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)

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)

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.

2016 Honda Civic Sedan (Touring)

2016 Honda Civic Sedan (Touring)

Inside, though, even the base Civic has a handsome interior with a digital display between the instruments, just the right amount of soft-touch materials, and judicious silver trim and sweeping shapes.

Thankfully Honda has ditched the two-level dashboard seen in the two prior Civic generations, and overall, we think the look is just right. Added to that is a delightfully low cowl, meaning that forward visibility is superb.

And, Honda knows how to do a much better base-line interior with cloth upholstery--one that doesn't feel cut-rate--compared to another new 2016 model we drove, a mid-size sedan with many good qualities that we felt was let down by its grim, rental-car base interior. (We're ignoring the hideous mock-alloy plastic wheel covers on the base Civic LX. Ahem.)

RELATED: Surprise 2016 Honda Civic Concept At NY Auto Show Previews Production Car

A few oddities remain, including a tilt/telescope lever for the steering wheel that is located so far down the column that it's literally over the driver's ankles.

And the fastback tail and upswept window line mean rear and rear three-quarter vision has gone from good--it was always a Honda strong point--to lousy. The rear window is now pretty much a slit in the rear-view mirror. Good thing a rear-view camera and blind-spot detection are available, eh?

But the seats are firm, well-bolstered, and felt just right, at least for this reviewer's particular shape. And rear-seat room ranges from adequate to lavish, for a compact sedan, keeping the 2016 Civic up to date in the continual bracket creep by which today's compact cars are larger than the "mid-size" sedans of 20 years ago.

2016 Honda Civic Sedan (Touring)

2016 Honda Civic Sedan (Touring)

The console is particularly clever and well-adapted to modern use. It's deep enough to hold a tablet computer, but offers a sliding cupholder tray higher up. It's made possible by the electric parking brake that Honda has made standard across the entire range--a pricier solution against the usual lever, but one that frees up a lot of space on the console.

On the road, the new Civic is much improved over its predecessor, which had lost the crisp handling Honda had been known for.

This Civic feels planted and solid, it corners relatively flat in most uses, and overall, it conveys a much greater feeling of driving confidence than its grim and somewhat mushy predecessor.

The ride can be slightly jiggly over certain types of irregular pavement, but that's hardly limited to Hondas--and overall, we feel it's a good driver's car for a mass-market compact sedan, if not quite at the fun level of, say, a Mazda 3. For that, we eagerly await the Civic Si performance models.

The base 2.0-liter 2016 Civic with CVT is much improved on last year's base 1.8-liter four with five-speed automatic.

While it doesn't feel particularly powerful, it's perfectly adequate--and will likely deliver much higher real-world fuel economy.

2016 Honda Civic Sedan (Touring)

2016 Honda Civic Sedan (Touring)

Honda's managed to tune its CVTs to eliminate most of the high revving and howling characteristic of earlier CVTs from other makers, and we rarely noticed the difference between the two transmission types.

The optional 1.5-liter turbo engine is more eager, but we were surprised that it didn't feel significantly peppier. That's prioritizing fuel economy again, we surmise--since it's more powerful but gets the same ratings, unlike the significant hit last year's 2.4-liter imposed on gas mileage ratings.

Despite the wholesale move of new-car buyers into utility vehicles and SUVs across all size categories, the Civic sells in high volumes, and Honda hopes the new styling and greater degree of refinement will lure in some new buyers who wouldn't previously have considered the rather mundane Civic sedan.

The base trim level is the Civic LX, which comes solely with the 2.0-liter engine and either the six-speed manual or the CVT. The Honda Sensing electronic safety system package can be added even to this base trim level.

2016 Honda Civic Sedan (Touring)

2016 Honda Civic Sedan (Touring)

The mid-level EX will be the volume seller, with either the 2.0-liter or 1.5-liter turbo but only the CVT, in EX-T (sporty) and EX-L (luxurious) varieties. Honda Sensing can be added to either, but Navigation is only available with the 1.5 turbo.

At the top of the range is the Civic Touring, with the 1.5 only, and the highest equipment level.

Prices start at around $19,500 (including a mandatory delivery fee) for the base Civic LX with the manual, and approach $30,000 for a fully-optioned Civic Touring.


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