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Auto review: 2016 Civic is perfectly competent but boring

(TNS) Very few cars are completely satisfying. That one has plenty of performance but no perks. This one has lots of room but not enough zoom.

The 2016 Honda Civic, in that respect, may be a perfect car. It delivers everything it promises and does exactly what it sets out to do. It's dependable, predictable, affordable and economical.

Maybe that's why it's a little … boring. This is a passenger vehicle with which no reasonable person could possibly find fault — or fall in love.

Temperate and moderate in every way, the newly designed Civic — the 10th generation, and the most advanced version in the model's 42-year history — took its styling cues from Europe.

"In the past, we targeted other compacts in the U.S. market — and the last one didn't do so well with the critics," said Honda senior product planner Michael Willrich. "This time we decided to target European benchmarks. This is a global car. We wanted to raise the style quotient and the fun-to-drive factor."

Trying to be more like a BMW or Audi, and less like a Camry or a 2015 Civic, the reborn sedan is longer, lower and wider. The sportier-looking body has a longer hood and shorter rear overhang. The sportier handling is crisp.

Under the hood is something sportier too — a new 1.5-liter turbocharged engine, the Civic's first turbo, which makes 174 horsepower and 162 pound-feet of torque, up from the earlier vehicle's 133 and 129.

While base LX and EX models of the new Civic sedan can still be had with a non-turbo, four-cylinder engine, the turbo improves horsepower and torque while also getting slightly better fuel economy.

Honda has already introduced the two-door Civic coupe. It will add to that and this four-door sedan three more models, the hatchback, SI, and R versions. (The latter will probably come with a 2.0-liter turbo engine, Willrich said.) The coupe comes in three trim levels, the sedan in five, from the entry-level LX to the top-of-the-line Touring.

Though it has held the line on price — the 2016 LX model costs only $150 more than the 2015 — Honda has dropped into the Civics a number of amenities usually associated with more expensive cars.

Standard on the high-end Touring trim level are push-button start, leather upholstery, heated seats and even rain-sensitive windshield wipers. The on-board communication system can accommodate both Apple CarPlay and Google's Android Auto. Honda's Sensing Package includes adaptive cruise control, assisted collision braking, lane departure warnings and other safety features.

For people who — like me — are too old, too stiff-necked or simply too lazy to turn around when they make a lane change, the 7-inch display screen even broadcasts a side- and rear-view picture when you hit the right-turn signal.

On the road, the Civic feels competent and steady, quiet on the freeway but comfortable in the canyons. It's not a car you'd want to take onto the track. The small motor, paired with Honda's continuously variable transmission, makes the Civic sound at times more like a kitchen appliance than a car.

But on the streets it's a pleasure to drive. The 106-inch wheelbase and tight turning radius make it easy to navigate and extremely easy to park.

Inside, everything is logical — within reach, uncluttered, unconfusing. There might be too much happening on the steering wheel, where tiny buttons to operate the audio system compete for space with even tinier buttons for making phone calls, sending texts and changing the information on the dashboard display.

Honda says the Civic is "bi-modal," which according to Willrich means it is expected to appeal both to young consumers who might be buying their first automobile and older buyers who might be emptying the nest and downsizing to a smaller vehicle.

Willrich declined to name nameplates, but he said he hoped the remade Civic would steal some customers not just from traditional rival Toyota but also from some European brands.

"It was always a two-horse race between us and our competitors up the street, but we do believe we are going to catch buyers from other manufacturers," Willrich said. "There is a bigger buyer pool out there."

Decades ago, Civic was Honda. Then came the Accord, which became the company's top seller. But sales of the Accord and Civic have both suffered as American car buyers have flocked increasingly to compact SUVs. Both lines have lost buyers to Honda's CR-V.

But the stalwart Civic has sold consistently well, moving 300,000 units or more in 13 of the last 15 years. It will get near that number for 2015.

It remains to be seen whether buyers still attracted by the great fuel economy will be impressed by the Civic's new European wardrobe, or whether the chic exterior will attract buyers who care more about styling than economy.

Either way, the car's 10th iteration is a vast improvement over the ninth, and bodes well for Civic sales in 2016. Issuing its November auto sales numbers earlier this week, Honda reported Civic sales up 8.6 percent, an early reflection of the new model's renewed popularity.


2016 Honda Civic sedan

Quick take: Economical, affordable, dependable — and dull

Highs: Peppy, fuel-sipping people mover

Lows: Even with new Euro styling, a bit bland

Vehicle type: Four-door, five-seat sedan

Base price: $19,475

Price as tested: $27,335

Powertrain: 1.5-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine

Transmission: Honda CVT

Horsepower: 174

Torque: 162 pound-feet

Zero to 60 mph: N/A

EPA fuel economy rating: 31 mpg city/42 highway/35 combined


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