It’s whole milk and fresh cookies. Real cane sugar and not high fructose corn syrup. Mister Rogers and warm, cuddly puppies. The 2022 Honda Civic Hatchback Sport is an irony-free example of wholesome goodness.
Equipped with the no-cost/no-discount six-speed manual transmission, the Civic Sport Hatchback is the best darn thing since honey roasted peanuts. Pure Planters. Makes all the other small cars out there look like off-brand mixed nuts. There are better cars, but none of those beat this one’s low $25,565 starting price.
Except that the good(er) Civic Hatchback costs more than that. And the good(er) one is even more expensive than the also-good Civic Si sedan. So, there is a dilemma.
Here’s what makes decisions difficult. Yes, the Civic Sport Hatchback comes with Honda’s near-perfect six-speed manual transmission or a so-so continuously variable automatic with no difference in price. But it comes lashed to the 158-horsepower, 2.0-liter VTEC-equipped, naturally aspirated four. It’s not a bad engine at all, and it makes 138-pound feet of torque at 4200 rpm. It’s wholly adequate; state of the art circa 2006.
But the engine to crave is the 1.5-liter turbocharged four which is rated at 180-horsepower and 177-pound feet of constant peak torque between 1700 and 4500 rpm. To get that engine, however, means choosing the Civic Sport Touring Hatchback and that has a starting price of $30,865 after a $1015 destination charge. That’s a stiff $5300 premium. A nearly $31,000 Civic is kind of, well, something.
And then, if a buyer can stand the stigma of driving a sedan, there’s the Civic Si with a tweaked 1.5 turbo rated at 200-horsepower and 192-pound feet of peak torque between 1800 and 5000 rpm. Along with the additional grunt comes another 600 rpm on the redline (6600 rpm vs. 6000) and a shorter 4.35:1 final drive ratio instead of the Sport Touring’s 4.10:1.
The Civic Si is essentially a one-spec car that starts at $28,315. One with stickier summer tires is $200 dearer. Even with the better rubber, it’s $2350 cheaper than the Sport Touring Hatchback. Now $2350 may be the price of a sound system upgrade in a BMW or Mercedes. Or it may be a couple pieces of carbon trim in a Porsche. But down where Honda buyers live, $2350 is real money.
From there the trade-offs become even more subtle. The Sport Touring’s torque spreads out where it’s most useful – in daily driving. It’s easygoing, powerful enough to raise up to highway speeds and forgiving if a shift is missed or forgotten. The Si’s power, meanwhile, comes alive at romp speeds. There’s nothing wrong with how the Si performs when puttering around, but it’s not as good as the Sport Touring. And the Sport Touring can be amusing at hero velocities, but it’s not the funky monkey the Si is. These are slight differences in character; not schizoid cleavages.
Look at the specs of the 1.5 turbo engine and it’s not a performance thoroughbred. The cylinders use a tiny 73.0-millimeter bore but a rather long 89.5-millimeter crank stroke. That means long levers, extended combustion events and excellent torque production. Short stroke engines rev and wind up in sports cars. Long strokers are built to thrive in sedans and SUVs, like, say, the Accord and CR-V. It’s an engine built to be paired with an automatic transmission. And CVTs, in particular, are least obnoxious hooked to an engine with broad, consistent torque production.
That the 1.5 turbo delivers so much fun with a manual transmission is testament to Honda’s perfectly calibrated dance between turbo boost, VTEC variable timing and rotational engine mass. It also helps that the Civic that it’s in is freakishly sweet.
By spec, the Civic platform hammocks between ho and hum. Sedans and hatches both use a 107.7-inch wheelbase; the suspension is simple struts in front and a multi-link system in back; there’s nothing revolutionary about the unibody structure; and it’s more-or-less about as roomy as anything else in the class. But what it has is refinement. The steering is perfectly weighted and quick, the ride is outstanding, it’s not particularly quiet but the noises it makes are pleasant, and the interior design is attractive without seeming trendy or self-conscious. There’s nothing that the Civic is stupendous at, but there’s so little to criticize about it.
The hatchback body style has an advantage over the sedan, but it’s an incremental edge. It’s easier to load up with stuff in back and… that’s about it. From the driver’s seat they feel the same. From all the passenger seats they feel the same. And from the outside, only people with trained eyes and ridiculous Honda awareness are going to spot the difference between sedan and hatch.
What elevates the Sport Touring’s price is the level of equipment. It has stuff like a larger 10.2-inch touchscreen, a nav system, adaptive cruise control, heated exterior mirrors with embedded turn signals, rain-sensing windshield wipers, heated seats, an auto dimming rear-view mirror… all the stuff that was wonder-tech a generation ago and taken for granted now. Still, it would be nice to get the sweet engine and trans combo without having to pay for all the frills.
While it wears the same 235/40R18 size tires as the Civic Si sedan, the Hatchback Sport Touring wears less aggressively constructed tires. This one was on Continental ContiProContacts while the Si (alongside more aggressive suspension tuning and larger anti-sway bars) uses Goodyear Eagle F1 Assymetric 2s. And where that shows up is in steering communication and ultimate adhesion.
The guys at Car and Driver measured the Si sedan gripping skidpad at 0.97G while the best the Sport Touring could muster was 0.90G. And 70-0 braking needed 156-feet for the Si while the Sport Touring took 173-feet. Those aren’t insignificant edges for the cheaper Si.
But it’s in acceleration where the Si clearly has an edge. The Si’s 6.7-second 0 to 60 mph romp swamps the Sport Touring’s 7.3-seconds. The Si’s 15.0-second at 95 mph quarter-mile clocking also creams the Sport Touring’s 15.5-second at 91 mph performance. All that in mind, the Sport Touring hatch still feels adequately above average even when it’s average.
Honda and Toyota have reputations upon which they can cruise. But with cars like the excellent Hyundai Elantra also out there, it's apparent that Honda at least isn’t cruising. It’s trying. And it’s still selling all the virtues for which it is justly famous. But buy the Si.
The Civic Hatchback Sport Touring is another wholesome Honda. Maybe it’s a bit too wholesome?
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