Cast your memory back to the early and mid 1970s, when Japanese car manufacturers were just starting to make serious inroads into the North American market.
Toyota was a presence, as were Datsun, Mazda and Isuzu. But the company that seemed to really get the ball rolling was Honda.
When it was introduced in 1972, the Honda Civic was an almost instant hit. People loved its compact dimensions, excellent fuel economy and, most of all, accessible price tag.
It would become a best-seller in Canada for the next five decades. Indeed, the Civic is still one of the top-selling passenger sedans in Canada and around the world.
For 2022, it remains as user-friendly as ever and, aside from one major flaw, is arguably the quintessential compact sedan.
Available in five trim levels, the Civic is powered by a turbocharged 1.5-litre four-cylinder engine or, in the case of the Touring and Si models, a 2.0-litre four-cylinder. These engines develop 158, 180 and 200 horsepower, respectively.
I test drove the Touring model, which is mated to a continuously variable transmission (CVT) only. You can get the Si model with a six-speed manual gearbox but otherwise, it’s the CVT.
This is the car’s biggest weakness and would be a deal-breaker for me. I dislike CVTs at the best of times, and this generation of the Civic is not the best of times. The CVT in this car may be the worst I’ve ever encountered. It completely robs the car of its driveability.
That’s a shame because, in every other way, the Civic is an excellent economy sedan. It’s surprisingly spacious, comfortable, stable, lively, well-balanced and driver-friendly. If it weren’t for the accursed CVT, I’d seriously consider owning this one.
It’s hard to understand Honda’s insistence on the CVT because the 2022 Civic is probably the most extensively engineered and researched model the company has ever produced.
When you sell an automobile in this kind of volume, you want to get it right, and up until now, Honda has gotten it right. But this CVT is unresponsive, vague and frustrating. There are three settings – Normal, Economy and Sport – but there’s virtually no difference in performance between the first two and the Sport setting, which bumps engine revs up by about 1,200 rpm and makes the car skittish and unstable.
The new Civic Touring comes with an idle-stop feature, two exterior cameras, speed-sensitive sound system control, heated front seats, blind-spot warning, remote engine start and my favourite: walk-away door locks.
These features come with all the models, but the Touring adds goodies like power adjust driver’s seat, heated rear seats, leather interior and Bluetooth, among other things. Not to mention a price tag of $6,000 higher.
There’s 419 litres (14.7 cubic feet) of cargo space in the trunk. A Toyota Corolla has 13 cubic feet and Hyundai Elantra has 14.2.
The new Civic has roughly the same proportions as an older Accord. This isn’t the pint-sized hatchback that Honda unleashed 50 years ago. It has matured into an attractive, well-designed sedan that can seat five adults in comfort and is just as comfortable on long trips as it is around town.
Fuel economy is around 7.0 litres/100 km combined, making it one of the most frugal cars in this market segment. The Elantra is good for 7.4 and the Corolla gets 7.1, so Honda continues to get that part of the equation right.
But I don’t think I’ve ever been as disappointed in a car as I am with this one. While Honda got the Civic right in just about every department, the one thing they should have gotten right, they didn’t. Back to the drawing board, Honda.
2022 Honda Civic
Engine: 2.0-litre four cylinder
Transmission: continuously variable
Horsepower: 180 at 6,000 rpm
Torque: 177 foot pounds at 1,700 to 4,000 rpm
Base price: $30,265
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 7.6 city and 6.1 highway, with regular gas
Some alternatives: Toyota Corolla, Kia Forte, Hyundai Elantra, Nissan Sentra, Mazda3, Volkswagen Golf, Subaru Impreza
Ted Laturnus has been an automotive journalist since 1976. He was named Canadian Automobile Journalist of the Year twice and is past president of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC). For interview requests, click here.
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