It’s hard to believe it’s been almost 17 years since a hatchback version of the Honda Civic was last sold in North America.
Engine: 1.5L turbo four-cylinder
Power: 174 hp, 167 lb-ft (manual)
Transmission: Six-speed manual; continuously-variable auto
EPA Fuel Economy (MPG): 30 city, 39 hwy (manual); 31 city, 40 hwy (CVT)
Can Fuel Economy (L/100 km): 8.0 city, 6.2 hwy (manual); 7.7 city, 6.0 (CVT)
US Price: Starts at $19,700
CAN Price: Starts at $21,390
Sure, there was Honda’s half-hearted attempt at reviving the beloved bodystyle in the early 2000s with the niche three-door Civic Si, but even that was discontinued more than a decade ago, leaving a huge gap in the automaker’s lineup. But Honda is ready to make up for lost time with an all-new Civic hatch aimed at fun and function.
Finally a Five-Door
In bringing the Civic hatch back to North American shores, Honda has cranked up the car’s practicality with the addition of two rear doors. It rides on the same platform as the sedan and coupe models, but measures about 4.5 inches (114 millimeters) shorter than both, giving the Civic hatch a sportier stance than its stablemates thanks to wheels that sit closer to the corners. Matching that athletic posture is a new design from the B-pillar back that is almost coupe-like in execution, as well as a slightly revised front fascia that includes a black grille with larger openings, and larger bumper inserts front and back.
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Despite the abbreviated proportions, the Civic hatch weighs 2,815 lb (1,277 kg) in base trim, and 3,003 lb (1,362 kg) in loaded Sport Touring guise — as much as 100 lb (45 kg) more than equivalent sedan models thanks to the added heft of the tailgate. Lift the tailgate, however, and the weight gains are quickly forgiven, with the car boasting what is easily one of the largest cargo holds in its class. With 25.7 cu-ft (728 liters) of space behind the rear seats, the Civic hatch offers more cargo-carrying ability than hatchback versions of the Mazda3 (20.2 cu-ft, 572 liters), Chevrolet Cruze (22.7 cu-ft, 643 liters) and Ford Focus (23.3 cu-ft, 660 liters). It’s only with the rear seats folded that the Honda is surpassed, with the Mazda3 (47.1 cu-ft, 1,334 liters) and Cruze hatch (47.2 cu-ft, 1,337 liters) besting the Civic (46.2 cu-ft, 1,308 liters) in terms of volume.
When the rear seats are up, the Civic hatch also benefits from an industry-first rear privacy cover that rolls out from the side, saving space by staying tucked out of the way until it’s needed. This is one of the neatest interior features of the car, and has the ability to be mounted on the left or right, with no need to remove it when the seats are folded.
Unlike the Civic sedan and coupe, which get the choice of naturally aspirated 2.0-liter or turbocharged 1.5-liter engines, the hatchback relies on the latter across its trim range. More importantly, though, a manual gearbox can finally be paired with the forced-induction four-cylinder, a welcome addition to what has quickly proven itself an impressive engine.
Output varies slightly depending on trim, with 174 horsepower on tap to go along with 162 lb-ft of torque in cars equipped with the continuously variable transmission, or 167 lb-ft of torque with the six-speed manual. Sport models, meanwhile, get a slight bump to 180 horsepower and 177 lb-ft of torque (the same 162 lb-ft is on tap with the CVT). With the first batch of cars only recently making landfall on this side of the Atlantic, only the base LX model was available on our two-day test. Regardless, the combination of the 1.5-liter with a six-speed manual was worth the wait, providing a level of fun the turbocharged Civic has been lacking since its launch.
ALSO SEE: 2016 Honda Civic LX Review
The clutch is light and easy to modulate, while the shifter might be lightest on the market, and slots into its gates with little effort. Playing the two-step takes a little getting used to, with the clutch and throttle a little tricky to balance at first, but once you get the hang of it the setup can be appreciated by novice and veteran manual drivers alike.
With the full breadth of the engine’s torque coming online at 1,800 rpm, turbo lag doesn’t last long before boost kicks, while all 177 lb-ft sticks around until 5,500 rpm for your driving pleasure. Winding the engine out above 4,000 rpm can sound like it’s putting strain on the engine but it certainly doesn’t feel that way, with throttle response only dropping off as it approaches the 6,500 rpm redline.
As expected, the Civic’s continuously variable transmission displays a moderate amount of the rubber band effect typical when the pedal is pressed hard, but quiets down when cruising. The opposite was true of the manual, which displayed a tendency to rev high at highway speeds, spinning at 2,900 rpm at 75 mph (120 km/h). It didn’t, however, seem to impact fuel economy much. With more than 300 miles of driving split evenly between both transmissions, the Civic hatch managed an impressive 40 mpg (5.9 L/100 km) of combined driving with the CVT and 38 mpg (6.2 L/100 km) with the manual between the seats, both of which are close to the car’s highway fuel economy ratings. While far from an accurate sample size, those numbers were achieved over a mix of highway and in-town driving, as well as more spirited driving on quiet backroads.
Sporty and Smooth
Driving the twisting roads of Ontario’s cottage country put the Civic hatchback’s taut chassis to the test and it responded well, behaving more like the coupe than the sedan. The brake-based torque vectoring system, which is featured throughout the Civic lineup, successfully quelled much of the understeer typical of a front-driven car, helping pull the car towards to the inside of the tree-lined chicanes and esses.
Steering feel is still a little numb, but the variable-ratio setup helps tighten it up as the car reaches higher speeds and responds well to input.
ALSO SEE: 2016 Honda Civic Coupe Review
Despite its playfulness when pushed, the Civic hatch offers the same upscale cruising ability noted in the Civic sedan. The suspension soaks up uneven pavement with the same cool confidence as the sedan model, providing a ride worthy of a higher price tag. Like the sedan, the Civic hatch also features an incredibly quiet cabin, with little road noise making its way inside.
In short, the Civic hatch drives a bit like a mash-up of the coupe and sedan, feeling sporty enough to have fun while offering the all-important commuter comfort that’s key in this segment.
Different Form, Familiar Function
The front of the Civic hatch’s cabin looks and feels a lot like the sedan’s, and that’s because it is a lot like the sedan’s. In base LX guise, it looks every bit as modern as the rest of the Civic family, though it could benefit from some soft-touch materials in place of the hard plastics found on the doors and dash. Likewise, the cloth seats don’t feel great to the touch and are supportive but not exactly comfortable.
The center stack is well laid out, and leaves everything well within reach of the driver, while a seven-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto comes into play on EX models and above (that system is standard on all Canadian cars). Unfortunately, it still features the touch-sensitive volume slider in place of a more practical volume knob, which can be difficult to use — particularly from the passenger seat.
When it comes to safety features, the Civic leads in the segment. Features like cruise control and automatic headlights are standard, while the Honda Sensing suite adds forward collision warning with collision mitigation braking, lane-keep assist, road departure warning, and adaptive cruise control.
Open the rear doors and the hatch begins to separate itself from its four-door sibling. With a roofline that isn’t sloped as steeply as the sedan’s, the Civic hatch boasts reasonable rear seat headroom that is actually more comfortable than its 37.4 inches would suggest and offers enough room to accommodate a couple of adults with ease. By comparison, the Civic sedan offers 36.8 inches of rear headroom, but feels much smaller, forcing taller passengers to slouch. Legroom in the back, meanwhile, comes in at 36 inches, or about an inch-and-a-half less than the sedan.
The Verdict: 2017 Honda Civic Hatchback Review
With a starting price of $19,700 ($21,390 in Canada), the Civic hatch has been positioned at the top of the Civic heap, acting as a halo of sorts for the popular compact. By comparison, an entry-level LX sedan will run you $18,740 (the LX is stickered at $19,290 in Canada, while a bare-bones DX is also offered for $16,390). But the turbocharged engine and added practicality might just be worth the price of admission.
The car also plays into the nostalgia of an entire generation, stirring up high school memories of shameful Fast and Furious mods and unadulterated fun. It’s a much more mature car now, so it’s not the same Civic hatchback we grew up with, but rather a grown up car that’s still fun and not too grown up.
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