It came as something of a surprise when in January the 2016 Honda Civic was dubbed North American Car of the Year at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. Not that it's a bad car, it's just that – aside from the really marvelous reworking of sheet metal – it feels much the same as the Civics that came before it. In fact, stacked up beside the all-new Mazda Miata and Chevrolet Malibu, the other finalists NACTOY's car category, one has to wonder how it won.
Awards aside, Honda keeps doing what it's always done with the Civic: build a great, if somewhat dull, family-sized economy car. My parents had a Civic when I was a kid. It was small and boring, but it never, ever broke, it had just enough space for four of us and its re-sale value after a decade was still high and all of that is still the case with this version, although it's a much more attractive model.
It's Bravo, then, to the Honda team that worked on the new Civic's exterior styling. Despite its small size and reputation for practicality, the car looks elegant. When approaching a Civic from behind, drivers may mistake it for a more expensive car.
The interior is fit to match the smart exterior – clean, simple and distinctly improved over the cluttered spaceship cockpit look of past models. Seating is comfortable, the rear seats are roomy, and the interior is quiet. At 15.1 cubic feet, the trunk is large – especially for a small car – and access through the opening is very good.
The movable storage bins inside the center console are a novel feature. It was nice to be able to reconfigure it to hold the stuff I happened to be carrying on any given day. Unfortunately, the console doesn't close all the way, so prying eyes can always peer down inside of it – a disadvantage for those who want to keep their belongings out of sight of potential thieves.
The top-of-the-line Touring version we tested was equipped with Honda's sprightly turbocharged 1.5-liter 4-cylinder engine, although a very efficient CVT sucked much of the joy out of driving it. Handling was decent, too, but wasn't anything that would make Formula One engineers take note.
We liked the right-turn rearview camera on the Honda Fit we tested, and we're happy to see that it came standard on all 2016 Civics. The right mirror-mounted eye is certainly vulnerable to things with a beef against protruding mirrors (bike messengers, delivery trucks, other cars, etc.), but the usefulness of being able to see the blindspot as you're turning is worth its weight in potential replacement parts.
Should you buy a Honda Civic? It's hard to do better when it comes to quality and fuel economy, but perhaps the Touring trim level is unnecessary. While a base Civic quipped with a slightly less potent engine and a 6-speed manual transmission goes for less than $20,000, the price of the Touring model closes in on $30,000. Honda doesn't exactly pile on awesomeness for the extra bucks. Adding all the active safety goodies – forward collision and lane departure warning, automatic emergency braking and lane keeping - and a CVT (required with the safety items) only adds about $1,400 to the overall price of the base LX, which is practically the same car.
All of that begs the question, Isn't it best to keep an economy car economical?
Buyers will still get the same quiet ride and comfortable seating regardless of trim level; plus, if past models are any indication, even the cheaper Civics will hold their value well into the future.
By the numbers: 2016 Honda Civic Touring
MSRP: $27,335 (estimated price as tested, includes $835 destination charge)
Power and drive wheels: 1.5-liter, 174-horsepower turbocharged 4-cylinder; front-wheel drive
EPA fuel economy: 31/42 city/highway mpg
Safety: IIHS Top Safety Pick +; not yet rated by NHTSA
In showrooms: Now