear multi-link suspension mounted on a rigid subframe. Craig’s CRX is currently undergoing heart surgery, scuppering my plans for side-by-side shots of the diminutive hatchback and the new Civic. Alas.
Unsurprisingly, the Civic remains outrageously popular and has been a best seller in Canada for nearly twenty years. In the 2016 calendar year, Honda shifted 64,552 units, working out to better than one Civic sold every ten minutes around the clock for 365 days. With the addition of this hatchback bodystyle, it’s a safe bet that number will only increase … and more than a few new customers will be folks who have 90s on 9 firmly locked into their radio presets.