It's important to understand how important a car the Honda Civic compact sedan is in the U.S. market.

Between the Civic sedan and its coupe sibling, Honda sells more than 300,000 of them a year--or roughly 20 times this year's sales of the Chevy Volt.

The Civic nameplate is more than 40 years old, and it's stood for smart, relatively fuel-efficient entry-level transportation the whole time.

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But for 2016, Honda started with a clean sheet of paper to reinvent the Civic, following a reception best described as tepid for the last generation that launched in 2012.

The new Civic has a fastback profile, expressive styling, a larger presence--and better fuel economy.

The 2016 Honda Civic sedan is rated at 35 mpg combined for versions with a continuously variable transmission (CVT), whether they use the base 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine or the optional 1.5-liter turbo four.

2016 Honda Civic Sedan (Touring)

2016 Honda Civic Sedan (Touring)

(If you order the base 2016 Civic with a six-speed manual gearbox and the 2.0-liter, the rating goes down to 31 mpg combined--pointing out how much CVTs can actually contribute to fuel efficiency.)

Last year, that 35-mpg number was offered only in the low-volume, specially equipped Civic HF model.

And that rating is only 20 percent lower than the 41 mpg of the first Toyota Prius--pointing out that Honda, along with Mazda, is at the forefront of notably better fuel economy in high-volume cars with combustion engines.

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While Honda remains recalcitrant on plug-in cars, it's fully competitive among compact sedans--and at Civic volumes, that translates to notable fuel savings.

We also credit the company for offering an Eco mode that's not particularly painful to use, versus the slow and sluggish responses of economy settings in other cars.

It's worth noting that 2016 isn't otherwise a good year for Honda in greener cars.

2016 Honda Civic Coupe, 2015 Los Angeles Auto Show

2016 Honda Civic Coupe, 2015 Los Angeles Auto Show

The larger Accord Hybrid sedan is on a one-year hiatus as its production moves to Japan, the plug-in version of that car has been canceled after minimal sales, and both the 44-mpg Civic Hybrid and the very low-volume Civic Natural Gas haven't reappeared either.

Honda says it will sell not only its 2017 Clarity hydrogen fuel-cell car but battery-electric and plug-in hybrid versions of that mid-size sedan as well. But for the moment, those are just promises.

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But the 2016 Civic wouldn't be a nominee for our Best Car To Buy award if it weren't such a vast improvement over the last model.

It's comfortable, represents good value for money, has better handling and on-road driving feel, and is now a viable alternative to larger, less-efficient mid-size sedans.

2016 Honda Civic Sedan (Touring)

2016 Honda Civic Sedan (Touring)

In other words, Honda has returned to the Civic's roots and made the Civic not only frugal on gas but fun to own.

As we noted in our 2016 Civic First Drive, the seats are improved, the console is particularly clever, and--basically--the Civic has gotten its mojo back.

And the gas mileage? Based on subsequent time in 2016 Civics, that 35 mpg is eminently achievable in real-world driving.


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