The Honda Civic is a small car with a big lineup. As a starting point, recent used Honda Civic models are available in coupe, sedan and hatchback body styles. Honda also lets you mix and match those body styles with a surprising variety of powertrains. This includes both high-performance and high-efficiency setups. It’s a combination of choices that no other mainstream compact can match. Yet if you’re shopping for your first car, the Civic’s wide selection may be a bit overwhelming.
So here’s a quick “Civics” lesson to help you sort things out.
Civic Si and Type-R: For Enthusiasts Only
We’ll kick things off with the two Civic trims that actually aren’t recommended for first-time owners. Now, it’s not that the Si and Type R aren’t good cars. They are. But they also deliver much higher levels of performance than typical compacts, which means they may not be right for typical inexperienced drivers.
For the Civic Si sedan and coupe, recent versions can produce 205 horsepower and 192 pound-feet of torque. That’s 30 percent more horsepower and 40 more pound-feet of torque than the Civic’s standard engine from the same time. Nor is the Si the most powerful of the Civics. The Type R hatchback ratchets up output to 306 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque. You can quickly get in over your head with either car if you’re not careful.
There’s a financial reason to avoid these cars as well since both tend to have higher insurance costs than the rest of the Civic roster.
What to Know About the Ninth-generation Civic
The ninth-generation Honda Civic was sold new during the 2012 through 2015 model years and received significant upgrades in almost all of them. When the all-new 2012 Civic wasn’t an immediate hit, Honda refreshed it for 2013 with standard features such as a rearview camera, an iPod-compatible USB port, steering-wheel-mounted audio controls and Bluetooth for both hands-free calling and audio streaming. The 2014 Honda Civic offered new options, including a 7-inch touchscreen, a continuously variable transmission (CVT) and the brand’s LaneWatch technology. The system includes a rear-facing camera that’s located in the passenger-side exterior mirror. You activate it when you put on your right-hand turn signal, and the camera streams video to the Civic’s infotainment display. That helps you watch out for vehicles that might be in your passenger-side blind spot.
In addition, the two ninth-generation body styles, the coupe and sedan, each earned Top Safety Pick ratings from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) for the entire production run.
All of those modern-day benefits help make the 2012-2015 Civic a good first car, but many are available from rival compacts, too. One way the ninth-generation Civic stands out from the crowd is by providing two alternative-fuel powertrains.
If you’re interested in having a hybrid as your first car, the 2013-2015 Civic answers the call by combining a four-cylinder gas engine with Honda’s Integrated Motor Assist technology and a lithium-ion battery pack. The results include EPA ratings of 43/45 mpg city/highway. Honda also caters to your interest in gas mileage with the Civic CNG. That model has most of the same features as the “regular” Civic sedan, but it relies on a four-cylinder engine powered by compressed natural gas. The Civic CNG wasn’t just an afterthought, either. It was in mass production for the 2012 through 2015 model years and sold as a new car in all 50 states. Along with a total driving range of 198 miles, the Civic CNG puts up fuel economy scores of 27/38 mpg city/highway.
Advanced Driver Assistance for Added Driver Confidence
When Honda launched the 10th-generation Civic, it was an immediate success. The very first model, the 2016 Honda Civic sedan, even was named the North American Car of the Year. Further, all models are available with a new package of safety features. The optional Honda Sensing bundle includes adaptive cruise control, automatic forward emergency braking, forward collision warning, lane departure warning and lane keeping assistance. A blind spot monitor also is optional, and a multi-angle rearview camera is standard. These technologies can be especially helpful for drivers without much experience behind the wheel. Of course, they aren’t a substitute for paying attention to the road.
Civic Hatchback: A Good First Car for Cargo
The 10th generation of the Honda Civic also saw the return of the hatchback body style. This is an ideal choice if you want your first car to have maximum cargo flexibility. The Civic hatchback, which was all new for 2017, offers 25.7 cubic feet of storage behind its 60/40-split folding rear seats. The hatchback versions of the comparable Chevrolet Cruze, Ford Focus and Toyota Corolla all have less. Nissan didn’t sell a compact hatchback during this time at all.
You can then expand the Civic’s cargo capacity to 46.2 cubic feet by folding both rear seats. In the same configuration, the Corolla hatchback has 23.3 cubic feet of storage, and the Focus checks in with 43.9. Just remember that the Honda Fit from the same period showcases 52.7 cubic feet of total cargo space.
A Fun and Efficient Driving Experience
Honda makes it easy to avoid the powerful Si and Type R models because the Civic’s other trims are pretty peppy in their own right. The standard 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine makes 158 horsepower and 138 pound-feet of torque, which is enough output for confident driving in most everyday situations. For a little more zip, the Civic offers an optional turbocharged 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine. This unit makes 174 horsepower and 167 pound-feet of torque with a six-speed manual transmission and delivers the same horsepower with 162 pound-feet of torque when paired with the CVT. Take the turbo Civic on a test drive, and you’ll notice that’s right in the sweet spot for performance. It’s more output than the standard engines from the Civic’s rivals but less than a hardcore sport-compact alternative.
Both of those engines also are fairly economical. The 10th-generation base model carries the naturally aspirated engine and a CVT for EPA grades of up to 30/38 mpg city/highway. With the same transmission and the turbo powerplant, the Civic can reach 32/42 mpg city/highway. The sporty combination of the turbocharged engine and a six-speed manual transmission returns fuel efficiency scores of up to 28/38 mpg city/highway.
To put that into context, the Civic was achieving those ratings in 2016, when the most efficient Kia Forte was limited to 26/37 mpg city/highway.
Premium Features that First-time Buyers Want
If you’ll be using your car to commute, here’s something to keep in mind: You’ll spend an average of 52.2 minutes a day getting to and from work if you have a typical full-time job. That comes out to more than 200 hours per year. In those conditions, the Civic’s upscale options can be especially important for a good first-time ownership experience.
A highlight is the full-cabin warmth you get from both heated front seats and heat for the rear outboard positions. Luxury cars such as the Lexus IS still weren’t available with heated rear seats for the 2019 model year. The same IS also is missing Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, and they’re standard on all 10th-generation Civics except for the base models. However, Honda pairs that advanced smartphone-integration technology with an SMS text-messaging system. That lets you focus on driving because it can “read” incoming texts out loud and respond to them with your own pre-set messages.
Honda extends the Civic’s luxury with options such as leather-trimmed upholstery, an eight-way power-adjustable driver’s seat, a four-way power-adjustable front passenger seat, dual-zone automatic climate control, push-button start, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and two premium audio systems. The range-topping setup has 450 watts of power, nine speakers and a separate subwoofer.
A final bonus that you’ll appreciate in your first car is an optional satellite-linked navigation system. Supported by Honda HD Digital Traffic reports, it’s not only perfect for finding someplace new, it can guide you to familiar locations you may not have driven to before.