The Honda Civic Coupe Is the New Integra
A budget performance masterstroke, painted a beguiling Aegean Blue.
Prolechariot is a series about vehicular value. It's about slapping your needs and wants on a wall, grabbing a fistful of darts, cocking your arm back and trying to strike as many of your targets as possible. In other words, it’s about making the second-largest purchase decision most Americans face, and making it right. Prolechariots are cars for the rest of us, and Jonathan Schultz is driving them.
Check your wallet, America. Is there $33,666 in there? Hey, congrats! That’ll net one bottle of Yamazaki 35 Single Malt (yes, one), 33 vintage 3rensho track bicycle frames, three Ueshima Siphon Bar coffee makers, or a new car at the nationwide average price. Throw down $26,960 for a loaded Honda Civic Coupe, overhauled for 2016 along with its sedan counterpart, and grasp why certain Japanese goods—whether potable, track stand-able or drivable—command such rabid cults. The 2016 Civic is not just a new car. It may be the platonic ideal thereof. And that’s a mighty good starting point for a Prolechariot.
So that’s it? Should I stop reading now? If you line up coke rails with an Amex Black card and sneeze into $26,960 handkerchiefs, by all means. But if—like virtually every other American for whom a car is the second biggest purchase of his or her life—you might like to know how a once-soulless lump of extruded cheese pulled off perhaps the greatest about-face in automotive history, please read on.
The previous-gen Civic, introduced for the 2012 model year, was, in a word, perplexing. Down-market interior materials, indifferent exterior design, thrashy powertrain dynamics and numb road feel flouted every Honda trademark. What couldn’t be appreciated at the time was that the ’12 Civic signaled what’s now considered a forgettable era at Honda. Other redesigns would feel half-baked (see: Fit). New segment-fillers would be awkward (see: Accord Crosstour). Successors to icons were anything but (see: CR-Z). Speaking to Reuters, Honda CEO Takahiro Hachigo owned up to building “designed-by-committee” vehicles, an admirable bit of candor from the corner office. Self-flagellation, however, doesn’t build a better car.
After a week in a 2016 Civic Coupe Touring, delivered with all of 300 miles on the odometer, Prolechariot would submit that Honda not only redeemed the Civic, but built the spiritual successor to the Acura Integra and RSX: two of the most beloved front-wheel-drive cars of all time. Only, the Civic Coupe Touring might be better.
Here are the five things you need to know about the 2016 Honda Civic Coupe Touring.
1. It’ll Do It
Make you smile. Heat your butt. Beat traffic to tight slots on the highway. Hold revs. Set the rearview mirror vibrating with subwoof’d goodness. Semi-autonomously maintain distance in traffic. Swallow a child seat. Swallow a stroller and a 140-count box of Pampers. Swallow very little gasoline. Shake off multiple direct pothole hits. Smell good. Give you one of the clearest views over the front axle this side of a Range Rover. Make you wonder whether Benjamin Moore mixes Aegean Blue Metallic. Prompt you to shove a hand skyward through the sunroof like you’re Kate Hudson in a rom-com. Prompt you to linger over its every crease, flare and upkick. Prompt you to check the sticker price again.
Yup, still says $26,960.
2. The Packaging Decisions Flummox and Baffle
Pop quiz, Honda: If a consumer values leather seats, 17-inch alloy wheels, a 10-speaker audio system, all manner of surveillance camerawork and sensors, adaptive cruise, daytime LED lights and a seven-inch multimedia display, what in his or her psychographics would suggest a power-adjustable driver’s seat might be overkill?
The real head-scratcher is why such a feature, available on higher trims of the Civic sedan, is not even in the options mix for the Coupe. Prolechariot’s cynical side surmises that Honda wants to reserve it for forthcoming high-performance Coupe variants, like the expected Si and confirmed Type R. But on a $27,000 car otherwise so richly equipped, it's an obnoxious omission.
3. You Need to Give the Design a Chance
Sure, the brushed chrome grille reeks of Robocop, and the brake lights may evoke Lexus’s recent indecent acts of origami, but the Civic is by some margin the most exuberantly styled compact car on sale in America. This isn’t an evolution so much as a realignment. British Prolecharians have long known the Civic family to be a bunch of frugally priced nutters, always with a few too many bodywork creases, always revving a bit higher than polite compact cars would dare, always with a touch too much wing. OK, way too much wing. America’s Civics are just joining the Brit fold, albeit in a more measured way.
In those areas where its design coheres, the Civic Coupe stuns. Front and rear fenders gain muscularity from two gentle, crescent-shaped body creases. The clincher, though, is a neat diagonal crease behind the front wheel that finishes just ahead of the rear wheel. It creates further momentum toward a knee-weakening bulge, just above the fuel door, where the roof, rear fender and deck lid intersect. Damned if it isn’t one of the sexiest portions of any new car at any price.
We may berate Honda for omitting an eight-way power adjustable seat, but the driving position for this admittedly Lilliputian Prolecharian (a gentleman’s 5-foot-7) was nigh on perfect, with everything falling to hand. Honda’s multimedia controls are not the most intuitive—a hard button to access the fan, but digital finger taps to control fan speed—and what we’d give to have a rotary station-tuning dial, but the navigation maps are easy to decipher in traffic. They're not quite Audi caliber, but touch points feel rich.
4. A Civic Coupe Saves You a Trip to the Sound Shop
On Touring-trim Civics, a 450-watt, 10-speaker system with a fricking subwoofer is a standard feature. Let us tell you about this stereo. It picks up and distributes bass frequencies on songs you thought you knew by heart, but apparently didn’t. It’s a shattering piece of equipment, the kind that carmakers only spec if they’re confident that plastics won’t rattle and hum when assaulted by depth-charge bass. We’re happy to report that just a few dimes on the car’s rubberized change/cell phone mat were molested.
Don’t bother, though, with the maddening capacitive volume controls on the head unit. Opt instead for the redundant slider on the left of the steering wheel, which raises or lowers the boom with just a finger’s brush. It’s one of many pieces of gee-whiz tech on a onetime economy car.
5. Buy a Civic Coupe for How It Drives
Automotive media is generally prejudiced against continuously variable transmissions, but Prolechariot tends to be more forgiving. With the Civic Coupe Touring’s CVT, though, everyone gets along. The transmission coached the Civic Touring to an observed 33 mpg average in the gamut of New York City traffic: quick stabs up to 60 mph, followed by hard braking, followed by vertiginous lane diversions on the longest suspension bridge in America. Its labors are imperceptible, with none of the tachometer-needle sweeps and dips you’d experience in cars with lesser units. Pull the gear selector down to “S,” and the transmission will feign cog swaps, but “D” is the Civic Coupe. There’s no secret ninja mode, no left right left right up down A B Select Start sequence.
Granted, like most Hondas, the driver who dips deepest into the throttle finds the most merriment; there’s an ounce of dead air at the top of the accelerator’s travel. But for a low-displacement turbo engine, we—and you—will make such allowances. Our biggest gripe about the new 1.5-liter turbo is an oblique one: You hear it too much. If Honda went cheap—and it really didn’t cheap out anywhere else—it’s on sound deadening material just aft of the engine.
This is small beer when the Civic Coupe is rendering a field of fleet-moving traffic into a game of Galaga. Lock on a target, squirt the gas, overtake, nudge the wheel, and move on. Steering the Civic Coupe is so gratifying that you’ll change lanes just to feel that addicting frisson of resistance through your hands.
It’s in such moments that the Integra/RSX duo comes to mind. When fanboys snipe that Honda has lost its mojo, these two cars are the mojo measuring sticks. Both delivered stealthy compact-car kicks, leavened with a touch of luxury. A week in the Civic Coupe Touring is ample time to realize what this car is—the second coming of the Acuras—and what it will yet be, when its high-performance variants hit the streets. Can it be dinged for not offering a six-speed manual? You’d be tilting at windmills, given America’s wholesale abandonment of the stick. Also, yes.
Prolechariot has no hardware to distribute, no scratch-n-sniff sticker to affix to the Civic Coupe Touring’s dash. It’ll have to make do with simply being called the best new compact car under $33,666 that you can buy today.
But there’s always next week…
2016 Honda Civic 1.5T Coupe Touring
PRICE (as tested): $26,960
POWERTRAIN: 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, 174 hp, 162 lb-ft; continuously variable transmission; front-wheel drive
MPG: 31 city / 41 highway
CAPACITY TO ERASE MEMORY OF 2012 CIVIC: Total
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that a tilt-telescoping wheel was not available on the Civic Coupe Touring. Though the lever is well hidden, it is a standard feature.
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