First drive: 2022 Honda Civic expands on winning compact car formula

June 16, 2021

The prospect of testing the redesigned 2022 Honda Civic excited me, given its outsized importance to Honda and domination of the compact car market. But it also gave me pause, because I have a lot of familiarity with the car. Not only do I come from a family of Civic owners (a 1997 and a 2009), I drove all five distinct Civic variants from the last generation of the car: coupe, sedan, hatchback, Si, and Type R. 

That kind of familiarity meant that the new Civic would have to really offer some clear upgrades to get my antenna to perk up. After testing the new Civic compact sedan around Los Angeles for a week in both urban environments and challenging canyon roads, I’m relieved to report that this generation of Civic has something special about it. Both in how it drives and how it’s equipped.

2022 Honda Civic

2022 Honda Civic

The 2022 Civic marks the arrival of the 11th generation of the compact car and its formula remains refreshingly familiar. There’s a reason the Civic name is ubiquitous; as far as affordable, reliable transportation is concerned it (along with the Toyota Corolla) is the go-to vehicle for many folks. And the new one continues that tradition, but comes with enough change that new life has still been injected into it.

The Civic’s down to four trim levels (LX, Sport, EX, and Touring) after eliminating the EX-L trim. The coupe will also not be returning. That leaves the sedan, which will arrive first, followed by the hatchback, and eventually the sportier Si and performance-oriented Type R model down the line.

Power isn’t everything

Both of the Civic’s powertrains carry over from the 2021 Civic with some small tweaks. The LX and Sport feature a 158-hp, 2.0-liter 4-cylinder while the EX and Touring get a 180-hp, 1.5-liter turbo-4. Each is joined to a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) and all Civics are front-wheel drive.

There is a noticeable difference in performance between the two engines. The naturally aspirated engine in the LX and Sport feels more sluggish both off-the-line and while attempting to pass or merge at speed. Honda says that the CVT has been modified to make it more responsive, but it doesn’t feel markedly different from the previous transmission. The Sport trim I tested came with a Sport mode, but it didn’t fundamentally alter the experience.

2022 Honda Civic

2022 Honda Civic

The upgraded powertrain is no speed demon, but offers better low-end power after a small delay. It produces 6 hp and 15 lb ft of torque more than last year’s engine, thanks to a new turbocharger, but from the driver’s seat it feels effectively the same. There’s enough power to give the driver more confidence on the road than the base engine, but not any more than that.

One thing that both engines do have in common: they get buzzy under heavier acceleration. Going up a long grade caused my nose to wrinkle a bit; the combination of CVT and 4-cylinder makes for a poor soundtrack. Otherwise, it’s a quiet cabin for this class. There is a touch of wind noise coming off of the side mirrors, but if you have any music or even a podcast on, it fades into the background. 

The strength of the Civic’s driving experience comes from its balance and surprisingly sharp handling. Though the platform that undergirds the sedan is the same in principle, the wheelbase has been lengthened by 1.4 inches and that has added some extra stability into the car. Combine that with some front suspension upgrades and a multi-link rear suspension, and you get a Civic with improved ride quality and is more fun on a winding road as well. The steering feels precise with enough feedback to be communicative. Driving these two versions of the Civic made me more curious for what the Si and especially the Type R can do, with greater power that more closely matches the Civic’s handling acumen.

Those looking to maximize fuel economy will be better served by the smaller turbo-4. The base LX gets an EPA-estimated 31 mpg city, 40 highway, 35 combined, trailed by the Sport at 30/37/33 mpg. The EX is the most efficient Civic at 33/42/36 mpg ahead of the Touring model, which drops to 31/38/34 mpg.

2022 Honda Civic

2022 Honda Civic

Playing it safe

The new Civic plays it safe on styling, with a boxier look that changes things up from the curvier approach found on the last few generations of Civic. From the front or back, it’s ho-hum. Not good, not bad, and still easily recognizable as a Honda. The car looks best in profile, where the lowered hood and kicked back A-pillars make it appear elongated. In fact it does such a good job of this, that I was asked by both passengers and strangers on a few occasions if it was an Accord. Though the Civic has been lengthened (by 1.3 inches overall to 184.0 inches), it’s still over a foot shorter than the mid-size Accord (196.1 inches). 

Width and height have been held constant, which I appreciate. Keep compact cars compact! They should be easy to park and maneuver around the city, and that remains true of the 2022 Civic. 

A nice side effect of dropping the hood and moving the A-pillars back is that the driver has a large and obstructed forward view. The sightlines looking forward are now excellent, almost SUV-esque, but from a lower seating position.

2022 Honda Civic

2022 Honda Civic

Sport models look the most aggressive, especially with a slew of Honda Performance Development (HPD) parts tacked on. The car you see here had about $1,600 worth of extras, including front, side, and rear underbody spoilers, a decklid spoiler, HPD emblems, and gloss black accents. It’s a little bit overkill with all the logos, but if you want to make the Civic look racier off the lot this is the way to do it.

Improved interior

The redesigned Civic has taken a jump up in interior quality and it stretches even to the lower trim levels. A metal honeycomb grate covers up most of the air vents and makes the whole right side of the dashboard feel cohesive. Anti-fingerprint trim pieces are found on the center console between the seats and the doors, and the touchpoints have improved; there’s a substantial click to each of the dials and the window switches are tipped in metal as well. 

What Honda has done is raise the baseline quality of the Civic’s interior for all models, and that makes the Touring feel a bit less “special” compared to the lower trim levels. I think this is the best approach. Those looking for leather and the larger screen will still have the Touring trim, but giving the LX and Sport a more premium feel makes those gains accessible to more buyers. And to keep up with competitors like the Hyundai Elantra and Mazda Mazda 3, which have gone upmarket as well.

2022 Honda Civic

2022 Honda Civic

2022 Honda Civic

2022 Honda Civic

2022 Honda Civic

2022 Honda Civic

2022 Honda Civic

2022 Honda Civic

The Touring really differentiates itself (besides leather upholstery) on the technology front. It is the only way to get the larger 9.0-inch multimedia screen with wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility, an upgraded 12-speaker Bose audio system, and a 10.2-inch driver display. The driver display offers a decent amount of customization, but isn’t quite on par with the new system found in Volkswagens. I liked the option to move to a bar-based display that opens up more space in the middle to see how the safety features are working, and the Civic displays vehicles around you in Tesla-esque fashion.

The base touchscreen measures 7.0 inches and comes with tethered Android Auto/Apple CarPlay. The two screens share the exact same housing, though the small screen has a tuning knob and the larger screen does not.

The backseat has room for two adults to fit comfortably, though with three adults back there things get squishy. I was saddened to find no visible air vents in the rear though, just a pair of USB-A ports. Backseat passengers are people too! They need to breathe.

2022 Honda Civic

2022 Honda Civic

Same money, more stuff

The final piece of the puzzle that we’ve been waiting for has been pricing. The LX price has gone up by just $450 to $22,695 (including destination charges) and the Sport has only risen by $50 to $24,095. Given that the Civic’s standard features list has expanded and the safety systems have also grown, this is great news for those shopping on the more affordable end of the Civic spectrum. 

The safety upgrades in particular are worthy of note. The Civic comes standard with traffic sign recognition and the active lane control works in tandem with the adaptive cruise control to keep the car centered down to a stop -- both representing improvements over the old Civic.

For the EX, it’s a price gain of $300 to $25,695, but the Touring trim is the most impressive. Its price remains exactly the same: $29,295. 

The 2022 Civic is a continuation of the Civic formula, just improved. It proves that affordable transportation doesn’t have to lack quality and its dynamic improvements bode well for the line of performance variants that will be sure to follow. While its styling may speak softly, the Civic’s value and road manners are a big stick for competitors (especially the Corolla) to worry about.

Honda provided lunch, a Civic Sport for an hour, and a Civic Touring for a week for The Car Connection to bring you this first drive report.

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