2018 Honda Civic New Dad Review: Sensible and Fun as Ever, Now With Better Seats
Honda's small Civic set the bar for efficient, entertaining transportation a long time ago. And it still delivers on that promise.
I finally did it: I'm a dad. The funny thing is, I've always owned dad cars, even before I needed to. Owning anything with less than four doors never made much sense, which is how I ended up with a stable of souped-up grandpa cars from the Sixties and Seventies. Now that I'm a father, the '74 Oldsmobile sedan I brought my wife and son home from the hospital in seems a bit dated. And that, my friends, is how I found myself on this quest to find the perfect new dad car. The most recent contestant: The 2018 Honda Civic, in sedan and hatchback forms.
2018 Honda Civic Sport and Touring, By the Numbers
Price as Tested: $22,296 (Sport) / $28,355 (Touring)
Powertrain: turbocharged 1.5-liter inline-four; six-speed manual transmission (Sport) / continuously-variable automatic (Touring); front-wheel-drive
Fuel Economy: 29 city; 38 hwy (Sport) /32 city; 42 highway (Touring)
0-60 MPH: 6.8 seconds (Touring, Motor Trend testing)
Top Speed: 127 mph
Random fact: If you fold down the rear seats, lay the front passenger seat on top of them and remove the headrest, you can fit a nine-foot-two-inch surfboard inside a Honda Civic, regardless of whether it's a hatchback or sedan.
My family owned a progression of Honda Civics when I was growing up. They were cheap, reliable, and fuel efficient—the trifecta of budget-conscious family friendliness. Beginning with my dad's slow, cramped, un-air-conditioned '81 hatchback and ending with my grandparents' spaceship-weird '06 sedan, these cars ranged from spartan to sufficient. But they all had one thing in common: rock-hard seats. I'll never forget a trip from northern Virginia to Boston my family made in our 1994 Civic; my tailbone is still sore from being perched on that miserable little slab Honda called a back seat for nearly 11 hours. That was the plight of all Civic owners for many years; my brother still owns a 2000 Civic, and having driven it on a number of occasions, I can tell you that this otherwise-agreeable car is rendered unpleasant by Stone Age seats.
Fortunately, Honda has moved on, creating a small, rather sporty-looking car that's more family friendly than ever, particularly in hatchback form. Plus the new Civics have deliciously comfortable seating—as far as economy cars are concerned, anyway.
No one could ever claim a Civic to be luxurious, but the seats aren't the only thing that has improved. A customizable driver information screen replaces an instrument cluster that had gone from cheap-looking-but-clean to wonky over the generations. Now, it's a choose-your-own adventure sort of deal. Unfortunately, as in years past, the infotainment system is a pain in the ass to use, and the audio system lacks a volume knob on its center stack—a must-have for when the music volume must be diminished, mid-corner with the steering wheel volume knob somewhere else, so that you can ask junior to pipe down back there. [Note: 2019 model year Civics will be re-gaining volume knobs. —Ed.]
As always, the Civic is fun to drive, even in trims less racy than the Civic Si sedan and the raucous Type R hatch. But the Civic Sport hatch, which is available with—can you even believe it?—a manual transmission, has budget-minded enthusiasts particularly well-covered covered. (And it doesn't look anywhere near as ridiculous as the Type R, which is a Dragon Ball Z monstrosity from a stylistic standpoint.) Starting at less than $22,000, you get a car with a peppy 180-horsepower four-cylinder engine, a slick-shifting six-speed manual, responsive steering, and good handling.
The Touring sedan, although not quite as fun as the manual-equipped Sport hatch, comes with the Honda Sensing active safety suite, which includes adaptive cruise control and automatic emergency braking. "They" keep saying you should have that, especially if you have children...but I'm the stubborn who likes to remind myself that my parents drove cars that barely had brakes, and I made it out alive.
The Civic's hatchback configuration, which mimics the sedan's attractive fastback profile, pulls off a sleeker look than anything you're likely to find on a crossover that secretly just wants to be a minivan. Better yet, the Civic hatch offers nearly 26 cubic feet of cargo volume with the rear seats up (and more than 46 with the seats down)—imperative for anyone who needs to cart a tiny baby and the tiny mountain of crap that comes with one. I was able to fit a big folding stroller, various beach paraphernalia, and a pile of auto repair tools in the trunk, all while still being able to fit a safety-seated baby and one small mother-in-law in the back seat. The sedan, with its small trunk opening, was more difficult to get things into and out of. If you're a parent with a child or two, do yourself a favor and go for the hatch.
Although the back seat was spacious and (more-or-less) comfortable, I had one tiny complaint—but it's an issue with all small cars, not just the Civic. It was difficult to get the child safety seat in and out of the back doors without tilting it. There's no getting around it; the access hole is narrow. The LATCH anchors, obscured by a small flap of padded fabric, are easy to use, but as in most compact cars, space for my kid's rear-facing child seat was tight. Of course, the way safety seats keep growing in size, we're soon going to be required by the federal government to encapsulate our children in car-sized, crash-proof foam pods before taking them outside the house. By that point, though, cars will just drive themselves, so my son (or my son's son, more likely) can ride in his own self-driving car. Before we get ahead of ourselves, the 2018 Civic has a five-star federal crash safety rating and comes with a host of active safety features standard or optional—so that oughta do for now, safety-wise.
At the end of the day, the Honda Civic still offers the sort of economy, utility and reliability that drew my parents and grandparents to earlier versions of it again and again over the years. If anything has changed, it's only details that have made it a better car.