2016 Honda Civic: First Drive Of New 35-MPG Compact Sedan

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2016 Honda Civic, test drive, Tarrytown, NY, Oct 2015

2016 Honda Civic, test drive, Tarrytown, NY, Oct 2015

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The 2016 Honda Civic may be the most radical redesign of the Civic in its 40-plus-year history.

The tenth generation of the car that made Honda's reputation, both in North America and around the world, is longer, lower, and wider, with a racy fastback shape and its first mainstream turbocharged engine.

And the combined fuel efficiency of the entire lineup now hits 35 miles per gallon (with one asterisk) even as the longstanding Civic Hybrid model fades away.

DON'T MISS: 2016 Honda Civic - full review

Only a single model of the previous Civic generation could hit 35 mpg. That was the Civic HF, with modified equipment and gearing designed specifically for fuel economy.

The rest of the range from 2012 through 2015 came in at 31 mpg or 33 mpg, with the exception of the Civic Si version with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine and a six-speed manual gearbox, at 25 mpg.

Similarly, the new 2016 Civic has a version with a six-speed manual gearbox that's rated at 31 mpg combined, against the 35 mpg combined for all the other models with continuously variable transmissions (CVTs).

2016 Honda Civic Sedan (Touring)

2016 Honda Civic Sedan (Touring)

Enlarge Photo

The new Civic range--launched today and available in dealers next month--is limited to the four-door sedan at the moment. Honda tells us that coupe, five-door, sportier Si, and even Type-R hot-rod versions will arrive over the next year or two.

We've driven several versions of the new Civic sedan, both in New York's Hudson Valley 10 days ago and last week through the flat country roads around Hell, Michigan. (Yes, we drove in Hell. Really.)

There are two engine choices: The base engine is a 2.0-liter four that puts out 158 horsepower, and the optional and more powerful engine is a smaller 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder rated at 174 hp.

ALSO SEE: 2016 Honda Civic Sedan: Sleek Lines, Turbo Engine, CVT For Efficiency

We drove the manual version (offered only with the base 2.0-liter engine in the base LX trim), but it won't be a high-volume seller against the CVT versions. It's nice enough, with a decent if rubbery shift quality and a very light clutch.

None of our relatively short drive loops offered the enough distance to get any sense for the kind of real-world gas-mileage that the 2016 Civic will deliver. Our only data point is that a base Civic with the manual gearbox showed 33.5 mpg over 67 miles against a combined rating of 31 mpg--but we're not paying a lot of attention to such a short drive cycle.

We're slightly suspicious of the uniformity of the ratings across all CVT-equipped models. Across 14 trim levels and two engines, the city cycle delivered 31 mpg and the highway cycle either 41 or 42 mpg, for a uniform 35-mpg combined rating. But the new Civics are undoubtedly more efficient than their predecessors.

2016 Honda Civic Sedan (Touring)

2016 Honda Civic Sedan (Touring)

Enlarge Photo

We also credit Honda for offering an Eco mode that's not particularly painful to use, compared to the slow and sluggish responses of other makes' economy-driving settings.

The Eco driving mode in the Civic for 2016 knocks some of the edge off the car's accelerator responses, but it was turned on when we got in our first of several 2.0-liter test cars--and we actually didn't notice it for more than 10 miles.

Usually, the molasses-like response in other cars' Eco modes is so infuriating--sometimes bordering on dangerous--that we switch them off immediately. Not so in this case; we'd have been satisfied driving in Eco mode throughout our test. Well done, Honda.

MORE: Honda Civic Hybrid, Natural-Gas Models Eliminated After 2015:

As for the car itself, the new Civic is quite a change from the previous generations. The fastback lines set it immediately apart from its sedan predecessors, and the shape was generally well received by reviewers--if not perhaps quite as distinctive on the road as we might have imagined.

To our eyes, both the front and rear ends are just a little too busy. Remove one swoop, accent line, trim element, or compound curve from either end and we think the car would be rather more handsome.

But the new lines let the Civic step decisively up from its economy-car roots and probably impinge uncomfortably on the Acura ILX, which has never really gotten the traction Honda hoped for the first compact car in years from its near-luxury brand.


 
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