Some people will tell you that the Honda Civic once saved the brand.
Honda is now Japan’s second-largest automaker and the world’s eighth-largest, but it has limped its way to death’s door more than once.
In the early ‘70s, a series of bad management decisions crushed sales. Serious consideration was given to shuttering the automotive side of the Honda empire.
But then came the subcompact 1972 Civic. It was frugal and reliable and its innovative fuel-delivery system met tightening emissions and efficiency standards without relying on the elaborate, power-sucking plumbing that competitors were using.
(How many readers remember the catalytic converter?)
A perennial best-seller
The Civic put Honda’s automotive operation on the map. Over the years, it has grown larger, more comfortable and more sophisticated.
Now in its 10th generation, the 2019 Civic ($20,345) is Honda’s best-selling passenger car. (The CR-V crossover is by a wide margin Honda’s overall best-seller.)
The Civic competes as a compact but is large enough to bump up against the midsize segment. (The EPA rates cars based not on exterior dimensions but on a combination of cabin and cargo space.)
The Civic is roomy enough to accommodate four adults, though tall folks may run out of backseat legroom. Civic’s trunk is the segment’s largest.
The Civic’s cabin bristles with high-quality materials and cleverly designed casual storage. The two-tier center console houses a large covered bin, while an open-air bottom section lets owners stash phones out of sight — and, we can hope, out of mind.
Goodbye volume slider
Honda’s Display Audio infotainment system (not available on the base LX) features straightforward menus and large icons. It includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration.
This year, Honda finally ditches the system’s hapless capacitive-touch volume slider in favor of an old-school knob.
Civic is the rare small and affordable car that is both comfortable and engaging. Its suspension is at once firm in feel and compliant over bumps. It smooths out the impact of potholes while neutralizing body lean and other unwanted motions.
Civic’s steering system is precise, quick and responsive. It has a comfortable heft that firms up as the driver enters a corner and it communicates valuable road-surface information with the driver.
The 2019 Civic is available in sedan, coupe ($24,095) and hatchback ($21,450) body styles. Performance trims include the 205-horsepower Si ($24,300) and 306-hp Type R ($36,300).
Honda Sensing is standard
Standard equipment on the base LX includes automatic climate control, LED running lights and a height-adjustable driver's seat.
Electronics includes a 5-inch central display screen, a rearview camera, Bluetooth and a four-speaker sound system with a USB port.
Honda’s Honda Sensing driver-assist package is also standard. It brings adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assist, road departure mitigation, automatic high beams and forward-collision warning with automatic emergency braking.
The forward-collision/automatic braking system is too sensitive and often slows the car abruptly when sensors detect a vehicle ahead — or, in extreme cases, one in an adjacent lane.
It’s not a critical flaw — the driver can easily override the system — but it can be annoying.
New trim appeals
For 2019, Honda adds an appealing new Sport trim ($22,350) that slots just above the base LX.
Sport models are distinguished by their aerodynamic bodywork, a dual exhaust system with center-mounted chrome tips and 18-inch alloy wheels.
Sedan and coupe iterations are powered by the 2.0-liter, 158-hp four also found in the base LX. The hatchback ($22,450) runs the 174-hp, 1.5-liter turbocharged four that powers Civic’s upper trims.
A six-speed manual transmission is standard on Sport and a CVT is available. Steering is tuned to be quicker and more precise than the standard setup.
Inside, there are aluminum sport pedals, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, and automatic climate control. Keyless entry and ignition, remote start, a 7-inch touchscreen and eight-speaker sound system with dual USB ports are included. The rearview camera gets dynamic guidelines.
In its 47 years, the Civic has become the country’s favorite retail (i.e., exclusive of fleet sales) passenger car. Small cars come and go, but the Civic seems poised to keep its run intact.
Questions or comments? Contact Don at email@example.com.
2019 Honda Civic 1.5T Touring sedan
Vehicle base price: $20,345
Trim level base price: $27,300
As tested: $28,220 (includes destination and handling)
Options: Our Touring tester came with no options
EPA ratings: 33 combined/30 city/38 highway
Regular unleaded fuel specified