When we heard about the return of the Honda Civic hatchback, we wondered where on the hotness scale it would fall. Turns out we needn't have worried. The 2017 Honda Civic hatchback isn't a hot hatch, and it's not trying to be. What it is, though, is a useful addition to the brand's best-selling compact car, with an entertaining turbocharged engine and enough added utility that it might sway some would-be crossover buyers.
Up until the B-pillar, the Civic hatchback is nearly indistinguishable from its sedan-bodied sibling. And then there's the hatch. With the two parked side-by-side, the sloping rear glass of the hatchback doesn't look all that much different from the similarly sloped sedan. But looks are deceiving – there's 25.7 cubic feet of space behind the hatch's rear seat, which is more than the Ford Focus (23.8), VW Golf (22.8), or Mazda3 (20.2) hatches offer. With the rear seat folded, cargo capacity jumps to 46.2 cubic feet, which is a bit short of the Golf's 52.7, but lines up well with the Focus and Mazda3. For reference, a Civic sedan's trunk measures 15.1 cubic feet.
Check out the video below to see a Civic sedan and hatchback parked next to each other, and stick around to the end of the video to see the Civic hatch's clever side-mounted cargo cover. The second video shows the new Sport Touring trim.
We're mixed on the effectiveness of the hatchback's unique exterior design. Aggressive is good, but the Sport trim's front and rear fascia feature exaggerated air intakes that are a bit too gaudy, especially since they aren't functional. The taillights flow into a small spoiler with a glass panel below for visibility from inside. There's another spoiler at the top of the hatch, too, and if that's not enough visual pizzazz for you, Honda's accessories catalog has plenty of options from which to choose.
All Civic hatchbacks come with a 1.5-liter turbocharged engine. LX and EX models get a 174-horsepower version of the engine, but the Sport trim ups the pony count to 180 (premium fuel recommended). Opt for the six-speed manual transmission (which unfortunately removes the option for navigation), and you'll get 177 pound-feet of torque. CVT-equipped Civics are limited to 162 lb-ft. The EPA estimates six-speed Civic hatchbacks will return 30 miles per gallon in the city, 39 on the highway, and 33 combined. Get the CVT and the figures rise by 1 mpg across the board, except for the Sport, which only manages 30/36/32 with the automatic.
Honda's 1.5-liter turbo engine is perfectly suited to the Civic hatchback, especially when mated to the manual transmission. It's not hot-hatch quick, but its wide torque spread and easy-shifting gearbox make stop-and-go more fun than it has any right to be. At highway speeds, there's no need to downshift out of sixth for most passing maneuvers. As you'd expect, the CVT saps some of the playfulness from the turbo mill, but at least Honda's continuously variable transmission doesn't suffer from the redline-rubberband killjoy of some other CVTs.
Steering and suspension adjustments make the Civic hatchback feel a bit more connected to the road than the sedan. The steering feel is good, with the variable rack tightening up at higher speeds while remaining light enough in parking lots. We were impressed by the amount of grip provided by the Sport's 18-inch wheel-and-tire package. There's more than enough performance from the Sport to put a smile on your face on a nice, twisty road. All of this inherent goodness makes us look forward to the upcoming Civic Si and Type R variants.
Pricing for the Civic hatchback starts at $20,535 for the base LX trim level. The CVT adds $800. Sport models start at $22,135 with the six-speed manual, while top-shelf EX-L models with Navi run $26,135 and come with a standard automatic transmission. A Sport Touring model, which combines the body kit and wheels of the Sport with all the options of the EX-L, will be available soon.
So it's not a hot hatch, even if it does say Sport on the badge. But that hardly matters. The 2017 Honda Civic hatchback is a fun car. Just like its sedan and coupe siblings, the Civic hatch fulfills its role as a daily driver with aplomb, and it adds a dollop more utility. It's quick enough to be entertaining, especially with its available six-speed manual transmission, and its driving dynamics are among the best in its class. Turns out that sometimes, being lukewarm can be just right.