Fashion is cyclical.
Evidently, so is car design, because after spending the last half-decade wearing a seriously – and occasionally even controversially – extroverted exterior, the redesigned 2022 Honda Civic is bringing the wildly popular compact car back to the side of restraint.
Ditching the existing version’s Gundam look, the overhauled Civic’s aesthetics inside and out are much more reserved – and perhaps even generic. A debate about the Civic’s new appearance could last all day, but it would do nothing to change the fact that the 2022 Civic is an extremely solid car that builds on the strengths of its already-great predecessor. It’s nimble and precise, and features a logical, practical cabin with a smattering of luxury-car-aping tech. It also has a set of ridiculously nice HVAC knobs.
As is often the case, the tester Honda provided for this brief first encounter happened to be the top-of-the-line Civic Touring sedan. In addition to a more powerful turbocharged engine, this model features two-tone 18-inch wheels, a fully digital instrument cluster, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration on a nine-inch touchscreen (lesser trims require a cable and use a seven-inch display), and a 12-speaker audio system.
In addition to saddling its latest small sedan with a less expressive design, Honda appears to have exercised restraint when it comes to its engineering efforts under the hood, too, because this 11th-gen Civic uses carried-over engines from the previous generation. That means all trims but this top one are powered by the same 2.0L four-cylinder as before that makes the same 158 hp and 138 lb-ft of torque. This top Touring trim, meanwhile, is powered by the 1.5L turbocharged four-cylinder as its predecessor, though it’s now pumping out six horsepower and 15 lb-ft of torque more than before for totals of 180 and 177, respectively, on regular-grade gas.
Honda says the base motor will use less fuel than it did before thanks to a new auto stop-start system, a new catalytic converter, and tweaked tuning of its continuously variable transmission (CVT), the only one available. A hatchback version of the Civic will be available with a six-speed manual in addition to the same automatic found here.
The tweaked turbo motor definitely sounds better than it did before. It’s less like a mooing cow and more like, you know, an engine. In terms of forward momentum, that additional output is appreciated, sure, but it doesn’t exactly make a world of difference on paper or out on the open road. As it was before, the 1.5L-powered Civic is a decently adequate performer, doling out usable torque that makes everyday commuting, highway passes, and getting away from stop lights relatively easy.
Where the 2022 Civic’s driving experience really shines, though, is in its handling. Honda has tuned the steering and suspension, and built this car on the most rigid Civic chassis ever, and it shows. The outgoing car was already a decent handler, but this version buttons this compact down even more. The steering feels markedly quicker, more precise, and exhibits a delicacy reminiscent of cars way more expensive and athletic. The stiffer chassis feels lower, tighter, and more compact, though there’s reason to believe the psychological effects of the minimalist interior and big greenhouse had a little bit to do with it, too. As a result, the entire car feels nimbler and lighter than before despite weighing marginally more.
The brakes are strong, easy to modulate, and smooth in stop-and-go traffic. Ditto the new auto stop-start system, which works as advertised, shutting the engine off when it isn’t needed and starting it back up again almost imperceptibly and with little delay. Highway cruising is also quite pleasant despite the ride being just a tad busier than you might expect. While never outright harsh, it’s certainly more involved than a crossover like the Honda CR-V.
Something about the Civic’s driving experience that couldn’t be rationalized, however, were the interior vibrations and rattles that presented themselves at high speeds and over rough pavement during testing. Granted, they weren’t super loud, and perhaps they’re symptoms of the car tested being part of an early production run. However, it’s all still a little unbecoming of a brand-new car from a manufacturer that prides itself on quality.
Just like the exterior, the 2022 Civic’s interior is all grown up and very subdued. It’s filled with simple shapes, rounded edges, and un-gaudy materials, while tasteful flourishes like the honeycomb vents and those three deliciously clicky, knurled temperature-and-fan knobs keep the place from feeling too stark.
In this car’s literature, Honda makes a big deal about how the new Civic’s low cowl and beltline, and thin, pushed-back A-pillars provide a better outward view. After driving it, it’s clear why. Forward visibility is stellar, as are the ergonomics. Everything is where you think it should be and almost always within reach. (Oh, and for the hardcore Honda nerds reading this patiently awaiting the performance-oriented Si and Type R variants of this car: you can simultaneously touch the steering wheel and the top of the shifter with one hand. Just like you can in your front-loading EP3. Just like you can in your FK8 Type R. Just like you can in your S2000.)
As for outright space, those familiar with the previous Civic’s spatial dimensions and limitations will feel at home here, because Honda has decided to finally put a stop to model bloat and build a new Civic that’s largely (no pun intended) the same size as the old one. There’s a decent amount of room in all seats, save for the middle of the rear bench. Front and rear legroom remain identical to the old car, while headroom grows by the slightest of margins. Cargo capacity for the Touring trim has shrunken versus the last Civic by eight litres, which may sound like a lot until you realize the difference is between last year’s 416 L versus this new car’s 408 L – a gulf of less than two per cent, or four big bottles of pop.
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Front-row storage space is alright, too, consisting of a deep armrest cubby and two cupholders, as well as an area underneath those beautiful temperature controls that’s just big enough for today’s biggest devices and a wallet. Wireless charging comes in the Touring trim.
Rear-seat Civic Touring passengers will be treated to two USB ports on the back of the centre console and heated outboard seats. Less positively, the door cards back there are comically flimsy and are trimmed in hard plastic, even at the top. It’s admittedly common at this price point, but it’s always disappointing to discover. It’s all forgivable once you jump back into a front seat and feel the click of that fan knob, though.
Honda got most of the Civic’s interior basics right, including the feature set. Coming standard in all but the base LX trim, a heated steering wheel can now be had for the first time in any Civic, operated by a button on the steering wheel, as the UX gods intended. The upgraded stereo that comes only in this Touring trim sounds good and is controlled by a nine-inch touchscreen running software that’s clear, fast, and well laid out, but it doesn’t exactly sport the prettiest interface out there.
While we’re on the subject of tech, Honda’s suite of advanced driving aids has been improved and is standard across the board, with the Touring trim exclusively featuring low-speed braking control. Adaptive cruise control and lane-keep worked well enough during testing, but there are definitely more advanced and natural-feeling systems out there. What did impress, however, were a small handful of little safety-minded touches seemingly ripped right out of Volvo’s playbook.
For example, the Civic’s road sign recognition system doesn’t just post up a little sign on the dash indicating the speed limit, throw its hands up, and call it a day. It flashes at you when you’re speeding over a certain amount and adds a tiny red line on the speedometer where the limit is. Windshield washer fluid now squirts out of the wipers themselves for a more efficient and thorough clean and, in turn, better visibility. Better still, those are standard across all trims.
One key standard safety feature Honda can take full credit for, however, is the design of the next-gen driver and front passenger airbags. Pioneered in the current Acura TLX and MDX, the Civic’s driver airbag is shaped like a donut while their passenger’s is a three-chamber glove-like design. Fortunately, my time with the Civic didn’t involve any real-world testing here, but the new airbags are said to cradle the head more securely in angled frontal collisions, reducing the risk of severe brain trauma.
Despite the massively toned-down looks, Honda hasn’t messed with what makes the Civic great with this 11th-generation car. Its turbocharged engine has been improved and refined upon, it handles even better than before, there’s a healthy amount of useful and standard tech onboard, and, if you haven’t gathered already, those temperature knobs really are a tactile delight to use.
Built right here in Canada – specifically, Alliston, Ont. – the 2022 Honda Civic starts at $24,465 and ranges to $30,265 for this Touring version before freight and taxes. Now bring on the Type R.