Honda Civic Hatchback Sport Touring – nice 'stick-toitiveness'
By Jim Bray
It's getting to be hard finding a manual transmission these days, and that's a real shame. But Honda is riding to the rescue with a stick version of their new Civic – in some versions, anyway – and it's a wonderful thing to use even if it isn't the best stick Honda has made.
Part of the reason I love a manual is that it not only gives you better control over the vehicle, it also helps make you part of the process of driving, making you pay attention to what you're doing (theoretically, anyway). If you love driving, this can be a big deal. If a vehicle is just transportation to you, you may not care – and you may even prefer not having to shift it yourself.
Another reason to love a stick is because it's very handy when the roads get less than optimal – via snow, rain or whatever. You can use the transmission for the most part, rather than the brakes, on slippery roads and that helps prevent the wheels from locking up (when you hit the brakes) and causing a slide or a skid.
Alas, the majority of consumers appear to prefer going through life in a rather shiftless manner, and so manual transmissions are an endangered species.
So, thank you, Honda, for preserving the manual transmission – especially since the alternative in the Civic line is a damn CVT, one of those continuously variable transmissions that don't shift at all (even a conventional automatic does shift) and which in the process sucks a good amount of the "joie de conduire" from the process.
The CVT that's standard on Civics is actually one of the better ones, but I'd still walk right past it if I were looking for a new car. I love to drive, and that's why I still drive a manual transmission. Heck, a nice stick and a hand brake (another endangered species) can also be highly entertaining.
Anyway, if you like shifting for yourself, your choices are limited and Honda offers you a good one on this new generation of Civic Hatchback.
I must admit to being surprised that it isn't as nice as Honda's sticks have been traditionally (slickly shifting, with a light clutch) – in that it's a tad notchy and rubbery, though the clutch action and feel are lovely – but it still beats the heck out of a CVT or even most automatics (though I might be tempted by a dual clutch unit, with paddles!).
And that, of course, is only one thing to love about the Honda Civic, which has traditionally been an excellent compact car. My wife and I owned a 1976 Civic, bought new with a four-speed manual, and it was nigh on perfect for our lifestyle back then – a young, married couple with a baby. Little has changed in that regard, other than the type of changes that have affected every vehicle since the 1970's, stuff like increased size, airbags, ABS, traction control, etc. etc. etc.
And nannies. Boy, does Honda ever put on the annoying nannies! Fortunately, you can turn them off, mostly, but why should someone who doesn't want them have to pay for them in the first place?
I'll get to them in a bit.
The Civic Hatchback Sport Touring, which was the trim level of Honda Canada's sample, sports four doors (and a hatch, of course) and it's modern and up to date and doesn't display the awful creases and bumps and stuff that made some of the previous generation Civics so, well, unpleasant to the eye (depending on the beholder, obviously).
Base Civics, including the hatchback, get a two litre four-cylinder engine rated at 158 horses and 138 torquey things, but the Hatchback Sport Touring uses the 1.5 litre turbo four that puts out 180/177 hp/lb.-ft. I haven't driven the more "pedestrian" engine, but the turbo unit is very nice, with only a sprinkle of turbo lag and enough oomph to put a smile on your face.
Civics, being front-drive, can exhibit a bit of torque steer but I didn't notice anything untoward with Honda's sample. On the other hand, the roads were snowy and quite lousy overall while I had the Hatch, so I didn't get a chance to wind it out the way I would have otherwise.
But it's terrific in the snow, especially with the stick, though you'll want to shut off the nannies lest they drive you nuts. The lane departure warning was particularly egregious, getting confused by snow on the road that it took to mean I was wandering off the asphalt (I wasn't; I was driving straight and centred in the lane) and therefore tugging on the steering wheel to "save me" (whereas it was trying to lead me off the asphalt!).
When I remembered to shut the damn nannies off things got a lot better and I actually enjoyed driving the Civic a lot, especially when things were extra slippery. Well, I missed having a hand brake, which has been replaced by one of those electronic ones that, like a CVT, are "fun subtractors", but that was only because I wanted to do some doughnuts on a snowy parking lot...
I loved the Hatch's suspension. It's all independent, with stabilizer bars, and Honda has tuned it just right, balancing comfort with sporty fun. It feels practically perfect – Mary Poppin's suspension!
So do the brakes, which of course are discs all around with the usual aids.
The cabin is comfortable and, for this size of vehicle, quite roomy. Seats are great, though there was no memory for the driver's seat (I missed it, but I don't think it'd be a deal breaker – though for a car in the neighbourhood of $35,000CAD you'd think you could get that).
Hell, I'd swap seat memory for the nannies any day! But here in Canada we don't get a lot of a la carte choices when it comes to optional features (Porsche may be an exception here), instead being offered packages that can force stuff on you that you don't want. This isn't a dig at Honda because they're no worse than most of the manufacturers in this department. I believe it's just a feature of Canada being such a small market that we pretty well have to take what we get.
You do get a heated steering wheel, which is wonderful at this time of year, and heated seats (front and rear, on the Sport Touring). There's also wireless charging and most of the usual mainstream features available on cars these days, like rear view camera, split/fold rear seat, cup holders, etc. etc..
The audio system (a Bose Premium System with 12 speakers including a subwoofer on this trim level) sounds fine, but Honda still hasn't learned that people who drive their vehicles don't want to think when it comes to changing channels on the radio. You can save presets (though it's a pain) and that helps a lot – as do steering wheel-mounted controls, but the lack of a tuning knob on the centre stack, coupled with a pretty incoherent interface on the screen, can turn what should be a straightforward task into a chore.
Make sure you do your channel tuning (except for presets) when you're stopped!
I'm probably in the minority, since Honda does well in its sales (and, really, it deserves to despite some old fart's opinions).
So, if you're looking for a fine vehicle in this market niche – especially if you're a "stickaholic" – you really should check out the Civic. If you can get used to the nagging (or remember to shut the damn things off), you just might find yourself falling for the new Civic the way I fell for its predecessor nearly half a century ago.
Copyright 2022 Jim Bray