2022 Honda Civic Review: The King of Compacts Reaffirms Its Reign
The Honda Civic’s 11th generation has giant shoes to fill—and it’s off to a fantastic start.
Listen. Can you hear it? It's faint, for now, but undeniably there, popping out of the background like music floating over the hills on the breeze. You can't tune it out, not that you'd want to anyway; it brings a feeling of unplaceable comfort. It's the pleasant hum of pure competence. And it's coming from the 2022 Honda Civic.
At a time where we're all waking up from a yearlong coma, the arrival of a new Civic is one of those "So what else did I miss?" moments. Being the best-selling compact car in America for five years running gives it a baseline quality in our minds and culture. It's a model that almost everyone can identify whether you give a shit about cars or not, but also one whose past excellence and performance variants make it an item of interest for enthusiasts. The Civic's Hall of Fame is stuffed with icons. A new generation brings so much potential—for triumph, and for heartbreak.
And in this case, the 11th-gen Honda Civic also brings one of the model's most dramatic design shifts in almost a half-century of production, tossing aside the angular, wedgeified styling it had spent the better part of this century developing in favor of a cleaner, simpler design. It's not without its detractors there, and we'll get into that later, but the point is the visual changes are enough to make you wonder if Honda's also messed with the underlying mix that made old Civics—even the standard models—really sing.
Thankfully, a week with the 2022 Honda Civic sedan showed the car still delivers. It's as bright as its forebears, with the same solid quality and understated proficiency in just about everything it does. It's probably the best-handling non-performance compact right now. And even if a basic Civic isn't something you're in the market for, consider this: what we see here bodes very well for the upcoming Si and Type R.
2022 Honda Civic Touring Specs
- Base Price (as Tested): $22,695 ($29,295)
- Powertrain: 1.5-liter turbo four-cylinder | continuously-variable transmission | front-wheel drive
- Horsepower: 180 @ 6,000 rpm
- Torque: 177 @ 1,700 - 4,500 rpm
- EPA Fuel Economy: 31 mpg city | 38 highway | 34 combined
- Cargo Volume: 14.4 cubic feet
- Curb Weight: 3,077 pounds
- Quick Take: Honda builds a better base with the 2022 Civic, and it's undeniably a great car.
Do you really need a history lesson on the Civic? If you're alive, you've seen or been in one. There's not much more to say other than that almost 50 years after the Civic first hit the international scene and helped turn Honda into a global powerhouse, it's still vital to the company as its second-best-selling model in America. In 2020, amid a global pandemic and the ongoing implosion of the small car market, Honda still moved over a quarter million Civics here, topping the Toyota Corolla for the fifth straight year. That streak is now in danger; so far, the Corolla has outpaced the Civic in 2021 as the supply of the old model dries up. No wonder Honda's already rushing the fresh model to dealers.
Under all the marketing-speak about the car’s newly restrained exterior styling lies a simple truth: Honda can only push the Civic’s design as far as mass-market tastes will allow. Where else could it go after the 10th gen's jubilee of angles and creases? Back to basics was the only way forward, and Honda's absolutely stuck the landing in my book. The thing looks great.
When the curtains first rose on the 2022 Honda Civic's simplified, dignified sheet metal, the response was split right down the middle. Shocker. Many, myself included, see a welcome return to the more honest, purposeful and altogether more thoughtful designs worn by Civics in the '80s and '90s. It's not about where else you can add complexity, but where you can subtract it. Straight lines dominate, but it's not oppressive at all. Meanwhile, strategic moves like bumping the A-pillars back nearly two inches, lowering the cowl and lengthening the wheelbase 1.4 inches do a lot to mask the typical front-wheel-drive frumpiness that plagues small cars. The rear end isn't as inspired, with a shortened overhang and taillights that feel a bit like afterthoughts. But it doesn't detract from the success at hand.
Obviously, the main critique of the design is that it's boring. If you're in that camp, there's no world in which me saying anything here is going to convince you otherwise—that's not how subjective tastes work. What I will say is that in person, the 2022 Civic has a noticeable presence on the street in large part because it's still a small car. Riding on an updated version of the existing platform, it's roughly the same size as the outgoing model—about an inch longer (184 inches) and a hair taller (55.7 inches). The styling emphasizes width, which makes it look bigger and a bit more awkward in photos. Walk around it, take in the proportions, and you too might come away seeing a compact with uncommon grace.
Civic's Cabin Comes Into Its Own
Clamber inside, and the 2022 Honda Civic continues to impress. Just about the only thing that's the same is the placement of the seats—and even those have been recast with new "Body Stabilizing" bolstering that performs as advertised. All around, the cabin looks and feels considered in ways modern cars often aren't. Again, there is an active effort to reduce complexity. Retro designs are a dime a dozen; that's not what this is. Instead, the new Civic's interior is an old soul, embodying the ethos of a past era without aping its conventions to build a genuinely nice space.
The strip of honeycomb mesh that spans the dash... it might be a pain to keep clean down the road, but it's a striking and effective centerpiece in a cabin that otherwise feels designed to disappear around you, and the hidden HVAC vents (and their convenient control stalks) are a nice touch. That lowered cowl is the same height as the windowsills, a neat visual trick enhanced by noticeably thin A-pillars and door-mounted side mirrors. Outward visibility is stellar as a result, and it absolutely makes a difference in the driving experience. The promise of that flat beltline is fully realized.
That is, assuming you can get over the 7- or 9-inch infotainment screen sticking out of the dash, and I know some of you can't do that, Dave. The counter there is that moving the screen up four inches makes a world of ergonomic difference when you're driving, a point Honda drove home by having me drive the old Civic back-to-back with the new one. It's easier to have the screen closer to eye level, plain and simple. Elsewhere, decisions like casting the center console in a fingerprint-proof material, adding a more tactile click to the climate control knobs, and spraying sound insulating foam in every last nook and cranny add to the feeling that the 2022 Civic is, from a materials standpoint, a steal at its $22,695 starting price.
That base LX car will also come with a half-digital gauge cluster, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a four-speaker audio system and... not much else. Hey, it's a base Civic. What were you expecting? Probably not a very generous driver-assist package in the latest single-camera version of Honda Sensing, which also comes standard and includes radar cruise control with enhanced low-speed abilities, traffic sign recognition, lane keep assist and automatic emergency braking. The radar cruise and lane tracing performed incredibly well. Honestly, if Honda can bundle all that for free in a $23,000 vehicle, there's no reason why those technologies shouldn't be packaged in almost every new car.
Step up to the Touring that I drove for a week—$29,295 including destination, the same price as the outgoing Touring model—and you'll be rewarded with a Civic-first 10.2-inch digital gauge cluster, a 9-inch touchscreen with wireless CarPlay and Android Auto, wireless charging, leather seats, a 12-speaker Bose system, navigation, parking sensors, rain-sensing wipers and more. Honda is particularly proud of the Bose setup, which like every Bose system sounds pretty great at normal volumes, but a bit harsh and lacking bottom when you really crank it. It should be noted that the wireless CarPlay function always connected seamlessly to my phone once paired, but struggled with multiple drops over several days.
Driving the 2022 Honda Civic
Even below the righteous Si and Type R trims, the Civic has always driven above its station, imbued with more feeling than any other budget compact save for the Mazda3. That easy competence continues with the 2022 car thanks to three things: the carryover powertrains, the longer wheelbase and wider rear track, and a batch of smart engineering upgrades aimed at improving ride and handling.
Lower-tier LX and Sport Civics get the same 2.0-liter naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine making 158 horsepower and 138 pound-feet of torque, while the EX and Touring trims are equipped with an upgraded 1.5-liter turbo-four now putting out 180 hp and 177 lb-ft. Both engines benefit from some tweaking around the edges—a catalytic converter redesign here, turbo plumbing there—that make them more efficient. But both are also paired solely with a continuously variable transmission, a source of much consternation among enthusiasts who aren't in the market for a normal Civic anyway. Though it doesn't have any tricks like Toyota's physical launch gear to give it some snap off the line, the CVT's been pushed and prodded into doing its best impression of a traditional automatic.
As for a manual, it'll be available on the hatchback, the Si sedan, and whatever shape the Type R takes. The only legitimate gripe here about the CVT is that a normal automatic gearbox would also do the mass-market trick and drive better to boot, but Honda says it went with the rubber band for weight and cost reasons. So, let's move on.
Here are the claims: A 20 percent smoother ride achieved through that longer wheelbase and fanatical work at reducing suspension friction. A chassis that's between 8 and 13 percent stiffer via changes to the subframes and floor pan. Tweaks to power steering programming to improve feel and response. Transmission programming that mimics gearshifts in hard driving. A Civic-first Sport mode that actually does something (in this case, adjusts the throttle and transmission mapping).
How that all plays out behind the wheel should be no surprise: the 2022 Honda Civic is now and again a benchmark performer. It's an eminently approachable machine that rises to the challenge of making driving fun without being self-serious about it. Steering is sensitive and direct enough for a fast curve without being twitchy around town, a balance not felt on some cars with prices two and three times the Civic's. The ride is likewise on point: smooth, planted, tight.
The 1.5-liter turbo engine has plenty of punch, enough to snap through the haze of the CVT and reward a firm foot with a commensurate leap forward. Sport mode definitely sharpens the response, though, and using the paddles on the Touring trim is an absolute must to keep revs where you need them when the Civic gets thrown into any mildly spicy situation. The 2.0-liter—well, peak torque hits at 4,200 rpm, and you'll spend a lot of time around there if you want to point it down a good road and glimpse the chassis' potential.
Which, I highly suggest you do, because that's when all the complaints about the "boring" design or the lack of a stick shift melt away. Even in its standard form, the 2022 Civic displays flashes of brilliance when pushed, diving through corners with a neutral predictability at speeds that will shock you. The limiting factor here is the mediocre rubber, 235/40R-18 Goodyear Eagle Sport all-seasons on the Touring. The chassis is writing checks those tires simply can't cash. Throw on some proper summers, and I'm not kidding you, this car's handling would approach the 10th-gen Si.
Still at the Top
So yes, there's a new Civic, and despite the need to aim as wide as possible, it somehow raises the bar on multiple fronts, again. There's no need to be cynical about a good, solid Honda. Even though it's entering a tough market in direct competition with the cheaper Toyota Corolla and more upmarket Mazda3, it's still a standout small sedan. Personally, I take a lot of comfort in that. At this point, it's one of those certainties: life, death, taxes, and good Civics.
Speaking of those, the most exciting thing about the 2022 Honda Civic's introduction is what it portends for the new Si and Type R models, two performance nameplates with a hell of a legacy to meet. Last time around, we called the Si the best $26,000 car you can buy, and the Type R the last hot hatch you'll ever buy. Both were functionally perfect. And if this car is any indication, goddamnit, the next ones are going to be even better.
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