2019 Honda Civic First Drive: How Its Changes Make a Difference

Volume knobs for everyone!

MALIBU, California—It's no secret we're fans of the Honda Civic lineup here at Automobile. With Civic variants on our All-Stars winners' rosters for both 2017 and 2018, the compact car is a great choice for those looking for fun-to-drive and affordable transportation. For the tenth-generation Civic's fourth model year on the market, Honda has given the car a minor facelift and some new options, and we headed to Malibu to test out the updated car in sedan and coupe forms. After evaluation on public roads and carefully crawling all over several examples, we found the 2019 Honda Civic to be even better than before. These are the changes that make a difference:

It has a volume knob. Yeah, not a big deal to most people, but while we loved our long-term Civic Type R, the fact that it was missing a volume knob grated over time. We mean, how much vague tapping and sliding to adjust sound levels can you do? We complained, as did every other automotive media outlet and plenty of customers. Honda heard the cries and installed—elegantly, we might add—a volume knob to the infotainment interface. All is right in the world again.

The blacked-out front fascia is simple but effective. The Civic's styling still seems relatively fresh, and Honda didn't want to pull a Camaro and mess up what the public has already accepted. So, instead of changing the whole car's styling, Honda simply altered the front with a "black chrome" look across all models, as well as slightly re-sculpted the headlights to be slightly more three dimensional. The tweaks look good in person and should keep the Civic looking modern for several more years.

The Sport trim has been extended to the sedan and coupe. The Sport packs cosmetic upgrades such as 18-inch wheels, blackout fog-light trim, red gauges, and Si-inspired exterior cues, and as in the hatchback model, the newest versions also receives performance tweaks versus other trims to match their crisp looks. Honda retuned the shocks and revised the rear control arms for a more controlled and sportier ride, and there's also a thicker front anti-roll bar and a quicker steering ratio. During our canyon run through inland Malibu, our Civic Sport sedan bent itself into corners with eagerness, displaying a willingness to play and handling chops that belie its low starting price of $22,870. The steering is light and responsive, and the car is so placeable and controllable that even the twistiest, most bad-ass roads don't shake driver confidence. Body roll is kept nicely in check, as the car chooses an attitude through a corner and sticks to it, and even with the suspension modifications, overall ride quality remains quite comfortable.

Unfortunately, the one thing that doesn't port over the from the previously hatchback-only Sport is its 180-hp 1.5-liter turbocharged engine. The coupe and sedan Sport models keep their un-Sporty counterparts' 2.0-liter naturally aspirated four-cylinder. It makes 158 horsepower and 138 lb-ft of torque, but it had enough poke to pull up steeper grades in third or even fourth gear. (Still, we'd have loved to have had the punchy 1.5T at our disposal.) And speaking of gears . . .

The manual transmission is here to stay. The take rate for the six-speed manual transmission on the Civic hatchback Sport is about 20 percent, according to a Honda spokesperson we spoke with. That's good enough for the company to go ahead and extend the manual's availability to the sedan and coupe Sport, as well. The test car we drove we had was a manual, and although the shifter isn't quite as rewarding as that in the fearsome Type R, this is still among the best manuals to use on the planet. The clutch takeup is progressive, and the heft and feedback you feel through the leather-wrapped grip is satisfying.

More safety tech is standard. This isn't the flashiest topic, but the Civic now includes the full "Honda Sensing" suite of technologies on the sedan, coupe, and hatchback. Automatic braking, pre-collision warning, adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, and road-departure mitigation are all included. Automatic high beams are in the mix, too.

A light touch went a long way inside, too. The horizontal trim panel across the dash is now rendered in a sort of glossy plastic honeycomb, which looks nice and its different texture stands out from the rest of the cabin, which is mostly dark and black, by providing a light-catching surface to draw the eye.

It's quieter. We think. Honda says it added additional sound deadening across the Civic lineup, and we paid extra attention to cabin noise levels during our test drive. We found overall NVH to be minimal—my, what a change from a couple generations ago—although it would have helped to have the previous car on hand to be able to actually quantify it.

More usability, less frustration. Finally, Honda hammered out issues with usability and ergonomics, previously the Civic's weakest area, with this update. That's right, the company didn't stop with the volume knob, no sirree. Honda redid the controls for the air conditioning, too, so drivers wouldn't have to use the touchscreen to control fan speed. Now, there's a knob on the left side of the center console. Honda also updated its Android Auto and Apple CarPlay integrations, as well as with the way Bluetooth devices are paired with the vehicle. Our drive was short enough that we didn't get to test those new features, but they exist, so there's that. Finally, Honda added an extra USB port in the Sport and EX trims.

In all, our brief exposure showed the 2019 iteration of the Civic to be an even more attractive option for those who value practical and affordable transportation that's also engaging to drive. It has more features than it did when the tenth-generation car hit the market, and we're excited to see that most of the Sport's goodness has been extended to other body styles. The more powerful Sport was an All-Star when it launched, and it now has some excellent company in the showroom.

2019 Honda Civic Sport Sedan Specifications

ON SALE Now
BASE PRICE $22,070
ENGINE 2.0L DOHC 16-valve inline-4; 158 hp @ 6,500 rpm, 138 lb-ft @ 4,200 rpm
TRANSMISSIONS 6-speed manual, continuously variable automatic
LAYOUT 4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, FWD sedan
EPA MILEAGE 25-29/36-37 mpg (city/hwy)
L x W x H 182.7 x 70.9 x 55.7 in
WHEELBASE 106.3 in
WEIGHT 2,847 lb
0-60 MPH 7.9-8.3 sec (est)
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