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2020 Honda Civic Hatchback Test Drive Review
Honda calls the 2020 Civic Hatchback “the hottest hatch around.” That’s not true, but don’t let such hyperbole stop you from considering and buying this terrific little car.
When the Honda Civic first went on sale in the US in 1973, it was a tiny 3-door hatchback capitalizing on concerns arising out of the OPEC Oil Embargo. In other words, it was a safe and smart choice during a period of unrest and uncertainty. Eventually though, years after oil pipelines once again gushed with plentiful crude, hatchbacks became synonymous with economic despair. Judgmental types assumed you couldn’t afford anything better, and soon few people wanted them anymore. Today, hatchbacks are making comebacks, and the 2020 Honda Civic Hatchback is a good example of why.
Look and Feel
Half a decade ago, Honda redesigned the Civic, which is its rival to the Subaru Impreza and Toyota Corolla, among others. To be honest, I’m still getting used to it. To appreciate this compact car, you need to view it from the right angle, and in the right light.
For 2020, Honda tweaks the styling a little bit. The huge fake air intakes get body-color crossbars that dial them down, the grille is new, and the headlights take on a smoked appearance. New wheel designs also debut, but they weren’t a problem in the first place.
My test car, dressed in top-of-the-line Sport Touring trim, had Platinum White Pearl paint, delivering maximum contrast against the car’s glossy black detailing. After meeting some family members for a meal, we all walked out together, and several of the men in the group “ooohed” and “aaahed” approval of the Civic. I think they mistook it for a Type R.
Inside, the Sport Touring includes stitched leather on the steering wheel, soft surfaces, and quality materials. There’s still plenty of hard plastic, of course, because this is a compact mainstream car. But once you’ve settled in, pulled the door closed, and heard the bank-vault-door thunk (followed by an immediate reduction in ambient noise), you’ll be forever impressed.
My test car also had a six-speed manual gearbox, formerly reserved for Sport trim but now available with Sport Touring trim for 2020. So equipped, the price came to $28,980, including the destination charge to ship it from the factory in the United Kingdom that builds it.
Before you dismiss it as too expensive, the Sport Touring’s MSRP is $8,250 less than a Type R’s. And you need not spend that much in order to get a 2020 Civic Hatchback. Including destination, the base MSRP is $21,650 for LX trim, and the Sport looks just like my test car but costs $22,750. The EX is next at $24,150, followed by the leather-lined EX-L at $25,350.
Don’t get into a 2020 Honda Civic Hatchback with Sport or Sport Touring trim thinking that you’ve scored a more useful version of the Civic Si. The cars are very different, from outputs of the powertrains, whether it's the base engine or the higher output turbocharged engines, to the ride and handling.
Equipped with a turbocharged 1.5-liter 4-cylinder powertrain, the Civic Hatchback makes 174 horsepower with LX, EX, and EX-L trim and 180 horsepower with Sport and Sport Touring trim. Torque measures 162 pound-feet from 1,700 rpm to 5,500 rpm with the continuously variable transmission (CVT) and 177 lb-ft from 1,900 rpm to 5,000 rpm with the 6-speed manual transmission.
That’s plenty of power to move the front-wheel-drive Civic Hatchback with authority, and the engine is quiet, refined, and well mannered at all times. The transmission’s clutch travel and gearbox throws are unexpectedly long, though, marking one difference in the driving experience between the Sport Touring Hatchback and a Civic Si.
The Si is tighter and tauter, too, equipped with a helical limited-slip differential for more thrilling cornering. And it makes more power than the Civic Hatchback.
But, if you’re not looking for maximum performance, the Civic Hatchback Sport and Sport Touring are arguably easier to live with on a daily basis. With a softer and more compliant ride, wider seats, a quieter cabin, and hushed exhaust, they’re less frenetic and more enjoyable in most situations.
Better yet, this doesn’t mean the Civic Sport or Sport Touring can’t provide excitement when the mood strikes for a fun run down a favorite canyon road. Although the seats don’t hold you in place, and it's not as stiff and composed as the Si, the Civic Hatch is nevertheless a confidence-inspiring car, and it's fun to drive at a rapid clip.
As far as fuel economy is concerned, the EPA rated my test car at 32 mpg in combined driving. I got 32.7 mpg on the testing loop, despite driving the car hard on the mountainous section.
Form and Function
People might be nutty for SUVs, but they cost more than a comparable compact car. What’s more, they’re heavier and less aerodynamic, which means they burn more fuel. Sure, for the same money as a loaded Honda Civic Sport Touring model you could get a loaded Honda HR-V—but why?
Give me this sweet-driving Civic Hatch any day there isn’t a blizzard. At 25.2 cubic feet, it has a little more cargo space than the buzzy and underpowered HR-V Touring (23.2 cubes)—by Honda’s measuring stick, anyway. And while the Hatch can’t match the HR-V for maximum volume (46.2 cubic feet vs. 57.6 cubic feet), I’ll trade that extra utility for the Civic’s ability to accelerate out of its own way, combined with 4 extra miles of travel per gallon of gas.
True, you do sit low in the driver's seat of the Civic Hatchback, which isn’t quite as easy to get into and out of as the HR-V or offer as much interior space. But once you’re settled into the Sport Touring’s heated leather front seats, which on the driver’s side supply ample thigh support, you’ll be a happy camper. Your passenger, however, will be wishing for a height adjuster.
On the subject of practicality, between the front seats Honda installs an utterly brilliant center console storage area. Long and deep, it includes a sliding armrest, sliding interior tray, and sliding cupholders. You can even configure it to hold an oversize water bottle, so if you take your hydration seriously, this Civic serves as an enabler.
Comfort and leg room in the rear seats is surprisingly good, but without air-conditioning vents and dark tinted rear glass, passengers swelter on the black leather bench.
Front-seat occupants face a stylish dashboard equipped with digital instrumentation and, in all but LX trim, a 7-inch touchscreen infotainment system display complete with Bluetooth and a volume knob for the audio system.
Apple CarPlay, Android Auto smartphone integration, satellite radio, text-messaging support, a navigation system, a quick-charging USB port, and a 12-speaker premium sound system are present and accounted for in the Sport Touring trim level. All that’s missing is a tuning knob, a bigger screen that can match competitors for size, and voice-recognition technology that actually understands what you’re saying more than half the time.
The 2020 Civic Hatchback isn’t a technology powerhouse, but it does include a couple of appealing features. For example, automatic climate control is standard, and most versions of the car come with Smart Entry with Walk Away Auto Lock. Basically, it provides keyless entry to the car when you’re ready to drive, and it automatically locks the doors when you walk away.
If you’re like me and you’re always wondering if you remembered to lock the doors, this feature provides extra peace of mind.
The remaining technologies for the Civic are mostly grouped under the Honda Sensing suite. This is the name of Honda’s range of advanced driving-assistance and collision-avoidance safety features, and every Civic Hatchback includes it as standard equipment.
Forward-collision warning with automatic emergency braking is part of Honda Sensing, along with automatic high-beam headlights, lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assist, and a Road Departure Mitigation system that attempts to prevent the Civic from leaving the pavement when the driver is distracted or unable to drive. Adaptive cruise control is also standard, and versions of the car with a CVT also have low-speed following capability, which makes slogging through traffic a little easier.
That sounds good, but this edition of Honda Sensing is an aging one. During testing, the lane-keeping assist lacked refinement in terms of smoothness, and on one occasion, the adaptive cruise control had the car brake for no apparent reason.
Don’t look for a blind-spot monitoring system in the Civic or a rear cross-traffic alert system. Instead, you must settle for LaneWatch, which works only for the car’s right-side blind spot. Using a camera mounted in a vulnerable location on the edge of the passenger-side mirror, it shows a video feed of what’s alongside the Civic when the turn signal is activated, displaying the image on the infotainment display screen. You’re on your own when it comes to checking your left blind spot.
The 2020 Civic Hatchback did not earn a Top Safety Pick rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) due to a Poor performance in the headlight category. New for 2020, LED headlights are standard with Sport Touring trim. Maybe that will help. In any case, the Civic gets top marks for crash-test performance, so if you do crumple it up, it will do its best to protect you.
Consumers seeking the value and utility that characterize compact hatchbacks are in luck because there are several models worthy of consideration.
For example, the Hyundai Elantra GT is an exceptionally good value and comes in a sporty N-Line trim with plenty of entertainment value. The Mazda 3 Hatchback grabs attention with its upscale style and interior quality, and it comes with an available all-wheel-drive (AWD) system. Subaru provides standard AWD in the Impreza Hatchback, and while that car isn’t quick, in Sport trim you can toss it around for a good time.
And then there is the hottest hatch around, the Volkswagen GTI. It’s the most expensive of the bunch, but it’s a real sport compact, and it's spectacular.
In this field of excellence, the 2020 Honda Civic Hatchback has its place. There is no question that it’s an impressive little car, and the more you like the way it looks, the more you’ll like owning it.
Christian Wardlaw has 25 years of experience reviewing cars and has served in editorial leadership roles with Edmunds, J.D. Power, the New York Daily News, Autobytel, and Vehix. Chris prefers to focus on the cars people actually buy rather than the cars about which people dream, and emphasizes the importance of fuel economy and safety as much as how much fun a car is to drive. Chris is married to an automotive journalist, is the father of four daughters, and lives in Southern California.
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