2020 Honda Civic Hatchback Review

Liz Kim | Nov 08, 2019

Introduction

Hatchbacks once defined the small car segment, but they fell out of favor when Americans came to equate them with affordable vehicles that people drove because they had to, not because they wanted to.

Today, they’re making a bit of a comeback. That makes sense, given their undeniable utility and more affordable prices in comparison to similarly sized crossover SUVs. Smart people who know that all you need is a good set of snow tires to get through a typical winter get more for their money when they choose a compact hatch – and spend less money on gas.

Automakers who sell cars globally are in good position to capitalize on trends like this. And made it easy for Honda to reintroduce a Civic Hatchback to its lineup for 2017.

Now, the 2020 Honda Civic Hatchback (built in the United Kingdom, of all places) gets a few changes. Mild styling updates accompany a nod to driving enthusiasts in the form of expanded availability of the manual transmission. More versions also have Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, an 8-way power driver’s seat is standard starting with EX trim, and the top Sport Touring trim gets new LED headlights. Every 2020 Civic Hatch benefits from new interior trim and additional sound deadening materials.

2020 Honda Civic Sport Touring Hatchback White Front Quarter

For this review, J.D. Power evaluated a 2020 Honda Civic Hatchback equipped with Sport Touring trim, the newly available manual gearbox, and standard equipment. The price came to $28,980, including the $930 destination charge.

What Owners Say…

Before we discuss the results of our evaluation of the Honda Civic Hatchback, it is helpful to understand who buys this compact car, and what they like most and least about their vehicles.

Men are drawn to the Honda Civic. J.D. Power data shows that 62% of Civic owners are male (vs. 57% for the segment). Civic owners are the same age as all compact car owners (42 years), but they enjoy a higher median annual household income ($77,759 vs. $71,751). Civic owners are also twice as likely to identify as Performance Buyers (16% vs. 8%).

According to J.D. Power data, Civic owners are more likely to strongly agree that a first consideration in choosing a vehicle is quality of workmanship (49% vs. 43%), and that they like a vehicle with powerful acceleration and responsive handling (45% vs. 39%). They are less likely to strongly agree that a first consideration when choosing a vehicle is fuel economy (24% vs. 30%).

Civic owners are less likely to agree that to them a car is just a way of getting from place to place (50% vs. 55%). In alignment with that sentiment, they are more likely to agree that they like a vehicle that stands out from the crowd (70% vs. 64%). People who own the Honda Civic are also more likely to agree that their friends and family think of them as someone who knows a great deal about autos (59% vs. 55%).

Owners say their favorite things about the Civic Hatchback are (in descending order) the exterior styling, engine/transmission, interior design, driving dynamics, and visibility and safety. Owners indicate their least favorite things about the Civic Hatchback are (in descending order) the storage and space, fuel economy, seats, climate system, and infotainment system.

What Our Expert Says… 

In the sections that follow, our expert provides her own perceptions about how the Honda Civic Hatchback measures up in each of the 10 categories that comprise the 2019 APEAL Study.

Exterior

Honda Civic owners love the way their car looks, and cite it as their favorite aspect of this model. With a daring front fascia, sculptured creasing along the flanks, and a pert hatchback rear, my test vehicle received plenty of double takes (though I think family members who ‘oohed’ and ‘aahed’ thought I was rocking a Type R).

And my test vehicle, equipped with sparkling white paint, a surplus of black trim, and darkened 18-inch aluminum wheels? Storm Trooper all the way, if you like that sort of thing. I do.

Interior

Compared to its exterior, the test vehicle’s cabin was a tad bland, with a black-on-black color scheme that made the interior feel cave-like. Aside from surface texturing, such as the perforated leather seats, and details like exposed stitching, there was no visual contrast within the dust-, lint-, and pet hair-magnet of a cabin.

Quality of the materials was good, though, and the doors thunk shut like you’re closing a bank vault. There is a clear sense of refinement and attention to detail here, and with the added soundproofing for 2020, the Civic Hatch looks, feels and sounds a cut above.

Seats

Thanks to my shorter legs and longer torso, it’s a bit of a task for me to find an ideal driving position when rowing a manual transmission. The Civic, with its 8-way power adjustable driver’s seat, made it easy.

The seats could use a little more side bolstering to keep the driver snug while cornering on canyon roads, and I would prefer to see a seat height adjuster for the front passenger seat, but otherwise there is little to complain about as far as comfort goes.

Furthermore, the test car’s front and rear seats were heated, making it more appealing in cold-weather climates. Two adults will be fairly happy in the Civic’s back seat, where there is a surprising amount of leg, foot, and shoulder room.

Climate Control System

It’s not clear why Civic owners rate the climate control system so low. Most likely, this is because so many other aspects of the car are clearly appealing.

In any case, aside from a lack of rear air vents, which caused complaint from my two kiddos, the dual-zone automatic climate control system was easy to use thanks to clearly marked control. The all-black interior did, however, take awhile to cool down on some prickly hot days.

Infotainment System

Owners rank the Civic’s infotainment system as their least favorite aspect of the car, and it’s easy to understand why, as it does cause some consternation.

You get a volume knob, but not a corresponding tuning knob. The system shortcut buttons on the left side of the 7-inch touchscreen are too dainty (remember, the Civic is popular with men), and the display’s graphics are dated. I found the touchscreen slow to respond, and the voice command feature doesn’t work the way modern technology should.

Additional quirks irk, too, like a traffic information system that doesn’t show you on which side of the road the backup is happening. That’s critically important when driving in Los Angeles. Hooking up my smartphone to use the Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone projection offered little relief; for some reason it didn’t pull up some of my apps, like Google Maps, when I connected.

Storage and Space

You’ll be impressed with the amount of thoughtful storage that Honda includes in the Civic. The center console is like some kind of a magic trick, with a tiered tray that slides back to include room for an oversized Hydroflask. The glovebox is quite large, and the door bins are big too.

The whole point of a hatchback, though, is to provide greater flexibility for your cargo, and the Civic delivers. Honda says it provides 22.6 cu.-ft. of space behind the rear seats, but practically speaking, the trunk looks smaller than that, so plan accordingly. With the 60/40-split rear seats folded down, there is 46.2 cu.-ft. of space.

Visibility and Safety

My test car came with the Honda Sensing suite of active safety features, which includes adaptive cruise control, automatic braking, lane departure warning, lane keeping assist, and road departure mitigation.

Honda Sensing does not include a blind spot monitoring system. Instead, Honda equips most Civic Hatchbacks with its antiquated LaneWatch system. I am not a fan. It uses a camera mounted to the right-side mirror to show what’s in the car’s right blind spot, displaying the view on the infotainment display. It does not supply a corresponding camera for the left side of the car. A traditional radar-based blind spot monitoring system would be much more useful, and those typically power a rear cross-traffic alert, too. Both of these features were sorely missed.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gives the 2020 Civic Hatchback a Good score for its crash test parameters, but it misses getting a Top Safety Pick designation because of Poor headlight performance, though the Sport Touring’s new LED peepers could change that in future assessments.

Engine/Transmission

With Sport and Sport Touring trim, the Civic Hatchback’s turbocharged 1.5-liter 4-cylinder engine produces 180 horsepower instead of 174 hp. Just make sure you pump it full of premium fuel; it’s the only way to get all 180 ponies.

Like every turbocharged engine, the Civic does respond somewhat slowly right off the line, but once the engine revs closer where peak torque kicks in (under 2,000 rpm for this car), it shows plenty of vigor in terms of acceleration. This engine is mighty refined, too, without the typical noise, vibration, and harshness you get with a small displacement four.

My test car’s 6-speed manual transmission was a smooth operator, too, but had unexpectedly long throws between gears, which is a little uncharacteristic of Honda. The clutch travel was long, too, and it engaged at the very top. But, I got used to it fairly quickly and I never stalled the Civic.

Fuel Economy

As previously mentioned, one of the biggest benefits of owning a small car is that they tend to use less fuel. Despite making maximum use of the turbocharged engine, which goes a long way toward making the Civic Hatchback genuinely fun to drive, I averaged 32.7 mpg during a week on the road. That exceeded the EPA estimate of 32 mpg in combined driving.

Driving Dynamics

The Honda Civic proves that an economy car doesn’t have to be a penalty box. Among its competitors, the Civic has always been one of the livelier ones, with a nimble and tossable character that defines “fun to drive.”

That’s certainly true of the 2020 Civic Sport Touring with the manual gearbox. In addition to the powertrain’s refinement, this car exhibits impressive structural rigidity and, thanks to its sophisticated strut-front and multi-link rear suspension and larger 18-inch wheels and tires, tackles the twisties with ease and grace.

Additionally, expertly weighted and precision-tuned steering brings joy to every drive, and the faithful, easily modulated 4-wheel-disc brakes ensure quick, smooth stops every time.

Working together, the mechanical components make the Civic Hatchback a terrific daily driver that’s as talented on the long, winding way home as it is during clogged commutes.

Final Impressions

Sometimes, the easy answer is the right answer. Anyone looking for a great compact car should put the 2020 Honda Civic on the list. It might be an obvious choice, and Civics might be ubiquitous, but that’s because the car is so darn good.

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