2022 Civic unwinds Honda’s edgy small car legacy

Turning the page.

By Lee Bailie Wheels.ca

Jun 17, 2021 4 min. read

Article was updated 2 years ago

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What I’m about to say doesn’t align with consensus, and though I’m unlikely to change many minds and could run afoul of Honda PR, I don’t care. I must speak my mind.

I think the 2022 Honda Civic sedan looks dull and uninteresting and it saddens me that a company once willing to take chances with its iconic small car has been chastened to the point where the only suitable path forward is to pretend such chance-taking never took place.

There, I said it.

And before anyone suggests I’m little more than a drive-by hater, allow me to press my credentials as a proud eighth generation Civic owner (2010 Si Coupe), and a multi-car Honda driver. I’m a Honda guy to my core.

Still, from a design perspective the 2022 Civic leaves me cold. It erases its predecessor’s evocative lines and interesting shapes in favour of familiar rectangles and a more upright sedan silhouette seen on many cars. Yes, there are creased beltlines, upsweeping character lines above the rocker panels and an assortment of geometric shapes in the front and rear fascias, but compared to the old car, it looks generic. As if giving no offense were a primary design directive.

This view isn’t popular within the automotive press. Most previews I’ve read have showered Honda with praise for the 11th gen. Many colleagues have called the new Civic’s look ‘mature’ and ‘sharp’, with a more ‘grown-up’ aesthetic that ditches the 10th gen’s ‘polarizing’ design.

Fine, I guess, but what did all that polarizing do to the Civic’s popularity? I mean, it must have been bad, right? Nope. The Civic remains the bestselling car in Canada (23 years running) and is the top-selling Honda car in the U.S., and by wide margins in both cases.

So, if declining sales aren’t an issue, then why go from emotional and exciting to conventional?

Too many dank memes on Twitter? Too much static from the automotive press? Did the 10th gen fly too close to the sun with its unapologetically edgy looks and angular proportions that didn’t trace the lines of convention but drew new ones entirely?

I don’t know. It rang up more than 325,000 units sold in the U.S. each year of its life prior to a pandemic-plagued 2020, but still had what would be considered a good year for most cars (261,000-plus).

2022 Honda Civic Touring

Look, I’m being a bit tongue in cheek here, as I well understand that cars change over time as generations come and go. The design team that worked on one model often doesn’t work on the next. Different global design studios helm different projects, and there are a host of internal and external factors at play. I get it. But something feels strange here.

I’m not suggesting the 2022 Civic’s development was adversely impacted in any way, but I wonder how, and why, Honda arrived at this result.

I mean, look at its competitors. Did Hyundai seem concerned about adhering to the limits of small car design convention when its designers were penning the new Elantra? Does Mazda seem interested in looking backwards with the 3? What about the Sentra and the Corolla? Are Nissan and Toyota looking to re-capture what small cars looked like a decade ago?

Not a chance. That’s not how progress works.

Last summer I sang the praises in this space for Acura, Honda’s luxury brand, when I said the marque appears to be on the rise after looking lost for years. It’s rolling out exciting new models that capture the essence of the brand, but in a forward-looking manner. Precision Crafted Performance for a new era.

Why this philosophy isn’t being applied to the parent company’s talisman is a question I can’t answer.

Nevertheless, I look forward to driving the 2022 Civic, although this column could delay the experience. Despite my misgivings about its exterior, the interior looks good, and I eagerly await the reveal of Si and Type R models. Perhaps the new design language has more appeal in sportier, hatchback form.

I hope so because it could certainly use it.




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