Though this generation of the Honda Civic has been kicking since 2016, it has received a steady stream of updates in the form of upgrades, new trim levels and body styles over that time to keep the compact car icon relevant. This year the 2019 Civic arrives with some more key changes that Honda hopes will be enough to keep it on top.
Civic Changes for 2019
The first update is a big jump in standard safety features. The Honda Sensing suite of safety technology, which includes adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist, forward automatic emergency braking and road departure mitigation, is now standard on all trim levels. This makes the Civic equal to the Toyota Corolla on standard safety, an important benchmark for the Civic.
Other updates include some slight exterior tweaks and an important update to the Civic’s available Display Audio screen. To call the Civic’s previous screen “unloved” would be generous; it was loathed by much of our staff for its lack of a volume knob, overreliance on hard-to-hit capacitive controls and unintuitive menus. For 2019, all of the Civics with the Display Audio system add a volume knob, physical buttons on the side for easier navigation and better graphics. For a full list of updates, head here.
The change that I was tasked with testing, however, comes in the form of a new trim level for sedan and coupe models, the Sport. This may sound familiar because the hatchback offers a Sport version, so it makes sense that the other body styles would soon follow suit. There is one big difference between them though: Hatchback versions of the Sport got the better engine, the turbocharged 1.5-liter four-cylinder. The sedan and coupe versions have to make do with the base engine and that makes them a different proposition.
Sport in Name
The Sport comes standard with a six-speed manual transmission; the continuously variable transmission is available as an $800 option. It is mated to the Civic’s base engine, a 158-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder that makes 138 pounds-feet of torque. Additional upgrades for the Sport include 18-inch wheels, more aggressive styling with a center-mounted rear exhaust (a la the Civic Si), retuned shock absorbers, a thicker front stabilizer bar and a quicker steering ratio.
The suspension and steering changes are incremental; the Civic already drove pretty well and the Sport feels similar. There’s a touch less bobble to the front end when braking hard and going into turns, but the experience is similar to driving the other trims (especially the LX, which also comes with the base engine). That’s not a bad thing, but the Sport also doesn’t distinguish itself in terms of handling.
Using the base engine for the Sport is an interesting choice. It could be argued that it keeps the cost of the car down (the sedan starts at $22,070, the coupe at $22,370; all prices include destination charges), but it also does no favors to its performance. I tested out a Sport sedan with the manual. This engine is passable because you’re able to keep it in the power more — maximum torque doesn’t kick in until 4,200 rpm, so you really have to get up into the rev range for the car to feel like it’s moving with any impetus. Helping things is the crisp-shifting manual, with its easy, consistent clutch action and a nice mechanical feeling to the shifts.
My fear though is that with the CVT, the Sport will feel very bogged down (as the LX I previously tested was). With that transmission, it’s hard to keep the Civic’s engine speed where it needs to be to feel engaging; outside of that thin power band, the car feels a step slow.
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Are There Alternatives?
I understand why Honda added this trim to the lineup, especially given that the Sport was already offered in hatchback guise. I just wish more had been done to make it live up its name, considering that if you look around the Civic lineup, there are some closely priced options that offer a better driving experience.
The first one is the Sport version of the hatchback, which costs only $23,170 to start with — $1,100 more than the sedan and $800 more than the hatchback. That feels like a bargain to me considering you get the better engine and more cargo versatility with this body style. There is a big catch with the hatchback, though: You don’t get the Display Audio system that comes with the sedan/coupe, so that means no Android Auto or Apple CarPlay.
Immediately after driving the new Civic Sport sedan, I also hopped into a Civic Si sedan to see how much of a gulf exists between the two cars, and it might as well have been an ocean. The Si is a completely different experience, so if you’re really trying to get a sporty drive out of the Civic, this still the way to go. Its adaptive suspension, tightened steering and upgraded turbocharged engine give it true sporting intention and more athleticism — if you can drive a manual, that is (it comes with a six-speed manual only). There is more of a price difference, with the Si checking in $25,195 for both the sedan and coupe. But if you really want your Civic to be sporty without being extra expensive, it’s still the best option.
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