by: Jag Dhatt
Muskoka, ON: When the Honda Civic landed on Canadian soil in 1973, nobody expected the little hatchback to become as steadfast as a name as it did. Here was a little car, built in Japan, that was going to challenge the surge of the Toyota Corolla. Muscle cars were big of course, but compacts were beginning to make their presence in the North American market. Fast forward forty-four years and the Civic is still here, as one of the best-selling cars in the world. And for 2017, Honda has brought back the Civic Hatchback after 11 years in hiding. We were invited to beautiful Muskoka, full of fall colours, to be one of the first media to drive the new Civic Hatch.
Honda has been busy making sure all body styles of the Civic are available to the mass market. The sedan has been a great seller and we were one of the first to drive, and be impressed by, the Civic Coupe in 2016. The Hatch now completes the line-up, offering more versatility to hatchback lovers. However, this is going to cost you a lot more than $4,000, which was the original price in 1973.
Honda has gone the same route as some other manufacturers, by building the Hatch on a global platform shared by other models in the line-up. Unless you’ve got a canny eye, you may not notice much difference between the Hatch and sedan from the B-pillars forward. The keen eye will notice a blacked out grille, slightly more aggressive vents, and a lower looking stance. Both the sedan and Hatch are virtually the same height and share the same wheelbase. But unlike the sedan, Honda engineers made sure the Hatch was much more aerodynamic, and based on looks alone, they’ve succeeded. I was impressed by the look of the Coupe and the Hatch is just as, if not more, beautiful. Although our drive fleet was mostly LX trims, if you opt for the Sport or Sport Touring, you’ll get centre exhaust and it looks awesome.
On the inside, the cabin is almost identical to the sedan. As with the CR-V, which was launched later in the year, the Hatch also has a more premium feel than you’d expect. Honda has really upped its game in design, choice of materials, and overall feel. What’s really going to appeal to buyers of the Hatch is the enormous amount of class-leading cargo space, which tops out at 728 litres, more than the Ford Focus, VW Golf, and Mazda3. According to Honda’s Steve Hui, “This new Civic Hatchback has enough space for two full suitcases AND a golf bag.” Another neat concept for the cargo area is an exceptional tonneau cover, that, rather than being retractable, now rolls from side to side – it works quite well.
The roads through Muskoka provided some great driving experiences, where we put the new Hatch through the paces. During the first day of the drive, we drove a CVT-equipped Civic Hatch, which is probably going to be the volume seller because let’s face it, it’s the trend. The CVT (continuously variable transmission) is good, but it’s still a CVT and doesn’t provide as much enthusiasm as a 6-speed or typically geared transmission. For everyday driving, no-one is going to complain much, but if you punch the accelerator, you’ll notice some hesitation.
This brings me to the shift of the automotive market – most manufacturers are going with a CVT because it’s more economical, has less mechanical issues, and delivers better fuel economy. New drivers may only know a CVT transmission rather than an automatic geared transmission; thus, for these new drivers, they may not know any better – a pity in my opinion.
Getting back to the Civic Hatch, there is a Sport mode that does improve the driving experience. I kept it in this mode for most of my drive. Ride quality of the Hatch is quite nice. Up front, the Civic is planted on MacPherson struts while an independent multilink setup is in the rear. As with other “new” Honda models, the rubber bushing have been replaced with fluid, which makes a huge difference. While driving through the twisty back roads of Muskoka, the Civic proved to be a good ride. Granted, the ground was wet, overall traction and response was quite acceptable for this LX trim. The electric steering provides good feedback and at higher speeds, feels right.
Day two of the drive event gave me the chance get behind the wheel of a manual 6-speed, the transmission most of us gearheads would probably choose. Shifts were short and precise; this is probably one of the best manuals on which to learn to drive a standard. The clutch is also quite forgiving.
Both the CVT and 6-speed manuals are mated to the single power mill available (for now) – the new 1.5 liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that also made its way into the new CR-V. It’s amazing how much smaller the engines are becoming, yet they churn out more HP and torque compared to their previous larger counterparts. This new engine puts out 174 HP and 167 lb-ft of torque in the LX and 180 HP and 177 lb-ft of torque in the Sport and Sport Touring. Looking for even more thrills? Then you’ll be happy to know that Honda has announced that a Civic Si and Type-R variations will be here in the not too distant future.
After two great days of driving, I had averaged 6.2 L/100 km of combined driving, impressive numbers considering we pushed the cars quite a bit. Honda claims class leading fuel economy and we nod our heads in agreement.
The new Civic Hatchback LX’s that we drove did not feel entry level at all. Heated front seats, responsive touchscreen complete with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, automatic climate control, rear-view camera and standard 16” wheels really make even the LX an attractive option. But with all these extras, be willing to pay just a bit more. The LX starts at $21, 390, with the Sport at $25, 190, and the Sport Touring at $30, 690 (with CVT and Honda Sensing). Yes, it’s a lot of money for a Hatchback, but according to Honda, you’re now getting a lot more car for the price.
The Honda Civic Hatchback has been a crowd favourite since the day it was launched forty-four years ago. The newest iteration should be a favourite again as buyers will get a sporty premium car with the versatility of a hatch. For more information on the new Civic, visit www.honda.ca.