DALLAS, Dec. 11, 2015 — Although Honda will soon be replacing this generation of Civic, they thought we would want to take one last spin.
This generation of the Civic was fraught with some controversy when the 2012 model came out. In fact, it received possibly the fastest refresh in automotive history by the 2013 model year.
To put it in perspective, most vehicles do not see a refresh before year 4. Did Honda ever get it right? Honda loaned us a top of the line 2015 Honda Civic EX-L Nav to help us find out.
The outside of our Civic test vehicle was edgy metallic gray color with fashionable black and silver alloy wheels. The somewhat futuristic wedge look looks like it is piercing the air sitting still. It looked classier than a compact sedan has a right to be, which is a theme for the Civic.
The early refresh helped Honda’s radical redesign go from “out there” and cheap to futuristic in a 1980s throwback kind of way. Another anachronistic feature is the small window on the front of the door is reminiscent of vent windows from cars decades old. Unlike those however, this one does not open.
The alloy wheels, with their shiny sides and black inset, are classy cool and give the Civic a slightly upscale look.
Under the hood is a silky smooth Honda 4 cylinder engine demonstrating why the word “motor” is in the company’s name. Its 1.8-liters sing as it puts out 143 horsepower, which is adequate, but not heart-stopping.
The power rating is probably the second most disappointing part of the Civic, but we will get to the transmission in a second. Honda would probably tell us to head over to the Si model and its 205 horsepower for our thrills, but before we get too too far into Si daydreaming, back to the transmission in our tester.
Like many auto manufacturers now who are trying to squeeze every ounce of gas out of their vehicles the way a roughneck drains an oil deposit. Honda has gone the route of the continuously variable transmission (CVT).
While the CVT is great for getting the best fuel mileage out of a car, it tends to be less fun to drive. Firmly flatten the accelerator to the floor and it will keep the revs in the sweet spot of annoying. One of the biggest problems with CVTs is a “rubber band” feel at times.
To Honda’s credit, they have reduced those instances so much, it is only occasionally noticeable. While we silently weep for our lost automatics, Honda is at least setting a great example and trying to make the best of things.
Upon opening the door, one might think the designers spent quite a bit of time inside video game arcades in their heyday. The graphics are not offensive, but there is display overload. Our test drive over a week never got us fully used to the multiple displays.
Do we look at the upper displays? The upper right? Upper left?
No, the feature needed is down by the tachometer, prominently displayed in a car where it matters not. The speedometer display has two colored bars that indicate if one is driving economically. Driving lightly evokes green lighting. Get Guantanamo with the throttle and it turns blue.
We have to admit we were slightly disappointed this Star Wars Death Star-run display did not turn red when the throttle was floored.
On the contrary, the interior materials Honda has chosen punch well above its weight class. Everything is up to modern standards and then some. Honda’s seats are very comfortable and included heated seating. The back seat had decent room for averaged sized adults and easily managed a child seat.
Installing a child seat was a bit more challenging versus the typical crossover vehicle, and it probably looked a bit comical to onlookers. The auto climate control knobs have a feel some luxury cars would be smart to crib.
The leather on the seats has a quality feel and the overall interior has an air of solidly engineered quality.
Honda’s insistence on removing radio knobs from its vehicles continues here and hinders functionality. We found it more convenient to adjust the radio with the steering wheel controls than the touch screen Honda is using now. The volume also was not set with each source, causing a blaring stereo after moving from Bluetooth to radio.
One other thing to note is that voice activation for the navigation works only with iPhones per the manual, and the manual interface for navigation is as friendly as a badger mistaken for a groundhog. Android users should keep the lack of support in mind. The sound coming from the vehicle is above average, but not as impressive as systems found in certain other vehicles in the class. One other oddity was that the interior dash lighting automatically switches between a brighter setting and dimmer setting depending on the outside light, but it was often caught in the wrong mode during sunrise or sunset.
Hondas are usually known for being fun to drive. Press the plastic push button start, and the sewing machine of a motor purrs to life with none of the hesitation found in some other vehicles. While the acceleration of our Civic tester was merely adequate for getting around town, the handling was great. Steering feel was typical Honda light, but had good feel.
The brake feel and accelerator pedal all worked in a way one immediately feels in the form of joy. The car feels lighter than most vehicles in its class. It makes one want to drive the car on a curvy road or crack a smile while taking a corner at a bit higher than normal speed. Honda has handling dynamics down on what should just be a boring sedan.
The fuel economy was excellent, despite a heavy foot. We averaged 28 miles per gallon in a mix of regular and economy mode. Economy mode reduces throttle inputs and weakens the climate system output, but should be fine for all but the hottest times.
Honda has included some of the usual safety features, but nothing over the top. Aside from anti-lock braking system (ABS) with electronic brake distribution (EBD), stability control, a plethora of airbags, and more. One notable difference from most cars was Honda’s unique approach to blind spot monitoring.
Instead of a warning light of some sort as even found on some vehicles in their Acura line, it has a camera on the passenger side of the car. Honda refers to this feature as Expanded View Driver’s Mirror. When the right blinker is activated, what the camera sees takes over the center 7-inch infotainment screen.
It even indicates distance bars to show how close a vehicle might be. While it did take some getting used to not looking over at the mirror, it actually grew on me. The only confusing part was having to still use the mirror and shoulder check when turning left. It would be nice if it worked both ways, but they probably had to choose the most crucial side for cost reasons.
One annoyance was trying to change the radio while sitting at a right turn stop light behind other cars and the camera is displayed. Fortunately, Honda was thoughtful enough to include a switch on the turn stalk to temporarily disable the camera.
Honda has also thrown in a backup camera, which is adjustable to have a very wide angle. Small cars are traditionally not very difficult to back out of spaces, but the additional visual space was appreciated. The pride of Honda’s safety in the civic surrounds the Advanced Compatibility Engineering (ACE) structure. This structure around the cabin absorbs and deflects a heavy impact.
It is this design that earned the relatively small Civic a “good” rating in the IIHS small overlap front impact test. This is something many bigger vehicles fail to achieve. This and good ratings across the board led the IIHS to make the 2015 Honda Civic a 2015 Top Safety Pick.
Yes, Honda had a misstep with this generation of Civic. However, the initial tepid response was a call to action for the company. This is the final version, before the completely new 2016 model arrives. Honda is sending it out with a bang, as it redefines quality and value for the money. Buy this vehicle and it will clearly last a very long time.
Speaking of money, our loaded EX-L with Navigation tester came in at $25,130, but there are deals to had, as this well sorted model is on its way out. It truly was a joy to toss around the city streets and was missed when it left our stable.
If you are attracted to the futuristic dash, I highly recommend the Honda Civic sedan for a compact family vehicle.