Like a benevolent, self-generating replicant bent on constant improvement, a new Honda Civic has hatched, on average, once every four and a half years since 1973. Sharp-suited, elegant and eager, the all-new 2022 Honda Civic is the eleventh version of the nameplate.
As a gateway drug for new customers that typically leads to more Honda purchases later in life, the stakes are high every time the automaker reinvents its compact mainstay. That pressure is redoubled for 2022, as even compact cars are feeling the pinch from SUVs and the Civic has worn the best-seller crown in the compact car class since 2016.
As each new generation brings with it demands for more room, the new Civic is bigger than it used to be. It’s ten inches longer and four inches wider than a 2001 Civic sedan, but 500 miles of use recall many of its familiar small car virtues. Like an old friend, the Civic hasn’t lost its sense of fun, value, or utility. Unlike some old friends, it has better taste in clothes than it used to.
The new Civic has four trims starting with the base-model LX ($ 22,695) and ranging through the Sport ($ 24,095), EX ($ 25,695), and the top-spec Touring ($ 29,690), with prices including delivery fees. Our tester was a top-of-the-line Touring, but all of these models are an upgrade from the previous generation.
Visually, the new Civic is a welcome relief from the extravagances of the outgoing model. Over the past 48 years, the Civic’s shape has often shifted with the times. The original disco-era roller skate gave way to the 1980s rectilinear wedge, the 1990s amorphous teardrop and the 2000s spaceship.
Undulating shapes characterized the outgoing 2016 to 2021 Civic, with those swells and swages festooned with cuts, strakes and scoops (many non-functional) sure to please both the fast and the furious. It looked busy and unfinished, as if it were trying too hard to advertise its sportiness. The interior was cleaner, but also a riot of angles, and futile digital / analog half steps.
This all-new four-door is everything its predecessor was not in the design department. It is handsomely ironed out, with creased hints of BMW 3 Series around the profile and a bit of purposeful Audi-like sneer in the front end.
The comparisons to these benchmark German sedans are not entirely off the wall. The Civic, once synonymous with subcompact cars, is now 184 inches long. That’s just an inch-and-a-half shorter than a contemporary BMW 330i and a fraction of an inch shy of the Hyundai Elantra. An SUV-hungry world wants space, which means small cars have grown, but like its big sister the Accord the new Civic looks upscale and elegant.
That might alienate some of the previous Civic’s more adventurous boy-racer fans, but may be a welcome transition for more mature customers. As singer Frank Ocean might say, all cars are drag for their owners, but some costumes fit better than others.
In Praise of Fine Cabins
The Civic’s interior is similarly ironed out. A single binnacle on our Touring model contained a 10.2-inch HD digital instrument cluster, familiar stuff in an Audi but a first in the Civic. While it lacks some of the gimcrackery of the Germans, it’s a very straightforward and welcome evocation of typical Honda legibility.
A 7-inch infotainment screen, the biggest one available in the previous-generation Civic, is standard on the LX and Sport models, but EX and Touring trims get an upgraded 9-inch unit. A volume knob and home button were welcome, as were wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Most drivers will always know their phone better than their infotainment screen, and when Grace Jones comes on, the volume knob’s faster and more satisfying than repeatedly booping a screen.
Less welcome was a strangely burdensome process of engaging the in-car Wi-Fi / Bluetooth to get this system to work — eventually requiring a stop / unlock / lock / restart hard reboot — but that’s something that’s done once at the start of ownership, and never again, so we’ll give it a pass.
The interior is a very pleasant place to be, airy and logical, with interestingly textured trim elements in patterns that resemble (or are) knurled, woven, or tessellated metal. The black-silver honeycombed strip across the dash that hides the air vents is a clever retro touch, though we could do without the immediately smudgy “piano black” trim that surrounds it. We’ve spent decades decrying the use of shiny black plastic in car interiors and would say the same thing if this were a Bentley.
The Touring also features leather seating surfaces, and steering wheel and shift knob trim, as well as a decent sunroof, and an upgraded Bose sound system, a first-time implementation of this partnership. All of this provides a sense of refinement, though, despite (or, perhaps, because of) enhancements in seat width, we struggled for some time to find an optimal position.
The back seats benefit from a slight legroom stretch over the outgoing model, the beneficiary of a 1.4-inch wheelbase increase, but it’s in the right places, providing ample comfort for six-foot passengers without scrunching those in front.
The 14.4 cubic-foot trunk (14.8 in the lower trims) is quite generous and easy to pile wheelie bags into at the airport, something drivers are doing more of these days. The split-folding rear seat allows flexible cargo capacity for long items, though the releases are only in the trunk. Sometimes a flat surface in the back is useful without having to walk around and flip the rear lid.
Driving the 2022 Civic
Less un-optimal than we at first expected was the continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) that came paired with the Touring’s 180-horsepower 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine. A 2.0-liter 158-horsepower four, also mated to a CVT but sans turbo, is standard on the LX and Sport trims, which we’ll be reviewing later this summer.
We’re not the greatest fans of CVTs, for their general combination of non-linear power delivery and unappealing raucousness. But Honda engineers have worked real magic with this one, maybe with gobs of soundproofing. The engine note isn’t exactly enthralling, but the car accelerates with a decent rush, and there are paddle-shiftable detents that act like regular gears.
In several hundred miles of urban, rural and highway driving, mostly in Sport mode on the standard (for Touring) adaptive suspension, we averaged around 32 mpg. If you’re into rowing your own, the 2022 Civic Hatchback, due this fall, will be available with a manual. We’d probably pick that one anyway, just for its increased versatility.
Honda’s suite of advanced driver assistance features, Honda Sensing, is standard on all new Civics. It includes forward automatic emergency braking, lane departure warnings and adaptive cruise control that can slow and stop with traffic. Touring models like the one we sampled also get blind spot monitoring with cross-traffic alerts and parking sensors. Those items aren’t part of the standard suite and can’t be added on the LX or Sport trims.
The adaptive cruise control system works as well as most other systems out there, which means it does a great job of following the speed of the car in front of it on the highway, but otherwise requires a bit of wrestling with the lane-keeping assist . This latest iteration of Honda’s system features low-speed braking control and uses improved camera sensors to better follow the road and identify pedestrians and cyclists. it feels smoother and more natural than earlier versions.
We did have an unintentional opportunity to test out the Collision Mitigation Braking System when a tractor-trailer came to a screeching halt in front of us in a surprise Connecticut traffic jam, and we can say that it is effective. When it activated it sounds like an ER patient just flat-lined and knocked the volume knob on their pulse monitor to 11 on their tumble into the underworld, but we did not hit the truck.
Assisting with that was the Civic’s sense of balance, with nicely weighted and communicative steering, and a suspension that feels expensive in a way that competitors ’cars just don’t. No jouncing or harsh bumps, even on the upgraded 18-inch wheels and 40-series tires. Just smoothness and grip.
The Civic Touring is not a Type R, but it feels closely related, and thus, handles better than anything in this class has a right to and represents a serious threat to the Mazda3, recently top dog in the fun-to-drive compact sedan universe. The Mazda is a benchmark for design and spirited driving, but the Honda has better tech, and its new interior and infotainment controls are a little more user friendly than the Mazda’s, with just as much panache.
If you’re itching for more power, you’re going to have to be patient. Honda has yet to announce details on pumped-up additions to the eleventh-generation Civic lineup, which have generally stepped up in Si and Type R forms. Those models tend to be worth the wait for enthusiast drivers, and camouflaged Type R prototypes have been seen testing in Europe.
If this new, more sophisticated styling regime adheres throughout the lineup, these cars might even be able to peel off more mature buyers of fierce competitors like the VW Golf GTI. We’ll reserve judgment until we drive those variants, but, for now, the Civic maintains its traditional pinnacle position in the small sedan category and in our hearts.
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