New Honda Civic Hatch­back Of­fers Fresh Styling, Log­i­cal Pack­ag­ing

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NORTHWEST ARKANSAS - Derek Price cargaz­

When au­tomak­ers send a car to jour­nal­ists for a test drive, they typ­i­cally pro­vide one of the high­est priced, loaded-up trim lev­els.

Part of the rea­son is to show off the lat­est gad­gets and giz­mos, sure, but I think there’s a sneakier ra­tio­nale at play. I call it op­tion bribery. If you cod­dle writ­ers in enough leather and car toys, they’re less likely to write mean things about you.

That’s why the sub­ject of this week’s re­view, the Honda Civic Hatch­back, is a bit sur­pris­ing. In­stead of send­ing me a fan­cy­pants Sport Tour­ing model with a thump­ing 540-watt stereo and lots of touch­screen doo­dads, Honda dropped off the kind of Civic peo­ple are much more likely to ac­tu­ally buy: the ba­sic Sport trim priced around $22,000.

And a model like this ex­plains why the Civic re­mains a peren­nial hot seller. It’s not about the giz­mos. It’s not about the lux­u­ries.

It’s about the raw ap­peal and prac­ti­cal­ity, two things this car has in abun­dance.

On the emo­tional side, this new gen­er­a­tion Civic steals your heart with a more strik­ing body than be­fore, par­tic­u­larly in the hatch­back ver­sion with its dra­matic side swoops, in-your­face grille and ul­tra­mod­ern back end. It looks like the kind of car you want to drive, not the kind your bud­get forces you to drive.

The ap­peal spills over into the way it han­dles, too.

The Civic has al­ways been a spir­ited car, one that feels more firm and con­nected to the road than its arch neme­sis from Japan, the Toy­ota Corolla. That con­tin­ues with this gen­er­a­tion.

With a man­ual trans­mis­sion, es­pe­cially, the Civic is a blast to drive. While it sends power to the front wheels — not nor­mally ideal for a sporty car — the steer­ing, sus­pen­sion and throt­tle all work in har­mony to de­liver an en­gag­ing, re­spon­sive sen­sa­tion to the driver.

All the hatch­back models are equipped with a 1.5-liter tur­bocharged en­gine that adds to its spir­ited feel. It makes 174 horse­power in the LX, EX and EX-L models, while Sport and Sport Tour­ing trims crank out 180 horses thanks to their spec­tac­u­lar sound­ing dual ex­haust sys­tems.

There are a lot of lit­tle, log­i­cal things I like about it, too.

It has am­ple stor­age for a com­pact car, with smartly placed bins and nooks for stash­ing your stuff. There’s a de­cent amount of cargo space in back, ri­val­ing some small crossovers. And Honda al­ways seems to get the small de­tails right, like gauges that look crisp and sporty with red ac­cents and good light­ing at night.

One down­side: The man­ual trans­mis­sion that I love so much in my $22,000 tester isn’t avail­able on the high-end trims. If you want a fancier fla­vor with the best trans­mis­sion, you’re out of luck, un­for­tu­nately.

Also, the same things I see as strengths — the firm ride, the ag­gres­sive ex­haust note, the un­usual styling — could be neg­a­tives de­pend­ing on the kind of car you’re look­ing for. If you want to anony­mously blend in and waft down the high­way in but­tery si­lence, this isn’t the best fit.

From a tech­nol­ogy stand­point, the Civic checks all the right boxes for a 2017 ve­hi­cle, in­clud­ing an avail­able suite of driv­ing en­hance­ments called Honda Sens­ing to help avoid col­li­sions and make trips more re­lax­ing. I’m a big fan of the adap­tive cruise con­trol and lane keep­ing fea­tures that com­bine to make it feel al­most like an au­tonomous ve­hi­cle when on a well-marked high­way.

I’m also glad Honda of­fers this pack­age on the base LX model for a $1,000 pre­mium, not only on the more lux­ury ori­ented trims.

Pric­ing starts at $19,700 for the LX hatch­back with a man­ual gear­box or $20,500 with a con­tin­u­ously vari­able trans­mis­sion. It tops out at $28,300 for the Sport Tour­ing trim be­fore ad­ding op­tions.

A new gen­er­a­tion of the Honda Civic bows for 2017, in­clud­ing a hatch­back with much more ag­gres­sive styling and a tur­bocharged en­gine.

The new Civic’s cabin of­fers gen­er­ous space for its class, in­clud­ing 25.7 cu­bic feet of cargo ca­pac­ity be­hind the rear seat.

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