The Handling Is the Star of the 2022 Honda Civic
Once a sprawling segment with plenty of players, the field of compact sedans is now ruled by a similarly compact group. All the poorly skilled and middling players have given up long ago, and don’t even bother fielding competitors or spending development money in hopes of a comeback, and it’s worth noting that the Big Three automakers don’t even offer a sedan in this size category anymore. That’s both a testament to how good the remaining competitors have become, and also a reflection of consumer tastes in the direction of smallish crossovers, now the default family car.
This makes the redesigned, eleventh-generation Honda Civic a timely reminder of just how good this model has become while everyone was busy shopping for crossovers, and perhaps one of the last great small sedans that can be bought for not too much money, just a few years before everything goes electric.
Those who haven’t paid attention to the Civic for the last decade will be forgiven for mistaking the 2022 model for the similarly-styled Accord—that’s how large these will appear to some—helped by a far less visually bulbous cabin, less slabby sides and the profile of a much sleeker sedan. Also, the sedan and the hatchback are now remarkably similar looking in profile, unlike in any decade prior. Combined with the absence of a coupe in the lineup, it’s clear that, at least in the US, buyers don’t want to be seen in a body style long seen as a budget, commuter choice and aren’t all that interested in cargo capacity. Buyers want either a sedan with a hatch or a sedan with a trunklid.
While the base version gets a naturally aspirated 2.0-liter inline-four paired with a CVT, good for 158 hp and 138 lb-ft of torque, the Touring trim we drove featured the optional turbocharged 1.5-liter inline-four, producing 180 hp and 177 lb-ft ot torque. Both engines are carryovers, and it’s hard to fault Honda here since the previous generation hasn’t aged all that much in terms of capability.
What is decidedly new is the interior, with the dash bisected by horizontal honeycomb-patterned vents stretching from end to end. The uncluttered look is interrupted only by the three HVAC control knobs in a contrasting, metallic color. The infotainment touchscreen on top of the dash keeps a similar knob for the volume, with Honda having struck a nice balance between physical buttons and knobs, and the rest of the menus in the infotainment system.
The 2022 sedan’s handling and ride qualities are easily the stars of the entire vehicle, offering surprisingly flat cornering and a well-weighted steering system, along with a reasonably quiet cabin. The suspension stays largely unbothered by minor road defects while offering a sporty ride quality without dipping into harshness, while the steering feels precise, without letting too many imperfections into the driver’s hands.
It’s hard to believe that, on paper, this is a front-wheel drive sedan with a CVT, but that’s where we are with the Civic.
Speaking of the CVT, in highway driving we found it generally well-muted, helped by excellent insulation from road noise, and it’s really only the Sport setting that could prompt it to become a bit noisy. But as far as CVTs go, this is easily one of the good ones on the market at the moment, and we say this having spent plenty of time with the bad ones. In fact, it was easy to forget that this was a CVT instead of a conventional automatic—that’s how domesticated it was during our time in the Touring model. The EPA figures of 38 mpg on the highway and 31 mpg in town felt like a nice bonus.
The cabin feel continues this theme of quiet refinement, with supportive seats and well chosen interior materials offered in the Touring trim, and all are seemingly lifted from a German premium compact model that could easily be twice the price. There isn’t a cheap piece of plastic in sight, with the Civic offering a clean and uncluttered interior that feels roomy enough to be mistaken for the Accord once again.
The quietly elegant cabin, combined with tidy road manners, makes the Civic a surprise standout even in a segment now full of very worthwhile small sedans, easily offering a premium experience while staying south of the $30,000 mark. That’s no small achievement these days, when it can take a long list of checked option boxes to get some of the things you want in a new car, and it does it without being flashy or cutting corners somewhere to offer these things.
Speaking of options, the range-topping Touring trim offers many of the goodies some buyers will want, like the leather-trimmed seats and steering, 12-speaker Bose premium audio, and a 9-inch touchscreen. And it also sits about $7000 north of the base model, along with its turbocharged 1.5-liter that serves up a few extra horses. As usual, the EX and Touring trims are where all the options reside, and on a $30,000 budget this is perhaps where many buyers will gravitate to, while those fine with a more spartan interior will be able to leave the dealership having spent less than $25,000 on something that will still feel like a much more expensive car. The car we drove was priced at $29,295 out the door, which is at the top end of the Civic spectrum.
The 2022 Civic reflects not only how good most of the players in this segment have become, but also how Honda has clearly taken time to get the driving experience right down to the smallest detail, offering a refined yet agile chassis that feels perfectly tuned. Let’s hope that crossover shoppers will notice.
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