By Ed Piotrowski and CarPreview Staff
It’s America’s best-selling compact car, but Honda knows the 2020 Civic needed some updates to maintain its lead over the fully redesigned 2020 Toyota Corolla and Nissan Sentra). Here are five important things to know about the refreshed Civic:
One: No rival matches the 2020 Honda Civic for number of body styles
Civic is the only compact car available in three body styles: a four-door sedan, a four-door hatchback, and a two-door coupe. Each is available in at least five distinct trim levels. From basic transportation to red-hot-hatch, Honda makes it easy to find a Civic suited to your budget, need, and taste.
For 2020, the coupe and sedan share four trim levels: basic LX, flashier Sport, well-equipped EX, upscale Touring, and performance-oriented Si. The sedan also slots an EX-L grade with leather upholstery between the EX and Touring.
The hatchback lineup offers LX, Sport, EX, EX-L, and Sport Touring variants, as well as the hot-rod Type-R, the most powerful and expensive Civic ever sold in North America.
Today’s coupe and sedan generation bowed for model-year 2016. For better or worse, they sported the most radical Civic design to date, with an in-your-face nose, fastback roofline, and taillights that threaten to dominate the rump. Honda added the hatchback for 2017, and doubled down on the wild look, adding even more body-side swoops, flared haunches, and a convoluted tail with outsized faux air extractors.
For 2019, Honda tweaked exterior elements of the sedan and coupe for a slightly more cohesive look. It also expanded their lineup with a Sport trim level featuring some Si visual cues. Hatchback and Si models got similar exterior updates for 2020, but the hatchback’s most polarizing traits were in no way watered down.
Passenger room and comfort are major selling points, especially in the sedan and hatchback. These body styles have as much space inside as some midsize sedans. Cargo volume is also exceptional, with 12.1 cubic feet in the coupe and 14.7-15.1 cubic feet in the sedan. Hatchbacks are even better, with 25.7 cubic feet behind the rear seatbacks and 46.2 with them folded.
Cabin materials are first-rate, with solid-feeling panels and precision-action controls that make you feel you’re getting more than you’ve paid for. The main gauges are presented on an LCD screen containing a digital speedometer and virtual analog tachometer. Infotainment is handled by a central dashboard display supplemented by an audio volume knob, but touchscreen icons for most every other function. It’s convenient and intuitive enough, and Apple CarPlay and Google Android Auto integration are included on all but the entry-level LX models.
Two: The 2020 Honda Civic has best-in-class road manners
For decades, the Civic battled with the likes of the Mazda 3 and Volkswagen Golf and Jetta for the best combination of ride and handling among compact cars. In recent years, the Mazda and most versions of the Jetta have diluted their road manners by adopting a cost-cutting torsion beam rear suspension.
The Civic has stayed true to its roots and rewarded its fanbase by sticking with a more sophisticated four-wheel independent suspension across the entire product line. Combine this with progressive, natural steering feel and you have a small car that’s delightful to drive in any situation, be it tight urban streets or sweeping mountain switchbacks.
Remarkably, that’s true even for the entry-level LX models. Behavior sharpens by degree, starting with the Sport versions, progressing to the quick-reacting Si editions, and culminating with the racetrack-tuned Type-R. arguably the best-handling front-wheel-drive car anywhere.
Every Civic engine is well-suited to its role. All have four cylinders and all but one is turbocharged. The LX models and the Sport coupe and sedan use a naturally aspirated 2.0-liter with 158 horsepower and 138 pound-feet of torque. That’s modest on paper, but these cars provide surprising get-up-and-go.
EX, EX-L, and Touring grades, along with the LX hatchback, get a more potent 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with 174 horsepower and 162 pound-feet of torque. The Sport and Sport Touring hatch have the same engine but get a boost to 180 horsepower and, depending on transmission, to 162 or 177 pound-feet of torque. Power delivery with this engine is great for the most part. After a slight delay from a stop due to turbo lag, you’re off and running quickly with sufficient leftover power for no-fuss passing and merging.
Speaking of transmissions, kudos to Honda for not abandoning manuals, as most automakers have. A six-speed stick is standard on all Sport body styles and on the Sport Touring hatchback. Optional on these grades and standard otherwise is the brand’s well-tuned continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT).
It probably limits the audience, but a six-speed manual is your only choice in any Civic Si or the Type-R. The Si’s engine is a higher-output version of the 1.5-liter turbo. It has 205 horsepower and 192 pound-feet of torque. While it doesn’t make as much raw horsepower and torque as a Volkswagen Golf GTI or Jetta GLU, the Si is plenty quick by any measure. The Type-R gets a turbo 2.0-liter with 306 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque. It’s a hooligan, with ferocious acceleration from any speed. Torque steer, the tendency of a front-wheel-drive car to pull to the side during full-throttle takeoffs, is a non-issue in either of these models and a testament to their solid engineering.
Three: The 2020 Honda Civic it can achieve hybrid-like fuel-economy ratings
Not only is it fun to drive, the Civic is among the most fuel-efficient of any vehicle that doesn’t rely on some sort of electric-motor propulsion or assist. This is evident in its EPA ratings. Variances in ratings are influenced by body style and wheel/tire combinations.
Ratings for Civic LX and Sport sedans and coupes with the 2.0-liter engine range from 25/35/29 mpg city/highway/combined with manual transmission to 30/38/33 with the CVT. Ratings for sedans, coupes, and hatchbacks with the 174-horsepower turbo 1.5-liter coupled to the CVT range from 30/37/33 mpg to 32/42/36. In our suburban test loop, a Civic Touring sedan with the CVT averaged 34.5 mpg.
The hatchback Sport and Sport Touring models with the 180-horsepower turbo 1.5 rate 29/37/32 mpg with manual transmission and 29/35/32 with the CVT. Our test Sport Touring hatchback with CVT averaged a slightly disappointing 30.6.
As part of its model-year 2020 freshening, the Civic Si received a revised final drive ratio for its mandatory manual transmission. Honda says it improves acceleration, but it comes at the expense of fuel economy. Indeed, EPA ratings fell 2 mpg in every category, to 26/36/30 mpg. Still, those are stellar numbers for a performance car with more than 200 horsepower.
Even the Type-R’s ratings are decent, at 22/28/25 mpg.
The base 2.0-liter and most versions of the 1.5-liter turbo use regular-grade 87-octane gasoline. Honda recommends, but does not require, premium-grade 91-octane for the 180- and 205-horsepower 1.5-liter turbo engines. The same recommendation applies to the Type-R, though we would only do so in situations where you absolutely cannot get premium. Using regular in that vehicle could result in audible engine knocking and a noticeable loss of performance.
Four: The 2020 Civic is Feature-Packed and (Mostly) Value-Priced
Any Civic is an excellent buy, and because Honda doesn’t offer generous factory incentives, resale values are typically among the best in the class.
Including $930 manufacturer’s destination fee, the 2020 Honda Civic LX sedan starts at $21,480 while the coupe lists for $21,880. These prices include the Honda Sensing safety suite that comprises adaptive radar cruise control, forward-collision warning with automatic emergency braking, automatic high-beam headlights, and lane-departure warning with automatic steering correction. You’ll also get LED daytime running lights, alloy wheels, a 160-watt audio system, and capless fuel filler. The LX hatch starts at $22,580, which nets you the 1.5-liter turbo engine and automatic climate control.
The Sport sedan starts at $22,380, the coupe at $22,680, and the hatch at $23,680. Note that the latter includes a manual transmission – the CVT is an $800 option. These models add unique exterior trim, fog lights, CarPlay and Android Auto support, remote engine start (CVT only), sport pedals, keyless access, pushbutton engine start, and HondaLink telematics service.
EX grades span $24,630 for the sedan, $24,430 for the coupe, and $25,080 for the hatch. Key features for these grades include a power sunroof, heated front seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, and Honda’s LaneWatch blind-spot camera system. A power driver’s seat is included on the sedan as well.
The EX-L sedan and hatchback list for $25,830 and $26,280, respectively. You’ll get leather upholstery and an auto-dimming rearview mirror with wireless garage-door transmitter. This is where the hatchback gets a power driver’s seat.
Touring sedans start at $28,530 while the coupes cost $28,080. The Sport Touring hatch lists for $28,980. These models include an upgraded audio system, imbedded GPS navigation that doesn’t require a connected smartphone, full LED headlights, and rain-sensing windshield wipers. Coupes add leather upholstery while the sedan and hatchback get a power front-passenger seat.
If you have no qualms driving a manual transmission, the Si is the best bang for the buck in the entire Civic lineup. Both the coupe and sedan have a list price of $25,930 and come with a standard equipment list that most closely matches the EX. Among models with the automatic transmission, you can’t go wrong with an EX or EX-L. The extras included in the Touring and Sport Touring are not quite compelling enough to justify their higher asking prices.
Pricing for the 2020 Civic Type-R was not available in time for this review but expect it to exceed $37,000. Strong demand and limited supply mean you’d be lucky to drive one home at its sticker price.
Five: A Redesigned Civic Is Coming
While any 2020 Civic is an excellent compact-car buy, we wouldn’t blame you if you wanted to wait for the upcoming 11th-generation model. Likely debuting for the 2021 model year, its launch cadence should mirror that of the 2016-2020 model. Mainstream sedans would arrive in showrooms first, followed by the coupe. Hatchback, Si, and Type-R would return in the subsequent model year.
Our prediction is that Honda will tone down the styling and rework the interior design to more closely match its crossover SUVs. Since the current model’s drivetrains are already quite powerful and efficient, we don’t think they’ll change much, if at all. We wouldn’t be surprised to see the next-gen Civic drop the base 2.0-liter engine entirely.
The car could premiere in concept form next spring at the 2020 New York or Detroit auto show, with a production version launching in Los Angeles the following November.