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First Drive: 2017 Honda Civic Hatchback

Civic's Got Back: You want added versatility, you got it with Honda's latest Civic model

Mike FloydwriterThe Manufacturerphotographer

We're hauling along at a decent clip in the 2017 Honda Civic Hatchback and the perfect opportunity arises to put the go pedal to the floor. Let's see what it's got. The 1.5-liter turbo four draws a breath and the engine's 174 horsepower are quickly summoned. The continuously variable transmission kicks down and begins its optimization routine, efficiently delivering the power to the Civic's front wheels. Far from a brutal shove, it's more of a calculated, ordered surge.

If you were expecting the all-new Honda Civic hatch to be hot, you're going to need to recalibrate your thinking. This car is not going to challenge the likes of the Volkswagen GTI et al; think more Hyundai Elantra GT and its ilk. If want your Civic sizzling, you're going to need to wait until the Si and Type R hit the market. But if you're looking for a Civic with hatchback versatility and its own style, then this is the one for you.

The third spoke in the five-spoke, 10th-generation Civic family (sedan, coupe, Si, and Type R are the others), the hatch is aimed at folks who Honda admits are a little bit selfish — either young adventurous types or empty nesters looking for the added versatility a hatchback provides. And there are several trim levels to choose from, including two Sport versions.

But before we go any further, let's get straight to this particular Civic's raison d'être: its backside. This Civic essentially features new sheetmetal from the B-pillar rearward to accommodate the hatch's sloping, coupe-themed greenhouse. At 25.7 cu. in. of cargo room with the rear seats up (46.2 with them down) for most models, it bests the likes of the Golf, Focus, and Mazda 3, and its opening is wide and tall to better accommodate bulkier items. It also features a tonneau cargo cover that mounts left or right and easily stores over the wheel wells, if necessary, eliminating the need to remove it when you have taller gear to haul. Design wise, the rear boomerang taillights integrate neatly into a lower spoiler. There are also sprigs of 'garnish' in the form of hexagonal black mesh accents on either side of the bumper. Like parsley, it's an acquired taste designed to sport up the rear. Honda's HPD performance-themed trim options will also soon become available for the car, which dial up the look even further.

Once we closed the hatch and got out onto the open road, we spent most of our time behind the meaty, perfectly sized wheel of the Civic EX-L with Navi, the 2017 Civic hatchback's top spec model. All versions of the Civic hatch, like the rest of the Civic lineup, come with Honda's new 1.5-liter, direct-injected turbo I-4 tuned slightly differently. In CVT-equipped models like the EX-L, that's 174 hp and 162 lb-ft of torque that peaks at 1700 rpm and holds firm until 5500 rpm. Step hard on the gas and the car moves out briskly. Its CVT is programmed to behave more like a traditional automatic and kicks down once the engine reaches its 6000-rpm redline. At freeway speeds, the engine barely makes any racket until you jump on it and it's fairly quiet in the cabin overall thanks to several noise-canceling enhancements.

The Civic hatch lineup features what Honda calls its Agile Handling Assist, a brake-based torque vectoring system designed to aid turn in and overall control. On a set of mildly challenging twisting roads between San Francisco and Monterey, the Civic hatch held its own, with the car's MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear suspension design and optimized, fluid-filled bushings doing the heavy lifting. Over pavement bumps and bruises, the car did a solid job of soaking them up without doling out any real punishment. Its dual pinion variable ratio electric power steering is on the heavy side and pointed the wheels into place without fuss during more aggressive cornering, while its four-wheel discs hauled things down easily with a firm feeling pedal.

The friskiest of the Civic hatch trim levels are the aforementioned Sport models. Featuring a center-mounted dual exhaust, 18-inch rims, trim specific flourishes inside and out, and slightly more power if you pour premium gas down the gullet (180 hp for both manual and CVT, the manual gets 177 hp), the Sport is the hottest looking and slightly better performing hatch. Sadly, we drew the short straw and only had a short time in a six-speed manual-equipped Sport (the base LX is also available with the manual). But it was long enough to know that its gearbox is what we've come to expect from Honda — tight, short throws and easy clutch pedal operation. If you want to at least look good while rowing your own gears, the Sport is the Civic hatch for you. One caveat: if you were hoping to get the manual with navi, you're out of luck (Honda officials we spoke with said the low take rate for the manual drove the decision). You can get the Sport Touring (essentially the EX-L with the Sport trim) with navi, but it is CVT only. (Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are available on the higher spec trims.)

In the cabin, the hatch has a similar setup to the sedan and coupe models up front. The smartly designed, single-tier instrument panel is a huge upgrade over the previous Civic and features a center area that displays multiple vehicle functions. The 7.0-inch touchscreen navi/infotainment system is also easier to use than previous Civics, as are HVAC controls just below it. Cubby spots abound, including below the gearshift area where USB ports reside (handsfree cellphone charging is also available). Rear seat legroom is more than acceptable, even for passengers in the six foot range, although the hatch's sloping rear does compromise headroom for taller folk. Its 60/40 split fold rear seats are easy to operate. The front seats are comfortable with a modicum of support, and the driver side helm has 8-way operation at its top trim level. Overall, it's ergonomically sound and well screwed together for its price point.

Like its brethren in the Civic family, the hatch is also available with the Honda Sensing suite of safety tech, which features all the usual suspects including collision mitigation, lane-keeping assist, adaptive cruise control, and road departure mitigation. Honda's LaneWatch right lane camera and a multi-angle rear view camera are also on the safety-inspired menu.

Honda expects about 40,000 or so Civic hatches a year to Brexit from its Swindon, England, facility and make their way over to the U.S. It's a car that helps broaden out the range, opens up the cargo options, and especially with the Sport, looks fairly unique. And you can have a little bit of fun in it to boot. Can we get it in Si flavor please, Honda?

2017 Honda Civic Hatchback EX-L w/ Navi  Specifications

On Sale: Now
Price: $27,135 (as tested)
Engine: 1.5L turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4/174 hp @ 6,000 rpm, 162 lb-ft @ 1700-5500 rpm
Transmission: Continuously variable automatic
Layout: 4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, FWD hatchback
EPA Mileage: 31/40 mpg (city/hwy)
L x W x H: 177.9 x 70.8 x 56.5 in
Wheelbase: 106.3 in
Weight: 2,970 lb
0-60 MPH: 7.0 sec (est)
Top Speed: 126 mph (est)