Redesigned Civic gets a jolt of excitement
Many Honda Civic owners are determinedly loyal, gravitating toward the latest car to wear that familiar 44-year-old name. Honda hasn’t always rewarded their loyalty with a best-in-class product, but the all-new 2016 model is a true standout that merits serious attention among compact economy cars.
You can’t miss the changes. Long and low, the redesigned body is curvy and edgy, all the way from its chrome-clad snout to its angular-crescent-moon taillights. And while the last Civic’s driving dynamics settled for mild-mannered adequacy, the 2016 model strives to seriously impress, and it succeeds.
Two new four-cylinder engines offer improved acceleration coupled with outstanding fuel efficiency: a 2.0-liter with 158 horsepower and a 174-hp 1.5-liter turbo, each of which have an EPA rating of 35 miles per gallon in mixed driving. A week-long test of the turbo model, with mainly highway driving, returned 41.8 mpg.
Small turbocharged engines like the Civic’s are designed to sip fuel while gently puttering along in heavy traffic, while still having the power – when you put your foot down – to blast your way around the Ride-On that’s about to block your lane.
Ride and handling are surprisingly composed for an economy car with a base price of just $19,475. It’s not quite as outright sporty as a Mazda3, but the Civic’s refinement levels blow away the Acura ILX, the smallest model in Honda’s luxury brand.
And the Civic’s amenities list trumps most luxury cars’ from just a few years ago – for as little as $21,275, you get radar-based cruise control to match the speed of the car in front of you, automatic braking to prevent or mitigate a crash, and automatic steering that can keep you in your lane even around gentle curves. (If you plan to skip these optional features, or if they aren’t enough to save you, the Civic also has top-notch crash-test scores.)
Inside the Civic, though, Honda may lose some fans. The brand was once a master of user-friendly ergonomics; more recently, style and technology have been trumping simplicity. On most Civics, all audio controls are handled by a touch screen – there’s no on/off button, there’s no volume knob and the display clumps some functions too close together. Try to change the radio station in stop-and-go traffic and you may need that automatic braking system.
The front seats will also get mixed reviews. They’re quite comfortable and supportive once you’re in place, but you sit low; you need a bit of extra agility to get in and out, and don’t have a commanding forward view. The rear seat is respectably comfortable for two adults and can squeeze in a third; there’s also a roomy trunk.
Expect to pay a little more for a Civic than popular competitors like the Ford Focus, Hyundai Elantra or Toyota Corolla. But if your priorities include eye-catching looks, driving enjoyment, fuel economy or crash safety, Honda definitely earned a spot on your shopping list.
Volvo’s aging crossover still has some strengths
There are a number of reasons to pay up for a luxury brand. The latest style and the most cutting-edge features are surely high on that list.
By that standard, the 2016 Volvo XC60 is a disappointment. This compact entry-luxury crossover is in its seventh year, but a number of competitors – and Volvo’s larger crossover, the XC90 – have made dramatic advances. The XC60 isn’t as sumptuous as a similarly priced Mercedes-Benz GLC, as fun to drive as a similarly priced BMW X3 or as edgy as a less-expensive Lexus NX.
No one could call the XC60 a lousy car. But with a vehicle priced from $37,595 and hitting $52,505 as tested, it’s fair to be picky.
Even so, a week-long test revealed some remaining strengths to this aging model. The XC60 doesn’t jump out and wow you, but a roomy cargo hold and some clever features make it an appealing premium family car, and new four-cylinder engines have improved gas mileage.
This Volvo doesn’t have a bright, modern infotainment system in the dashboard, but it offers built-in booster seats in the back seat. It doesn’t have the cushiest ride quality in its class, but a section of its cargo floor rises to reveal a clever strap to secure grocery bags. It’s not as fancy as a Mercedes, but it’s still fancier than a Honda CR-V. Consider the XC60 if your priorities overlap with its strengths, but keep in mind the areas where it does come up short.