On Autos: Today’s Honda Civic belies its humble origins


The 2019 Honda Civic, priced from $20,370, is a delightful combination of driving enjoyment and interior space — if those are the qualities you’re willing to pay extra for in your small sedan. Photo by Brady Holt

It’s easy to think of the Honda Civic as a basic economy car — small, cheap, efficient, and not much else. Even the Civic name is the perfect fit for a “cheap and cheerful” little runabout.

But the current Civic generation, which debuted as a 2016 model, is a different type of compact car. Its spacious interior, sprightly handling, aggressive styling, and advanced engines elevate today’s Civic to a different plane. And fresh updates for 2019 include a more user-friendly control layout, plus standard safety equipment on all models.

The Civic’s ample interior volume makes it a smaller, more fuel-efficient alternative to a midsize sedan like Honda’s own Accord. Indeed, some past Accord generations were smaller and less roomy than the Civic. It’s available as a four-door sedan (tested for this review) as well as an even more cargo-friendly five-door hatchback and a style-focused two-door coupe.

Meanwhile, its driving experience compares favorably to the Mazda3 and Volkswagen Golf, helping the Civic join the compact class’ favorites among driving enthusiasts, while offering extra-spacious rear seating that those two models sorely lack. The Civic’s steering is eager and responsive, and its composed suspension delivers a smooth ride along with high handling limits. Driving the Civic can put a smile on your face, while most compact cars settle for unassuming transportation.

The 2019 Honda Civic sedan has a long, sleek body that creates plenty of interior space, though some folks would prefer to sit higher off the ground. Photo by Brady Holt

We recommend opting for the Civic’s 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine — standard on the hatchback and available on most coupe and sedan trims. It’s both zippy and tremendously fuel-efficient, trumping the base 2.0-liter non-turbo engine on both counts.

Although it varies by trim level and body style, the 1.5-liter Civic achieves EPA ratings of up to 36 miles per gallon in mixed driving, ranking it among the most fuel-thrifty non-hybrid cars you can buy today. (There’s no longer a Civic Hybrid, but the 52-mpg Honda Insight is heavily based on the Civic sedan.)

All these strengths don’t mean the Civic is perfect for everyone. If you are still searching for simple, straightforward transportation, you’d likely prefer a couple of excellent budget-priced competitors: the Hyundai Elantra or Kia Forte. These models are about value and user-friendliness rather than flashy looks or sporty handling. They have slightly higher seating positions than the low-slung Civic, and they have more straightforward dashboard controls. And they’re several thousand dollars less expensive than the Civic.

Tech lovers might also find the Civic disappointing for its class. Honda has improved the 2019 Civic’s infotainment system compared to the 2016-2018 model, replacing some cumbersome touch-sensitive controls with physical buttons and a volume knob. But the touchscreen remains smaller and slower to respond than the class norm, and the base LX model settles for an old-school display (which, to be sure, some buyers might prefer for its simplicity).

Overall, the Civic is an outstanding compact car. It brings pizzazz and driving pleasure at relatively affordable prices, while also providing standout fuel economy and a usefully spacious interior. Just be aware of its particular strengths and the tradeoffs they entail. Prices for the 2019 Civic start at $20,370.

To see more photos of the tested 2019 Honda Civic sedan, visit tinyurl.com/civic-sedan-current.