Honda is on a mission of redemption when it comes to its popular compact, the Civic. Despite the previous, ninth-generation model selling in record numbers, that car’s lackluster reception by enthusiasts and the media seems to have gotten under Honda’s skin. And so, for 2016, the Civic sedan was not just redesigned, it was revolutionized, gaining space while losing weight, and for the first time since the Clinton administration, becoming truly fun to drive, even in base form.
Enter the 2016 Honda Civic coupe, which dazzled the crowds in concept form last April at the New York Auto show before making its production debut six months later in Los Angeles, looking virtually identical. After successfully bring the sedan model to market (and securing the North American Car of the Year award for 2016 along the way) Honda finally gave us a chance to drive this second body style in the hills around San Diego to see if Honda’s promise that the new coupe would be even more fun to drive than the sedan would come true.
Like the sedan, the coupe is a global car that was designed and developed in North America, and it looks simply smashing. The front end is mostly the shared with the sedan, but in back, the overhang has been shaved by more than five inches. The upper body tapers inward as it slopes down, making the rear fenders appear totally “swole,” as the kids might say. The rear is totally unique, with C-shaped tail lamps conjoined by a light bar spanning the entire decklid. The overall look is punchy and scrappy and utterly perfect for coupe customers.
All other Civic virtues—pardon the pun—remain fully intact, especially inside. The Civic’s wide dashboard is Honda design at its best, modern and fresh yet utterly uncontrived. Outward sight lines are fantastic, and ergonomics are generally excellent, save for the Display audio system that uses a featureless touch screen for everything, including volume adjustment. We love the high center console in front, which creates a sense of intimacy such that no Civic has offered before while making room for multiple storage cubbies, including armrest storage large enough to hold multiple iPads.
Speaking of space, that’s not something coupes are known for. For front seat passengers, this is not an issue, since the seats are mounted one inch lower than in the sedan, which is exactly how much lower the roof of the coupe is compared to the sedan. In back, legroom is remarkably good (up five inches from last year) but despite the presence of three seat belts, the tapering greenhouse and sloping rear window effectively limit seating capacity to two individuals of modest height and breadth. Unless the driver is a college student, in which case it’s as many as they can stuff inside.
When we finished poking around the car, we finally pressed the red Engine Start button and started on our way. We started with the most aggressively tuned of the Civic’s trim levels—the EX-T—and could tell immediately that Honda really worked to give the coupe its own, intensified character. The ride is markedly firmer and more granular than any of the sedans we’ve driven so far, and body control in corners is remarkably flat. The variable ratio steering has no dead spot whatsoever on the highway, yet is hardly darty. Even better, in twisty sections, turn-in is crisp and the car rotates immediately. For a front-wheel-drive car with a short overhand, understeer is hard to induce. If we had a bone to pick from a ride/handling standpoint, road noise levels are rather high. But that’s it.
Under the hood of the EX-T is Honda’s acclaimed turbocharged 1.5-liter four-cylinder, which produces an impressive 174 horsepower and 158 lb-ft of torque, but unfortunately, comes mated only to a continuously variable transmission with no manual ratio selection. This mildly lag-prone engine feels even more so with the rubber-band quality of Honda’s CVT, and thus quashes much of the joy of powering out of corners. The good news: Honda will eventually offer this engine with a six-speed manual transmission, and after briefly sampling a Civic sedan thus equipped that Honda brought to the event, we wouldn’t order a coupe any other way.
We also got a chance to drive the Civic Coupe in base LX manual and Touring trim levels, the former powered by Honda’s happy, naturally aspirated 2.0-liter four-cylinder with 158 hp and 138 lb-ft of torque, and the latter only offered with the turbo 1.5/CVT combination. As with the sedan, the LX is offered with a six-speed manual transmission that is rather ropey but nonetheless helps make the very most of the lovely engine’s output. The suspension is markedly softer, as well, thanks in part to 16-inch wheels (compared to 17s on all other trims).
The Touring model also rides on a softer suspension and comes loaded with everything the Civic offers, including leather upholstery, embedded navigation, and Honda Sensing driving aids such as radar cruise control, lane departure warning, and much more. The Touring may not be is not the most fun-to-drive of all Civics, but with integrated turn signals in the mirrors, dressy wheels as well as squinty LED headlamps, it’s arguably the best-looking and is easily the most, um, civically responsible.
Civic coupe pricing will be announced closer to the official arrival date in dealerships, which is currently scheduled for mid-March. But even then, Honda’s Civic Redemption Campaign will be far from over. Soon, the sedan and coupe will be joined by a practical 5-door hatchback body style, as well sporty Civic Si and even sportier Type R models as well. The Si will likely be offered in coupe and sedan forms, but the Type R will be a high-powered five-door super-Civic born and bred for European hot hatch scene but which Honda hopes will add some luster to the lineup here, too. Based on the overall excellence of the standard Civic coupe, redemption may be at hand.