2016 Honda Civic shapes up with leaner, longer, sportier ride

If you don't know what car your roommate owns, chances are it is a Honda Civic or Toyota Corolla. The two best-selling compact sedans in the U.S. are reliable, fuel-efficient values that don't stand out much from the large-but-shrinking compact segment. But Honda wants its redesigned 2016 Civic to make an impression that lingers far longer than that one time your roommate cleaned the bathroom.

The 10th-generation Civic is sportier in styling and powertrain, making it less like the value-driven Hyundai Elantra and more like the sport-minded Mazda3.

Style

On the outside, Honda has adopted a more European design with a lower, coupelike roofline, but the floor is also lower, so headroom isn't compromised. The body is nearly 4 inches longer, largely from the car's distinctive front overhang, with sharp LED lighting and body paneling that circles the fog lights. The wheelbase, with sharp 17-inch alloy wheels, is an inch longer and the snubbed rear with a high spoiler makes it seem hatchback-like. But don't worry, it's no Crosstour. It's a leaner, lower, sportier Civic.

Performance

There are two powertrains for now, a 2.0-liter four-cylinder or a direct injection 1.5-liter turbo four-cylinder. Both are mated to a continuously variable transmission, or CVT. (Note: Honda has issued a stop-sale for the 2-liter Civic, and is expected to recall the 34,000 sold so far. The 1.5-liter turbo we tested is unaffected.)

The turbo Civic that comes at the Touring trim level is a punchy powertrain that matches the sportier exterior. Honda's first 1.5-liter turbo engine in the U.S. kicks out 174 horsepower and 162 pound-feet of torque, good enough to hit 60 mph in less than seven seconds, according to Car and Driver. Other outlets had it pegged in the low 7s — either way, that's nearly two seconds faster than the outgoing 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine. Turbo lag is slight, max torque is delivered as early as 1,700 rpm, and the responsive throttle gives it plenty of bang for its 26,500 bucks. Those bucks are targeted, at least partly, to conserve gas.

Honda's commitment to the CVT in the Civic adds value. Sport drivers will wait for the Si or Type R, but the turbo Civic with CVT extends a tank of gas. We averaged more than 40 mpg on the highway without trying. EPA estimates are 31 mpg city, 42 highway, and 35 combined, which is where we were at in Eco setting.

Additionally, the CVT is remarkably smooth and nearly unnoticeable. Like roommates, transmissions are best left unnoticed until you want to play with them.

Touring in style

The Touring interior boasts leather-trimmed seats, steering wheel and shifter, with soft-touch dash and door materials. It comfortably and easily fits a family of four, though larger drivers may have to work the 8-way power seats to find the right setting. In back, Honda says it added 2 inches of rear legroom, and the 60/40 split rear seats open up to a trunk with 2.6 more cubic feet. It feels more midsize than compact, and the kids will have to reach to kick the seat backs.

Unlike other coupelike sedans with low rooflines, the forward visibility is exceptional. Honda's rear camera system, including a lane-watch camera mounted on the passenger side mirror that lets you see your blind spot when activating the right indicator, gives all the eyes you need.

The Touring trim level comes with all sorts of eyes in the form of sensors that jolt the steering wheel when you migrate out of your lane, flash "BRAKE" a little too early when you approach a car and adaptive cruise control, our favorite new car feature, which follows the car in front of you by anywhere from about 3 to 8 car lengths. You can road trip on the highway for hours without having to touch the pedals. Kids — or the roommate — can take lengthy naps.

You may need to wake a passenger or opt for Apple Car Play to use the infotainment system, which is our only complaint with the new Civic. The 7-inch touch screen feels smaller than that, the surface buttons are narrow and changing audio channels is best done via presets, Car Play, or anything other than the screen. There are no dials or knobs, which gives the center stack a neat, uncluttered appearance. The system is an improvement over Honda's previous system, but still feels one generation behind the competition. There is a redundant volume button on the steering wheel shaped like a bent vuvuzela, one of those crazy soccer horns better placed in a Dr. Seuss book. Volume can be controlled via the touch screen, and accessing climate controls must be done through the touch screen as well. The voice commands don't help much. Automakers are starting to accept that a touch screen held in your hand has much better functionality than one attached to a moving object. Honda is new to the reality that the more we have to do through a car touch screen, the more frustrated we'll be.

Expect an infotainment upgrade across the product line, and the return of a knob or two, especially in the Civic. It's too complete a car, at too right a price, to be sunk by a system with touchy functionality, like an overly sensitive roommate.

rduffer@tribpub.com

Twitter @DufferRobert

2016 Honda Civic Touring at a glance

Vehicle type: compact sedan

Base model: $18,640

As tested: $26,500 (excluding $835 destination fee)

MPG: 31 city, 42 highway

Engine: direct injection 1.5-liter turbo 4-cylinder

Transmission: continuously variable transmission

Parting shot: The infotainment system is a black hole in an otherwise great car.

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