Hatchbacks simply haven’t had the sort of ubiquity in the U.S as they have enjoyed in Europe. But over the past couple of years the idea of small, economical yet practical cars has started to filter through and gain some popularity again. It appears that Honda has held a wet finger up to the wind, shown confidence in the tenth generation of the Civic, and brought its hatchback back to America.
The Sport trim slips in above the most basic LX version and before the EX, EX-L and Sport Touring trims at just $21,300. You can of course add the wireless charging, upgrade the wheels, opt for the CVT, add extra exterior trim or interior accessories at an extra cost, but the car reviewed here has nothing added on. The Sport comes out of the box with a bump in horsepower from 174 to 180, a six speed manual transmission, 18” wheels, a dual centre mounted exhaust, aluminium sport pedals as well as a leather wrapped steering wheel and shift knob. It also comes with a heavy dose of European influenced styling that this particular European welcomes.
It’s a heartfelt attempt at blending economy, practicality, bold styling and sporty fun. To that effect I had literally just driven around the corner to grab some coffee when it attracted positive attention from a table of young suits on their lunch break. In fact, throughout the week I drove the car it attracted way more attention, comments and even the occasional thumbs up that a sub $22k car normally wouldn’t have the right to receive.
Fuel economy wise, from a full tank my first journey in the Honda Civic Sport went through dense Hollywood traffic then quite a way up Mulholland Drive before hitting the freeways to come back home. After six hours of solid driving in varying road conditions it was a pleasant surprised to only a shade over a quarter of a tank of fuel had been used all day. Between the low weight of the car (just 2,930 lbs at the curb) and the turbo aiding the 1.5 litre engine in reaching 180 horsepower, its the magic hatchback recipe of economy when you need it, and smiles when you take the fun route home.
In practicality terms the rear space is impressive. Impressive enough that if someone makes that mistake of going for the weekly family shop on an empty and very hungry stomach, they aren’t going to be putting any bags on the back seat. Rear leg room is also good. Plenty of room for activities, filling up with friends to go to the mall or when the worst comes to the worst… the school run.
It turned out that the standard equipment actually covers all the basics very well and comes packaged in an agreeable cabin with very comfortable sports seats. The plastics are good and that quality is consistent throughout. The layered effect Honda has gone for on the dashboard along with the carbon pattern trim could have ended up looking too busy and try hard; but instead it looks pretty good.
Thought has gone into making everything logical for the driver, even what has become, to my mind, Hondas Achilles heel – the infotainment systems. There’s no touchscreen here, instead there’s an LED screen large enough to be useful along with a minimal amount of buttons with a dial for navigating the menus and a dial for the volume. Bluetooth was quick and easy to set up without the manual, and from there HandsFreeLink and access to your secret Justin Beiber playlist in your phone.
When it came to getting in and just driving the Civic Sport, there’s certainly some fun to be had. Road noise is less than I’ve been used to in Hondas, but when the accelerator pedal reaches the floor mat the exhaust note comes through nicely. It sounds exactly like those horrible cheap aftermarket exhausts people put on old Civics don’t. In fact it’s a rather satisfying, and makes the car feel faster than it actually is from the traffic light. The car is no rocket, but that’s not the point. It’s a light car with a wonderful little rev happy engine melded to a sweet gear change and quick steering.
When pushing it around the back roads it turns in and holds a corner well. The engine makes its real power later in the rev range and the gearbox is more than happy to help keep it there. It’s both a slick gear change and mechanical enough to let the driver know they are part of the car. The suspension tuning on the Sport is rather good considering how nicely it rides around town, and if you want to feel like a proper wheelman there’s plenty of agility and grip. A set of summer tires would take it to the next level, but his car simply wants to be fun. It wants you to go round the corner smiling, not frown as you prepare for track day by making sure your heel toe technique is being perfected before you left foot trail brake in while looking for the double apex. Bro’.
The Civic Sport is not a hot hatch, but it has been warmed up. Honda is blending economy and practicality with emphasis on sporty rather than sports here – and doing it very well. To the point I was scratching around to find a real fault and couldn’t. Sure the heavy flywheel keeps the revs hanging a bit, however it makes sense in a car pushing to be easy to drive around in traffic and get all the economy it can. Also the electric assisted steering is a little on the light side for the back roads, but around town where this car will spend the majority of its time that does make zipping about an absolute breeze.
Overall, it’s very much a complete package and a surprising amount of car for the money. I was a little sorry to hand back the key, but I’m pleased the hatchback is starting to stick here in America and that Honda is bringing its A game.
Car as tested:
2017 Civic Hatch Sport.
Engine: 180hp 1.5-Liter DOHC 16-Valve Direct Injection Turbo Charged 4-Cylinder.
Transmission: 6 Speed Manual.
Color: Sonic Grey Pearl.
Fuel Economy: 30 City, 39 Highway, 33 Combined.
There is also a less formal review of the Civic Sport if you would like to read more.