2017 Honda Civic Hatchback first drive: Doing more with less

November 14, 2016

It may have a rear liftgate just like the first Honda Civics that migrated to America at just the right time—when gas prices were spiking in the mid-1970s—but the 2017 Civic Hatchback that’s just now arriving in dealers is anything but a dour little runabout.

In fact, it’s not even as much like the rest of the Civic lineup as you might expect. Instead of simply revising the Civic sedan’s posterior opening, Honda lopped about four inches off of its tail. Its wheelbase is the same as the sedan, meaning the reduced overall length (down to 180 inches) comes not from passenger volume but from the trunk.

That may seem contradictory, but there’s more to the story. The Civic Hatchback is built in the United Kingdom, and not the Midwestern United States like its siblings, because it is essentially a European-market car designed for congested streets.

2017 Honda Civic Hatchback

2017 Honda Civic Hatchback

There’s some history to discuss here. For several generations, the Civic sold to Americans shared only its name with the model sold in Europe. Ours emphasized rear seat room and had a trunk. Theirs was a hatchback with wacky styling and a more upmarket interior. Now, Honda has decided that the world needs just one basic Civic, albeit in three bodystyles (coupe, sedan, and hatchback). Americans are offered the full range because we’re crazy about the Civic; it’s a perennial best-seller. Honda’s estimate of delivering around 50,000 annually here may be conservative.

From the B-pillar—the roof support just aft of the front seats—to the front of the hood, the Civic Hatchback is the same as the sedan. Inside, front and rear seat passengers won’t know which Civic they’re in unless they pay close attention to some minor trim color changes. Behind the B-pillar—the roof, doors, fenders, and, of course, tailgate, are exclusive.

That cargo area affords 25.7 cubic feet of cargo room in most models behind the second row (that’s 10 cubic feet over the sedan), and a bike-swallowing 46.2 cubes with the rear seat folded forward.


2017 Honda Civic Hatchback

2017 Honda Civic Hatchback

The Civic Hatchback will be offered here only with a 1.5-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder mated to a choice of 6-speed manual or CVT gearboxes. A quintet of trim levels are on offer: LX, EX, and EX-L are shared with the sedan and coupe, while only the hatch is available in new Sport and Sport Touring configurations.

The build walk is pretty standard for Honda. Opt for the LX and you’ll get power windows and locks, 16-inch alloy wheels, and automatic climate control. The EX goes more mainstream with a moonroof, upsized wheels, an infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability, and Honda’s terrific LaneWatch camera that displays the right side blind spot in the head unit when the right turn signal is activated. EX-Ls add leather seats and navigation.

The Sport trim doesn’t go as far as its name implies, adding 18-inch wheels wrapped in Continental rubber, some styling touches outside and a leather-wrapped steering wheel to the LX—but it does have a dual exhaust system that bumps power output from 174 to 180 horsepower. Sport Tourings add to the EX-L the highest level of kit ever offered in a Civic: LED headlamps, 12 speakers, a power passenger seat, heated rear seats, and the company’s Honda Sensing suite of safety tech that includes adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, and a system that nudges the car back into its lane if the driver begins to drift.

All other CVT models offer Honda Sensing as a $1,000 option; it’s not available with the manual. Speaking of pricing, you’ll get in as low as $20,535 for the LX manual. An EX with the CVT runs $23,635, while the range-topping Sport Touring is a still reasonable $29,135. All of those figures include $835 in destination charges.

2017 Honda Civic Hatchback

2017 Honda Civic Hatchback

That’s about $500 over an equivalent Civic sedan.

LX, EX, and EX-Ls will mostly be delivered with the CVT, and their engine is tuned to deliver 174 hp and 162 pound-feet of torque. The LX is the only one of those trims available with a stick shift, and it sees an extra 5 lb-ft of torque.

That aforementioned dual exhaust system in the Sport bumps power to 180 hp and torque, in manual models (Sport only; the Sport Touring is exclusively CVT), climbs to a respectable 177 lb-ft.

In practice, that extra torque afforded to the stick shift Sport is surprisingly noticeable. It pulls a little harder than the standard Civic, and it reminds us that this little engine is a jewel. Above 2,000 rpm, it tugs along eagerly and almost silently with the stick shift. Opt for the CVT, as most buyers are apt to do, and the engine buzzes and snarls more, almost as though it’s a different unit. Its initial response is softened as the gearbox decides what to do. In day-to-day driving, the CVT is largely imperceptible—high praise for a gearbox design with which we’re rarely enamored. Sport models gain paddle shifters, which work well to imitate actual gears.

For the most part, the Civic Hatchback rides and handles like its sedan siblings; the lopped off sheetmetal doesn’t save weight since the tailgate has a wiper assembly and a lot of glass (including a visibility-enhancing vertical section; the view out the rearview mirror is excellent). Underneath, the hatchback utilizes its own, slightly firmer dampers and fluid-filled bushings—but only on Sport models. They also get revised steering tuning, which makes them slightly sharper, but the brake package is the same as the rest of the line.

2017 Honda Civic Hatchback

2017 Honda Civic Hatchback

Then again, the Civic didn’t need much changing. Honda pretty much nailed the sedan from day one. We like the way the Sport trim levels ride on their larger 18-inch alloy wheels (which aren’t pictured on our white photo car; it is an EX-L, while the interior shots come from a Sport 6-speed). They’re firmer without being punishing. 

All models are efficient, checking in at a solid 31 mpg city, 40 highway, 34 combined with the CVT on LX, EX, and EX-Ls. But shop carefully, because the 18-inch wheels and the special body kit on Sports drop those figures to a less impressive 30/36/32 mpg. Manual models, regardless of trim, come in at 30/39/33 mpg.

A miserly hatchback—that’s just what Honda used to do so well. Except this time they’ve called in the refinement team to smooth things out. The best Civic, and arguably the best compact lineup we’ve ever seen, just got better. 

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