Ah, the hatchback. It’s the automotive world’s multi-tool. It can be sporty and stylish, or practical and, well, odd-looking.
The practicality of a hatchback version makes it arguably the best choice of the three body styles
Honda knows a thing or two about making hatchbacks; they’ve done it for a bunch of decades now and sold them around the world. Some of them have been properly sporty, while others have been more than a little odd. But it’s been more than a dozen years since they’ve blessed us here in North America with a new hatchback, having felt we didn’t need one since anyone who might’ve bought one in the past had simply moved on to buy compact SUVs (like Honda’s own CR-V).
Here we are in 2017 and last year, for the 19th consecutive time, the Honda Civic was the best-selling car in Canada, and yet despite an all-new (and entirely better) 2016 model, the overall sales of the Civic were down slightly versus 2015 thanks to a dwindling passenger car market.
In an attempt to retain its biggest piece of the shrinking pie, Honda has decided it needs to serve more people different slices of the same dessert and is offering the Civic in sedan, coupe and now hatchback flavours (not to mention the upcoming spicy Si and spicier Type-R variants).
For those of us who appreciate this current bigger-than-ever Civic, the practicality of a hatchback version makes it arguably the best choice of the three body styles, even if it is odd-looking (and it is).
Overall the proportions are good on the 2017 Honda Civic Hatchback, with its low, wide and aggressive stance making it seem like it is squatting down on its haunches. But it’s also really overwrought with creases, folds and ducts making it a very busy design. Plus, those taillights look like giant, pinching claws.
Of course styling is subjective and more than 65,000 Canadians are happily driving around in their current-generation Civics, lobster-lights and all, quite pleased with the benefit of owning a very well-engineered car.
The Civic Hatchback comes only with Honda’s excellent direct injection, 1.5L turbocharged 4-cylinder engine. In LX trim (the entry point to the Hatchback line up, and what our test car is), this engine is rated at 174 hp and 167 lb-ft of torque as fueled by the energy in regular gasoline.
Step up to a Sport or Sport Touring Hatchback and you’ll get six extra horses and ten more torques if you feed them all premium fuel, plus your Civic will have a pair of cool-looking centre-mounted tailpipes not found on the base model.
As if to prove that Honda still loves driving enthusiasts, the Civic Hatchback can be ordered with a six-speed manual transmission (the CVT is optional on the two lower-trim levels). This is one of the transmissions that has a small but vocal group of motorists begging society to “Save the Stick”. The round shift knob sits atop a stubby arm that provides short throws and precise operation, sliding from gate to gate. The clutch action is light enough that it could be depressed with a toe instead of the whole foot, meaning that even stop-and-go traffic is manageable with this stick-shift.
For buyers on the fence as to whether or not they should order their Civic with three pedals, just do it. You won’t get many more chances in this lifetime, and they don’t get much easier or more agreeable than this. Plus, if you’re worried about the lack of parking brake lever to help mitigate roll-backs, Honda has provided a handy “Brake Hold” button for you to achieve the same thing electrically.
Around town, especially in first and second gear, the little engine reminds that 167 lb-ft of torque isn’t a ton of twist. But once up to speed, the tall gearing makes for easy revs from the little engine, even at highway velocity, and yet the Civic still has plenty of oomph to facilitate passes, often without requiring a downshift.
Honda has made the Civic a lively handler, with quick steering and a sophisticated suspension that keeps its composure if the car hits a bump mid-corner. What’s more, the Hatchback has a good balance between decent handling and a reasonably supple ride, at least as much as can be evaluated with a set of Bridgestone Blizzak tires mounted.
During its week with autoTRADER.ca, this particular Civic saw plenty of action, fighting amongst its competitors in a seven-car hatchback comparison test and taking yours truly from Niagara to Montreal and back. The stretch of Highway 401 east of Toronto, between Cobourg and Kingston, is four lanes wide and climbs and falls over hills and drumlins for many miles. It’s here that left lane traffic races along at speeds significantly higher than legal, only to slam on the brakes as one transport truck traveling at 103 km/h passes another uphill doing 102.
While frustrating to drive, that section of highway it does give plenty of opportunity to evaluate braking, and the Civic’s binders have great initial bite and a strong, progressive pedal feel, providing impressive stopping power.
Elevated speeds with plenty of uphill sections and frequent braking have got to be almost as bad for fuel efficiency as stop-and-go traffic (of which we also encountered plenty), and yet still the Civic Hatchback attained overall average 5.9 L/100 km over more than 2,000 km of driving. My 675 cc motorcycle consumes more fuel than that, and a Civic with the CVT transmission, not wearing winter tires and driven by someone with greater restraint would achieve better mileage still.
Make no mistake, Honda’s engineers have absolutely aced the fuel efficiency with the new Civic, achieving claimed optimized results in real-world conditions.
During a six-hour highway drive, one has plenty of time to really evaluate the little details inside a car, discovering, for instance, that the plastic on the door is hard enough to bug my elbow, but the seats hold up very well, preventing numb-bum. And that even after all that time, my driving companion and I still repeatedly turned up the temperature when a cool song came on thanks to the lack of a rotating knob for volume control.
The Civic Hatchback is quiet for such an affordable car, with both wind and road noise being sufficiently suppressed to make the mediocre base-model audio system sound pretty decent. Honda has seen fit to include Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard fare in the Civic, and it’s perfectly executed here too. The screen is a large, easy-to-reach unit with bright graphics and fantastic interface between Honda’s own apps and CarPlay.
The best part of the Civic Hatchback versus its trunk-butt Civic siblings is the cavernous storage capability afforded. With the 60/40-split rear seats up, there’s 727.7 L of volume. Seats folded, that number expands to over 1,300 L, exceeding most competitive compact hatchbacks by a fair margin. The rest of the car is filled with cubbies, hutches, cabinets, drawers, containers and other sorts of space to store the food, drink and detritus one accumulates on a road trip.
If there is one major complaint about the new Hatchback, it’s the poor visibility, particularly toward the rear three-quarter view when doing shoulder checks. The C-pillar is thick enough to obscure small towns and the back-up camera (for parking) is such a wide angle that determining how close the rear bumper is to an obstacle is a bit challenging.
There is no question, this latest-generation Civic is the best one yet (and with the high-performance models coming, it’s only going to get better). And with both sedan and hatchback body styles to suit more tastes, it’s sure to continue on its path to sales domination for a 20th year. With its superior practicality at no expense to performance, the Civic Hatchback should prove very popular amongst motorists looking for the vehicular do-everything multi tool. Even if it is a bit odd-looking.
|Peak Horsepower||174 hp|
|Peak Torque||167 lb-ft|
|Fuel Economy||8.0/6.2/7.2 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb|
|Cargo Space||727.7 L/1,308 L, rear seats folded|
|Model Tested||2017 Honda Civic Hatchback LX|
|Price as Tested||$23,085|