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Honda positioning redesigned 2021 Civic to defend its compact-car crown

2020 Honda Civic Sedan

By Ed Piotrowski and CarPreview Staff

What changes will make the 2021 Honda Civic different?

Perhaps everything. Honda is likely to redesign its iconic compact for model-year 2021. The Civic would enter its 11th design generation with new styling, engineering, and features, although engines and transmissions will largely carry over from the 2016-2020 generation.

Expect the all-new ’21 Civic to return four-door-sedan and two-door-coupe body styles, with a redesigned four-door hatchback following for model-year 2022. Dimensions shouldn’t change much, and count on Honda to retain the wonderfully efficient passenger and cargo packaging, as well as the lively road manners, that are brand hallmarks. There’s a chance, though, it’ll dial back a little on the current Civic’s fashion-risk styling, which is particularly polarizing on the wild-looking hatchback. A gas/electric hybrid is unlikely; Honda’s Insight hybrid and Clarity (available as a plug-in hybrid, a pure electric, and a fuel-cell vehicle) cars fill those niches.

That Honda sees a strong future for the Civic is gratifying, given that cars now represent just 30 percent of American automotive sales. Indeed, the market’s shift to pickups, crossovers, and SUVs prompted Ford and General Motors to begin phasing out most of their cars entirely. Cars still account for about 52 percent of sales at Honda and its premium Acura division, although crossovers – the CR-V and RDX, respectively – are both brands’ best-selling vehicles.

For its part, the Civic remained America’s top-selling compact car in 2019, with demand steady admidst a 16-percent decline for the segment. It’s No. 1 status, however, could face a strong challenge, however, from the archrival Toyota Corolla, which was fully redesigned for model-year 2020.

Should I wait for the 2021 model or buy a 2020?

2021 Civic Type R Limited Edition

Wait if you want a Civic with the most up-to-date styling and features. The already-impressive fuel economy could improve, and performance is likely to take a step forward, too.

Honda is apt to follow the roll-out strategy it used when the 10th-generation Civic arrived for model-year 2016. Mainstream four-door sedans would launch first, followed a yar or so later by redesigned hatchbacks. Expect the 2021 Civic sedan lineup to reprise LX, Sport, EX, EX-L (leather upholstery), and flagship Touring trim levels. Two-door coupe variants would appear a few months later in LX, Sport, EX, and Touring grades.

The unchanged 2021 Civic Hatchback should return in LX, EX, EX-L Navi (with navigation) Sport, and Sport Touring trim. It got a mild refresh for model-year 2020 and its redesigned replacement will probably arrive for model-year ’22. So would all-new versions of the Si sedan and coupe and the high-performance Type R hatchback.

If you’re not inclined to wait, we’re happy to argue that the 10th-generation Civic is still America’s best all-around compact-car value. It’s the complete package: excellent road manners, passenger room and comfort, great fuel economy, and a range of performance choices, all backed by Honda’s reputation for top-tier reliability and resale value.

Will the styling be different?

2020 Civic Sedan

Yes, but don’t expect quite the shock that was the 10th-generation Civic. That car was a radical departure from its 2012-2015 predecessor, and accomplished Honda’s goal of a more youthful, racier design. Featured sharp-cut character lines and a fastback roofline, the sedan is still fully contemporary. Festooned with fake air vents, a humpback tail, and various spoilers, we suspect the Civic Hatchback’s logic-stretching look cost Honda some sales.

Expect a calmer, more cohesive overall appearance for all next-generation Civics, although their size and basic shape won’t change much. Neither should the brilliant packaging that makes this one of the roomiest compact cars ever; even the sedan’s fastback roofline didn’t encroach on rear-seat headroom.

Count on the same highly comfortable and supportive seating and, on the four-door models, exceptional legroom front and rear. Naturally, the 2021 Civic Coupe would sacrifice rear-seat space and ease of access to its two-door design. Cargo volume in all body styles should continue to be among the class leaders, as well.

2020 Civic Coupe Si

The biggest changes to the 2021 Civic’s interior are likely to involve the dashboard. The instrument cluster should still be futuristic, even as it becomes more aligned with that in Honda’s CR-V, Passport, and Pilot crossovers. This would include a single pod with analog gauges for fuel level and coolant temperature flanking a large LCD screen housing a digital speedometer, tachometer, and customizable multi-function display.

We’d encourage Honda to upgrade the entry-level LX grade by swapping its current 5-inch infotainment touchscreen for a 7-incher that would also bring standard support for Apple CarPlay and Google Android Auto. To help further separate the Touring from the rest of the lineup, perhaps Honda will see fit to equip it an 8-inch or larger display. Likely returning as a Touring exclusive would be imbedded GPS navigation that doesn’t require a connected smartphone and its accompanying cellular data service.

We also envision a redesigned center console area with relocated USB and 12-volt power points, along with probable support for wireless phone charging. Models with a continuously variable automatic transmission could ditch their conventional console shift lever for Honda’s pushbutton gear-selection system. We hope they don’t, though, because the pushbuttons are difficult to get used to and never really seem as natural a way to control the transmission.

Any mechanical changes?

2020 Civic Sedan Touring

Yes and no.

Yes, Honda will engineer a new underskin structure for the 11th-generation Civic that should be stiffer and perhaps lighter than the already impressive outgoing version. Some rivals use a cost-saving torsion-beam rear suspension but we’d urge Honda to stay with a multi-link independent rear suspension because the design helps give this small car sophisticated ride and handling worthy of vehicles costing much more.

No, the automaker probably won’t make sweeping changes to the 2021 Civic’s engine and transmissions.

Among 2021 Civic sedans and coupes, look for LX and Sport models to return with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine producing something like the outgoing version’s 158 horsepower and 138 pound-feet of torque. Expect EX, EX-L, and Touring grades to reprise a 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with around 174 horsepower and 162 pound-feet of torque.

The ’21 LX and Sport sedans and coupes should again come standard with a six-speed manual transmission. Returning as optional on those models and standard on the others would be a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT).

2020 Civic Hatchback Sport Touring

The carryover 2021 Civic Hatchback will return with a 1.5-liter turbo four-cylinder making 180 horses and 177 pound-feet of torque in Sport grades and 174 and 167 in the others. Sports should come with manual or CVT, the others with the CVT only.

Don’t anticipate a significant change in curb weight for the all-new 2021 Civics, so acceleration should be similar to that of the 2016-2020 generation. Models with the naturally aspirated 2.0-liter engine would be adequate from a stop but run out of steam quickly, meaning highway passing and merging would require advance planning. Turbocharged Civics would be more responsive all around, with the CVT behaving very well.

No reason to doubt that road manners would not again be at the top of the class, with outstanding steering feel, tenacious grip in fast changes of direction, and a firm-but-not-too-firm ride. One area where we would like to see the 2021 Civic improve is in noise suppression. The engines on the outgoing model are on the loud side, and coarse road surfaces cause the tires to drone more than we would like.

2020 Civic Coupe Si

Only Honda knows whether it intends to continue the 10th-generation Si sedan and coupe for model-year 2021 as a bridge to the redesigned model-year-’22 replacements. If it does, they’ll return with a turbocharged 1.5-liter four of 205 horsepower and 192 pound-feet of torque. They’d again come only with a six-speed manual transmission, plus upgraded suspension.

Figure the next-gen Si coupe and sedan to have a slightly more powerful version of the 1.5-liter turbo. Count on the return of a six-speed manual transmission, and don’t be surprised if Honda adds an automatic. That would likely be an eight-speed dual-clutch transmission borrowed from the company’s premium Acura division.

The redesigned Type R hatchback would reprise a 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder with a massive 306 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed manual would be the only transmission. Both of these performance-minded Civics would be road-going hooligans with some of the most responsive handling you’ll experience on a front-wheel-drive car.

Will fuel economy improve?

2020 Civic Sedan Touring

Probably, but only marginally. The 10th-generation Civic achieved some of the best EPA-estimated fuel-economy ratings of any non-hybrid passenger car. We expect the 11th-gen model to follow suit.

Among coupes and sedans with the 2.0-liter engine, we project ratings of 26/37/30 mpg city/highway/combined with manual transmission and 32/40/35 with the CVT. The 1.5-liter turbo with the CVT would likely see ratings in the neighborhood of 33/43/37 mpg.

Hatchback models would be heavier and thus have slightly lower ratings of around 30/39/34 mpg with manual transmission and 32/41/35 with the CVT.

Si grades would rate roughly 28/38/32 mpg, while the Type-R would be around 22/28/25 mpg.

Most Civic models would again use regular-grade 87-octane gasoline. Honda would recommend, but not require, premium-grade 91-octane fuel for some versions of the hatchback and all Si variants. Premium would be mandatory for the Type-R.

Will there be new features?

Likely some. As mentioned above, we would like to see all Civic models equipped with at least a 7-inch infotainment screen with CarPlay and Android Auto support. All grades should continue to include the Honda Sensing safety suite, which comprises lane-departure warning with automatic steering correction, adaptive radar cruise control that can maintain a set following distance from traffic ahead, automatic high-beam headlight control, and forward-collision alert with autonomous emergency braking.

We expect Honda will discontinue the outgoing Civic’s available LaneWatch, which is a form of blind-spot monitoring that uses camera mounted on the passenger-side exterior mirror. It projects an image on the infotainment screen when the right turn signal is on or when the driver presses a button on the signal stalk. The next-generation Civic will probably employ a more traditional blind-spot alert system, which we would consider a downgrade.

All 2021 Civic models will likely return with standard automatic climate control (dual-zone on EX and higher grades). Keyless access with pushbutton engine start will probably become standard across the board – it’s not available on the current LX.

Sport grades would continue with specific exterior and interior trim to complement standard fog lights and remote engine start (CVT models only). EX grades would lose the Sport’s trim package but add a power sunroof, power driver’s seat, heated front seats, and satellite radio. The EX-L would add leather seating surfaces and auto-dimming rearview mirror with built-in garage-door transmitter. Touring grades would add rain-sensing windshield wipers, full LED headlights, power front-passenger seat, heated outboard rear seats, upgraded audio system, and imbedded navigation.

Si grades would largely mirror the EX in terms of standard features, while the Type-R would be close to the Touring.

Will 2021 prices be different?

2020 Civic Hatchback

They’ll almost certainly increase. Civic has always run with the compact-car pack in terms of its sticker pricing. The end cost to consumers, however, is generally higher because of strong demand and few incentives. This has the benefit, though, of keeping resale values very high.

Expect non-Si/Type-R versions of the 2021 Honda Civic coupe and sedan to range in price from about $23,000-$30,000, inclusive of destination fee, which was $930 on the 2020 Civic. Hatchbacks will likely command a price premium of about $1,000. The Si will likely start at about $27,000, with the Type-R commanding nearly $40,000.

Per Honda custom, all extra-cost items will come in the form of dealer-installed functional or cosmetic accessories.

When does it come out?

We think Honda will show the 2021 Civic in prototype form at the 2019 Los Angeles Auto Show in November 2019, with a production version debuting at either the 2020 New York or Detroit Auto Show. The official release date will probably be in the summer of 2020.

Best competitors

Hyundai Elantra, Kia Forte, Mazda 3, Nissan Sentra, Subaru Impreza, Toyota Corolla, Volkswagen Jetta

About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to Carpreview.com two decades of automotive testing and reporting for newspapers, books, magazines, and the Internet. The former Executive Auto Editor of Consumer Guide, Chuck has covered cars for HowStuffWorks.com, Collectible Automobile magazine, and the Publications International Ltd. automotive book series. This ex-newspaper reporter has also appeared as an automotive expert on network television and radio. He’s a charter member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, the president of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Media association, and a juror for the annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year awards. Chuck writes from Colorado Springs, Colo. If you have a question for Chuck, write to him at [email protected]