Count me among the few, at least within my profession, who weren’t too jazzed about the arrival of the 11th generation Honda Civic.
As I wrote in a column back in June, I didn’t find the new car all that appealing. Its retreat into conservative design territory felt like a huge step backward, and the manual transmission had been dropped from the sedan, and the coupe had been killed off entirely.
Bottom line, it didn’t seem like much to get excited about. But as a past and present Civic owner, I couldn’t help but feel intrigued. After all, the Civic has been the best-selling car in Canada for almost a quarter century. What does the future hold for this iconic nameplate?
With that in mind, and despite my reservations, I looked forward to driving the new Civic. Since the column was published, I’ve driven both: the sedan in August and the hatchback in late November.
This first drive will be based on my rather short (three days) time with the hatchback, but I’ll also refer to the sedan as a means of comparison.
To reset, the 11th gen Civic is available in sedan and hatchback form. The coupe was dropped due to sharply declining sales. Two engines are offered: a 2.0-litre four-cylinder (158 hp / 138 lb-ft.) and a 1.5-litre turbocharged four-cylinder (180 hp / 177 lb-ft). Both engines drive the front wheels and are paired with either a six-speed manual or continuously variable transmission (CVT).
As for models, Honda Canada is offering just three for the hatchback (LX, Sport and Sport Touring), but all can be had with either a six-speed manual or CVT. In terms of engines, the 2.0-litre is available on the LX only, while the Sport and Sport Touring get the 1.5-litre turbo. If you’re interested in an Si hatch, you’re out of luck – it’s only offered on the sedan. But for those seeking hot hatch performance, there is good news: the Type R will return in 2022.
For this story, Honda Canada set me up with a Sport Touring tester finished in Rallye Red and a black leather interior, with a standard six-speed manual transmission. A CVT is available for no extra charge. The price tag of $35,000 before taxes is a bit steep, but there’s a lot of standard equipment for the money.
The Sport Touring’s standard kit includes LED headlights, taillights, and fog lights, 18-inch aluminum alloy wheels, 10.25-inch digital instrument cluster, 9-inch infotainment touchscreen with embedded navigation, heated front, and rear (outboard) seats, heated leather-wrapped steering wheel, Bose premium audio system with 12 speakers, and a lot more.
On the styling front, the 2022 Civic Hatch, to these eyes, looks a lot like the sedan. A bit too much, I’d say. Honda designers gave the hatch a different rear end, with distinctive taillight and fascia treatments, but if one were to look at these cars side by side from the front, they likely wouldn’t be able to tell them apart.
For most of its history, Civic body styles have had a much more distinctive appearance. For example, back in the ‘90s, I owned a sixth gen Si coupe, and its silhouette was much different from those of its hatch and sedan siblings, which were also unique. Now, the hatch and sedan blend together, but Honda has been going down this road since 2015 when the 10th gen debuted with an emphasis on ‘coupe-like’ styling for sedan and hatch models. This decision may explain, in part, the demise of the coupe. Why opt for the two-door, when the four-door looks so much the same and is more practical?
At any rate, the 2022 Civic Hatch differs dimensionally from the outgoing 10th gen model. Its windshield pillars have been moved back by almost 50 mm, its wheelbase is 35 mm longer and its rear track is 12 mm wider. To distinguish it further from the sedan, its rear overhang and overall length are 124 mm shorter.
To me, where the Civic really shines is in the cabin. As much as I liked the interior in the outgoing car, this one represents a huge leap forward. From gorgeous digital displays, especially the 10.25-inch instrument cluster unit, to metal honeycomb vent covers that stretch across the dashboard, and tasteful and straightforward climate controls, this interface is among the best I’ve tested this year. It’s certainly the best I’ve experienced in the compact class to date.
Nothing feels gimmicky, presentation and tactile feel are on point, everything is in its right place, and there’s plenty of room for it all to co-exist. Plus, the materials are pleasing to interact with, and carry an air of sophistication, both in terms of design and execution. The seats feel immediately supportive, a good driving position is easily found, and adjusting the cabin’s many features is simple and straightforward. You can just get in and drive – the way it should be.
As for interior space, Honda has made the greenhouse larger to give the ’22 Civic Hatch a more spacious feeling. Side windows are bigger and small C-pillar windows have been added for more outward visibility for rear seat passengers. The hatch opening is also lower and wider (40 mm) for easier loading and unloading. Maximum cargo volume is rated at 693 litres.
Okay, so Honda’s nailed the cabin, but how does the Civic Hatch drive?
It’s good. Really good.
Despite its small size and peak output being stashed high in the rev range (6,000 r.p.m.), the 1.5-litre turbo offers plenty of acceleration oomph thanks to a flat torque curve that begins at just 1,700 rpm and tops out at 4,500 r.p.m. With 177 lb-ft tucked in the sweet spot of the powerband, the Civic hatch is both quick off the line and in mixed traffic.
On the transmission front, Honda has tweaked its six-speed gearbox for improved shift rigidity and shorter shift throws, and a dual-mass flywheel has been added for reduced drivetrain noise and vibration. The clutch and shifter work together seamlessly, shifts are quick and precise, with light clutch action that delivers no surprises.
As for handling and ride quality, the Civic Hatch acquits itself well on both counts. Honda has retuned the chassis by adding new, low-friction ball joints and front damper mount bearings for better steering feel. Other changes include new lower control arm bushings and retuned electronic power steering.
Honda claims these alterations not only produce better steering and straight-line stability, but also reduced noise and vibration. Based on my experience, they deliver the goods: handling feels responsive and agile, with good steering feedback, while the ride is mostly quiet and composed.
Overall, the 2022 Civic Hatch impresses. While I’m still not wild about its exterior styling, it has more visual appeal than its sedan sibling and has intriguing Type R potential. Besides, Honda has really nailed the interior and driving dynamics, both of which, I think, are more important than exterior visuals.
Do I still wish the Civic’s styling was less conservative? Yes, I do. The 10th gen was a norm-shattering car, not only for Honda but for the segment and perhaps the industry. The 2022 isn’t that. It’s a course correction. Time will tell if it was the right one.
The vehicle was provided to the writer by the automaker. Content and vehicle evaluations were not subject to approval.