For those of us who got into the import scene long before Dom lived life a quarter mile at a time, few cars are as important as the Honda Civic hatchback. It was a Japanese-built David more than capable of taking on the Goliaths of the world, offering a nimble chassis, an advanced powertrain, and Honda’s legendary craftsmanship. It was, and still is, a platform that’s incredibly easy to modify, with a level of aftermarket support rivaled only by Ford’s Mustang.
But let’s be honest: the Civics that continue to stoke the flames of fandom, the ones still dominating Instagram and the Kanjo loop, are the old ones. EF, EG, and hell, even E-AT hatches continue to appreciate in price, making us think that we’re better served getting our Civic fix from something brand-new. Something turbocharged. Something like the 2020 Honda Civic Hatchback Sport Touring.
This is the sportiest Civic hatch without an “R” in the name, and on paper it’s got the stuff we like. Its 1.5-liter turbocharged engine has been tuned to produce 180 horsepower and 177 lb-ft of torque. Its suspension has been tuned for sharpened handling. And its rear gets the “shotgun” center-exit exhaust that was all over Super Street back in, like, 1997.
That’s all well and good, but can this Civic really stand shoulder to shoulder with something like the EG? Well, that depends. The classic Civic hatches we lust after are compact things, able to squirt their way through traffic as they race to the local snack bar. But this new Civic hatch rides on the same 106.3-inch wheelbase as its sedan sibling, and is only fractionally smaller than the sedan in terms of overall length. Throw in all the additional metal that’s needed for things like crash-worthiness and pedestrian safety, and this newest Civic feels absolutely massive when parked next to its ‘90s predecessors.
So dimensionally, this latest Civic lacks the pint-sized charm of the classic hatchbacks. But when viewed instead as a liftback sedan, it starts to hold its own.
We’re sure you’ve already made up your mind about the Civic’s looks, so let’s talk driving. First gear is weird, in that acceleration feels neither sharp nor linear, but once you shift into second and floor it, the Civic Hatchback Sport comes alive. Power kicks in around 3000 rpm, and the flat torque curve provides the right amount of shove until it’s time to go up a gear. The 6-speed manual transmission feels smooth, with mechanically precise throws, and encourages you to row through the gears as the road demands.
Find that perfect driving road and you’ll find that this Civic rewards you for driving it in anger. You won’t feel that VTEC kick in, yo, but things feel so good when you bury the throttle, you won’t really care. Match this powertrain to a chassis that enjoys being tossed around, plus some sharp steering, and you get something that starts to touch on the magic offered by those vintage ‘90s rides. This car simply feels alive when it’s being flung through the bends, and it’s so sure-footed that you’ll run out of power before you run out of talent.
And like those Civics of old, this newest hatch succeeds at, well, being a Civic. When driven normally, there’s nothing particularly notable about it. It accelerates, turns and stops without fuss. It’s perfectly happy plodding around town, and will carry you and your family in comfort while still returning a combined MPG in the mid-30s.
Much like the exterior, the interior of the Civic hatch is a love-it-or-hate-it affair. Honda’s madly in love with stacking layers and putting sharp creases everywhere, making us think Honda’s interior designer is bringing too much of his Gunpla hobby to work. But still, even with all the nooks and crannies, things feel spacious. There are buttons and knobs for some key controls, but a lot happens from that touch-screen display. The UI takes some getting used to, but it works. And having driven a few 10th-gen Civics, we want to once again thank Honda for bringing back the physical volume knob.
With our specific Civic Hatchback Sport being of the Touring variety, it’s got a few extra niceties to make our ride that much more pleasant. The front seats are power-adjustable, trimmed in leather and get multi-stage heating. The fold-down rear seats are also heated and trimmed in leather. Automatic rain-sensing wipers, a 540-watt sound system and sporty pedals round out the Touring-exclusive extras.
All in all, the Civic Hatchback Sport Touring is a fantastic car, but let’s talk price. Our tester carries an MSRP of $28,980. Compared to the similarly priced Toyota Corolla Hatchback XSE, the Civic is the superior choice. But when compared to the non-hatchy Civic Si, well, things get a bit harder. The Si is a good deal cheaper, and when viewed through an enthusiast lens, delivers a far superior driving experience.
So if we were putting our own money on the line and needed a Civic Hatch, we’d look into the cheaper – but mechanically identical – base-level Civic Hatchback Sport. And with the money we saved, we’d go ahead and buy that used EF hatch, too.
|Engine||1.5-liter DOHC direct-injected inline-4|
|Horsepower||180 @ 5500 rpm|
|Torque||177 lb-ft @ 1900-5000 rpm|
|Suspension, F/R||Independent MacPherson strut/Multi-link|
|Brakes, F/R||11.1-in. vented discs/10.2-in. solid discs|
|Wheels and Tires||18-in. alloy, 235/40R18 91W all-season tires|
|Curb weight||3003 lbs.|
|Overall length||177.9 in.|
|Overall width||70.8 in.|
|Overall height||56.5 in.|