Test Drive:2019 Honda Civic

Christian Wardlaw | May 08, 2019

Introduction

According to Honda, cars are not dead. That’s easy for the automaker to say, given that it sells the two most popular cars in America based on retail sales: the Accord and the Civic. In fact, by Honda’s reckoning, if Civic were a brand instead of a nameplate, it alone would outsell all but 11 brands all by itself. And among Millennials and Gen Z, Honda says the Civic is the top-selling model.

Obvs, the Honda Civic is critical to the company’s success. So for the 2019 model year, the most popular version of the Civic—the sedan—gets a refresh. Minor styling and interior updates, added sound-deadening materials, an improved infotainment system, and standard HondaSensing driving-assistance and collision-avoidance technologies headline the changes.

2019 Honda Civic Sedan photo
2019 Honda Civic Sedan

Additionally, Honda adds a new Sport trim level to the Civic Sedan lineup, which is the subject of this review. Slotted between the base LX and mid-grade EX, the Civic Sport sedan starts at $22,070, including the $920 destination charge. Swap the standard 6-speed manual gearbox for a continuously variable transmission (CVT) and you’ll spend another $800 on this version of the Civic.

Styling and Design

Sporty and affordable is a recipe that works with younger buyers. Honda learned this with the Accord Sport and is now seeing that 30% of Civic Sedan buyers are choosing the Sport trim.

Equipped with 18-in. aluminum wheels, fog lights, trunk spoiler, and a center exhaust outlet, the Civic Sport looks much better than the base LX trim, and for only $1,700 more. Inside, Sport trim adds a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, along with Sport pedals.

Your money also goes toward a standard 7-in. touch-screen infotainment system with a new volume knob and shortcut buttons, and it includes Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and HondaLink connected services. Passive entry with push-button engine starting and a walk-away automatic locking system also comes standard, along with a 60/40 split-folding rear seat.

The driver’s seat gets a manual height adjuster, while the front passenger’s seat does without one. While the height adjuster is appreciated, the cushion is flat and could benefit from a cushion tilt adjuster. I didn’t find the cloth-wrapped front seating positions to be comfortable, which makes the Civic EX instantly appealing for its 8-way power-adjustable driver’s seat.

Rear-seat comfort impresses as far as room and support go, but the Civic Sport does not include rear air conditioning vents, and USB charging ports cost $145 extra. Add a generous 15.1-cu.-ft. trunk and a Honda Civic can easily serve a family of four. It is, after all, just as big inside as midsize cars were a decade ago.

Features and Controls

With Sport trim, the 2019 Civic offers everything you really need and nothing you don’t. However, to illustrate what’s not available for the Civic Sport, consider the following trim level details.

When you upgrade to EX trim you get a more powerful and satisfying turbocharged engine paired to a standard CVT, an 8-way power driver’s seat, power sunroof, heated side mirrors, satellite radio, and a different set of 17-in. aluminum wheels. It also includes LaneWatch, a camera-based blind-spot monitoring system that works only for the right side of the car.

Select the Civic EX-L and this compact car comes with leather seats, HomeLink universal remote transmitter, and an auto-dimming rearview mirror.

Touring trim transforms a Civic into an entry-level luxury car with a 10-speaker premium sound system, navigation system with voice-recognition technology, and HD traffic information. Sport pedals are standard, the front passenger’s seat gets power adjustment (4-way only), and the rear outboard seat cushions are heated. Chrome door handles, automatic LED headlights, rain-sensing wipers, and bright-finish 18-in. wheels complete the Touring treatment.

Safety and Technology

For the 2019 model year, regardless of transmission choice, Honda makes several driver-assistance and collision-avoidance technologies standard equipment for the Civic Sedan. Bundled together under the name HondaSensing, they include adaptive cruise control with full-stop capability, forward-collision warning with automatic emergency braking, and lane-departure warning with lane-keeping assist and road-departure mitigation.

Should these systems fail to prevent a collision, know that the 2019 Civic performs well in crash tests. The federal government gives the car 5-star (out of 5) ratings in every individual assessment, including for rollover resistance. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gives the Civic its highest ratings for both crash protection and crash avoidance, but the car is ineligible for a “Top Safety Pick” rating due to its “Poor” headlight performance.

In addition to standard HondaSensing, the other big news for 2019 is an updated infotainment system with a 7-in. display, new volume knob, and new physical shortcut buttons. Standard on Sport trim and higher, this new system includes Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and HondaLink connected services. Move up the trim level ladder and satellite radio, a navigation system, and other features are available.

Thoughtfully, Honda also equips all 2019 Civic Sedans but the LX trim with passive entry, push-button engine starting, and a walk-away automatic locking system. That means you can just keep the key fob in your pocket or purse, entering the car, starting the engine, and then locking the car as you walk away from it.

Driving Impressions

While the 2019 Honda Civic Sport sedan looks racy, it doesn’t perform that way. Like the Civic LX on which it is based, it has a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine making 158 horsepower at 6,500 rpm and 138 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,400 rpm. And that means you need to really rev the engine to access the power, unlike with the turbocharged 1.5-liter 4-cylinder that comes in the EX, EX-L, and Touring trim levels.

A 6-speed manual gearbox is standard, complete with a hill-holder clutch. A CVT is an option, and no doubt drones as a driver accelerates from a stop to highway speeds.

My test vehicle had the manual transmission, and was agreeably quick as long as I didn’t ask much of it. Though loud at higher revs, the engine is nevertheless refined. Honda has mastered manual transmissions, too, and though the stick sits high compared to the seating position, it glides effortlessly from gear to gear. Clutch take-up is light with smooth engagement, making the car easy to drive.

Sport trim also features quicker steering, re-tuned suspension, and meatier 235/45R18 all-season tires. During the daily commute, this car remains compliant enough that you won’t seek pharmaceutical relief at the end of the day. But if you toss the Civic Sport down a favorite twisty road, don’t expect it to brake, bite, and blast out of corners like a Civic Si. The Sport is enjoyable to drive, but isn’t engaging in the way that the Si is.

Conclusion

As a young man, the Honda Civic Sport is something I might have bought. Why? It looks sporty, has a manual gearbox, promises reliability, and gets decent fuel economy (29 mpg in combined driving, according to the EPA). My parents would’ve approved such a purchase, too, because the Civic is exceptionally safe and holds its resale value well over time.

The Civic sedan I’d really want, though, would be the truly sporty Si. And I’d find a way to scrape together the extra $3,150 to make that happen.

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