Auto review: Honda Civic dons a grown-up wardrobe, but still likes to boogie

How do you improve on a home run? Hit the next one into the upper deck.

The 2016 Honda Civic became the instant benchmark for the compact sedan segment. A clean sheet design from the ground up, its taut chassis was Nürburgring tested. It boasted best-in-class horsepower, fuel economy and rear seat room. And to make sure the world noticed, it drew styling cues right out of a DC Comic book with boomerang rear headlights, narrow greenhouse and more tattoos than Allen Iverson.


The new 2022 Civic (coming to a dealer near you this June) dials the wardrobe back to conservative Bruce Wayne from rad Batman suit. But on everything else it turns the dial up from 10 to 11.

After a 10th generation that shattered sales records, King Civic is poised to continue its reign at the top of the compact segment. Compacts are personal favorites because they are the LeBron James of automobiles — the best all-around players in the game. I’ve owned a VW Golf GTI, Dodge Neon, two Ford Focuses and a pair of Civics because they can do it all: dance through the twisties while sipping gas, seating four, looking sharp, and all while not breaking the bank.


Let’s take the Civic’s talents one at a time.

Dancing moves. I flogged the 2022 Civic through HUG — Hell, Unadilla and Gregory — the three burgs that border Michigan’s most insane network of country roads. The Civic left begging me for more.

Throwing the Civic across a 90-degree right-hander onto Doyle Road at Unadilla, the front-wheel driver is remarkably neutral — rotating easily like the rear-wheel-drive BMW 3-series I was chasing. That’s right, a BMW 3.

While underpowered at 180 horsepower compared to the Bimmer’s 248, they are both turbo-4s and the Honda is one sweet little drivetrain — its fuel-sipping, 36 mpg continuously variable transmission a universe away from the droning CVTs of yesteryear (the standard, 158 horse four-banger ain’t bad either, but lacks the upper-trim turbo’s low-end kick).

While I lost ground in the straightaways, the Honda could hold its own in the twisties, so intuitive is this chassis.

It’s a good thing, too, because the Honda has some serious competition nipping at its heels. I’m thinking the dazzling-looking, ninja-quick Mazda 3 and Hyundai Elantra that offer luxury amenities at a mainstream price. Set a high bar and others will follow.

Speaking of luxe, my $41,000 BMW sparring partner shot me a thumbs-up as we exited Unadilla Raod — like two boxers after a good workout at the local gym. I didn’t have the heart to tell him he was being chased by a $25,000 Honda with more cargo space and 2.5 more inches of rear legroom.

Acres of room. Well, acres is an exaggeration, but the Civic’s best-in-class legroom is more than a 2011 mid-size Accord sedan, for goodness sake. At 6′5″ I was comfortably able to sit behind myself. Indeed, the Civic will surely be mistaken by some for an Accord. And not just its mature understated exterior.


The interior takes a page from the Accord’s book with a simple horizontal dash design — placing the touch screen high in the driver’s-eye view. Honda excels at interior ergonomics, and the Civic layout is master class.

Looks sharp. Like Accord, the interior has upscale aspirations — think Lincoln Aviator — with a honeycomb character line that is not just distinctive but hides the HVAC vents. Like the Lincoln, the touch screen shelf helped steady my thumb as I paged through the infotainment display.

The higher dash also benefited your giraffe-legged reviewer. My knees chafed on the old Civic’s vertical dash buttresses. No issues with the 2022 design. Has Civic moved on from the cheap plastic buttons on the previous gen’s steering wheel? You bet. I lament only that the old car’s clever configurable console cupholders and storage has been sacrificed to the ’22′s more mature design themes. Storage still abounds (something luxe-class Mercs and Audis don’t do well).

Though interior dimensions haven’t changed, the greenhouse has.

Looking out over that the high touch screen, I surveyed the landscape through a bigger windscreen thanks to Honda moving the A-pillar backward to a more vertical position. Together with side mirrors mounted on the doors, visibility improves.

That field of view now takes in a lower, longer aluminum (a first for Civic) hood that tapers to a more modest fascia than the last model. I’m a big fan of my eighth-Gen Civic Si’s timeless thin grille and swept greenhouse. The new Civic should age well, too.


As will its price.

Won’t break the bank. Despite the Civic’s massive upgrades in interior tech (better cameras, all-digital displays, more air bags), the compact sedan’s price doesn’t budge. Credit some of this to its Made in America origins — the 11th-gen Civic will be screwed together in nearby Canada (sedans) and Indiana (hatchbacks).

My $24,000 Sport (Civic’s most popular model, the kids love the blacked-out trim and big 18-inch wheels) and loaded, $28,000 Touring testers are priced right on top of the outgoing car. That’s in keeping with Civic’s status as brand beacon that brings new customers to its product family. In the Age of Ute, the sedan maintains its price value over pricier SUVs.

Tight handling, bigger back seat, digital displays ... the gap between luxe and mainstream is narrowing. Is a compact Acura ILX a better car? Perhaps the biggest bonus is wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto available on the upper trim, EX and Touring models (EX and Sport, with a smaller 7-inch display, still require a cord to connect) just like the 90-grand BMW M4 I was tested recently.

Jump in and the car immediately recognized the phone in my pocket, turning the touch screen into a mirror image of my ‘Droid. My texts, tunes — and destinations were all there.

All-around athlete, indeed.


My Hell trips are usually reserved for high-horsepower athletes. But like the Bimmer I was chasing, the standard Civic is in its element here. And it is just the appetizer.

With its toned bod, light weight — and 1.5-inch longer wheelbase than last model — the 11th generation Civic promises even more performance from its forthcoming Si and Type-R hellions.

They’ll be swinging for the top deck.


2022 Honda Civic

Vehicle type: Front-engine, front-wheel-drive, five-passenger sedan

Price: $22,695, including $995 destination fee ($24,095 Sport and $29,295 Touring as tested)


Powerplant: 2.0-liter 4-cylinder; 1.5-liter turbo-4

Power: 158 horsepower, 138 pound-feet of torque (2.0L); 180 horsepower, 177 pound-feet of torque (1.5L)

Transmission: Automatic, continuously variable transmission (CVT)

Performance: 0-60 mph (7.5 sec., Car and Driver); top speed, 126 mph

Weight: 3,077 pounds  (Touring as tested)

Fuel economy: EPA, 31 mpg city/40 highway/35 combined (2.0L); 31 mpg city/38 highway/34 combined (1.5L)


Report card

Highs: Fun to drive hard; engaging, upscale interior

Lows: Conservative exterior might be mistaken for an Accord

Overall: 4 stars

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at or Twitter @HenryEPayne.

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