There’s something almost sacrilegious about slapping a “sport” badge on an economy car.
Engine: 1.5L turbo four-cylinder
Power: 180 hp, 177 lb-ft (manual); 180 hp, 162 lb-ft (auto)
Transmission: Six-speed manual; continuously-variable auto
EPA Fuel Economy (MPG): 30 city, 39 hwy (manual); 30 city, 36 hwy (auto)
CAN Fuel Economy (L/100 km): 7.8 city, 6.0 hwy (manual); 7.8 city, 6.5 hwy (auto)
US Price: Sport starts at $21,300; Sport Touring starts at $28,300
CAN Price: Sport starts at $25,190; Sport Touring starts at $29,390
Like bestowing a nickname upon oneself, it simply shouldn’t be done for fear of disparagement and ridicule. Unless, of course, it actually is sporty. Which puts the 2017 Honda Civic Sport Hatchback — and the pricier Sport Touring model — in a sort of grey area. Little more than a trim package, it’s not going to compete with the likes of the Ford Focus ST or Volkswagen Golf GTI; that’s what the pending Civic Si is for. But the Civic Sport is based on an impressively agile platform that is as fun to drive as it is functional, with a few added bonuses that bring it closer to the sporty side while sparing itself the mockery.
Tweaking the Turbo
Mindful not to rain on the new Si model’s parade, Honda was careful in how it handled the enhancements made to the Civic Sport. It’s powered by the same turbocharged 1.5-liter as every other Civic hatch, with only a slight boost in output. Six horsepower has been added, for a total of 180, while the torque count jumps to 177 lb-ft with the six-speed manual gearbox. Cars equipped with the continuously variable transmission are stuck with the same 162 lb-ft of torque in the rest of the turbocharged Civic lineup.
ALSO SEE: 2017 Honda Civic Hatchback Review
With no modifications made to the Civic Sport’s engine, its slight uptick in output comes by way of a free-flowing center exhaust and the need to run premium fuel. Luckily, the rev-happy 1.5-liter proves torquey and responsive — particularly with the manual gearbox. With the full serving of torque available at 1,900 rpm through 5,000 rpm, the turbo engine provides plenty of pep for the majority of driving conditions.
Choosing the continuously-variable automatic means sacrificed torque numbers but gained response time and longevity, with the full 162 lb-ft coming online at 1,700 rpm and lasting all the way to 5,500 rpm.
Looking the Part
Of course, a handful of extra horsepower isn’t the only thing separating the Civic Sport from the rest of the compact’s lineup. It rides on a larger wheelset — 18-inch alloys wrapped in 235/40R tires — and includes an aero kit that adds to its aesthetics. The entire package comes together nicely, accenting the Civic hatch’s sculpted appearance.
Driving the Part
While both Civic Sport and Sport Touring models drive fundamentally the same as the rest of the Civic hatch pack, which means an already-engaging ride, a few differences do emerge.
Heading from downtown San Francisco towards Monterey, Calif., in a CVT-equipped Sport Touring model, the new Civic hatch quickly proved itself a confident commuter. With a steady stream of traffic leaving the city, the transmission was up to the task of transferring torque to the front wheels when needed to keep gaps tight in stop-and-go traffic, while the brakes slowed the 3,000-lb (1,360 kg) car smoothly and without fuss. Hitting the highway, though, the Civic’s otherwise quiet cabin was no match for California’s porous pavement, combining with the large wheels and low-profile tires to pump a fair amount of road noise inside.
Switching into a manual-equipped model, the Civic Sport was perfectly suited to the snaking roads running around Monterey Bay. The six-speed features a featherlight clutch that is easily modulated after a few minutes behind the wheel, while the shifter is equally unsubstantial, and feels like all it would take is a heavy breath to change gears. Turbo lag is more noticeable with the manual, though only slightly, something it easily overcomes thanks to the extra serving of torque. While the additional power is more notable on paper than in practice, it does work well with sharp throttle response to amp up the experience just enough to justify the price premium.
ALSO SEE: 2016 Honda Civic Coupe Review
With its 18-inch wheels pushed closer to the edges, the car’s turn-in response is great, communicating corners without walking too far. Credit the variable-ratio steering setup, which needs less input to turn the wheels when the speed rises. Steering feel is still a touch on the vague side, contributing to at least the impression of understeer, though the brake-based torque-vectoring system that’s featured throughout the Civic lineup cuts most of it before things come unsorted.
The suspension, which features fluid-filled bushings and a multi-link setup around back, keeps the Civic Sport composed when cornering aggressively while absorbing humps and bumps with little fuss.
A Tale of Two Interiors
Inside, the Civic hatch in Sport and Sport Touring guise is very much like the rest of the Civic lineup, with a modern and clean layout. The center stack is easy to read and understand, leaving everything well within reach from both front seats, while it comes adorned with a seven-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto in Sport Touring trim (that system is also standard on Sport models in Canada). 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.
The only major difference between Sport and Sport Touring trims and the rest of the Civic hatch lineup is in cargo room, which shrinks to 22.6 cu-ft (640 liters) from 25.7 cu-ft (728 liters) thanks to the center exhaust that raises the cargo floor.
When it comes to choosing between the two, the Civic Sport Touring gets a few extra frills for the price, with leather seating that’s far and above superior to the cloth in Sport trim, as well as dual-zone automatic climate control, heated rear seats, a 12-speaker stereo, and the Honda Sensing suite of active safety features that includes adaptive cruise control and lane keep assist, among others.
The Verdict: 2017 Honda Civic Sport Hatchback Review
So how sporty is the new Civic Sport? Think of it like a front-wheel drive Toyota 86 — an impressive feat considering it’s little more than a trim level. Yes, the genuinely sporty Civic Si and Type R models will be here sometime in the new year, but something tells me the Civic Sport — not to mention the Sport Touring — will take up position in the sweet spot of the compact’s lineup, outselling both by a long shot for its affordability and fun.
If it were my money, I’d probably save the green and opt for the Civic Sport rather than the Sport Touring. With an MSRP of $21,300 ($25,190 in Canada), it’s substantially cheaper than its more opulent sibling while offering the same uptick in power and handsome styling accents that help it stand out from the rest of the Civic family.