There are some days where I'll go out for a drive in the wee hours of the morning. I'll leave my house at four or five a.m., top off at a gas station and hit the road – get on the 405 freeway blasting Boston, Bon Jovi and Motley Crue on my way to Mulholland Drive I'll do multiple passes of Mulholland, the road to all to myself. Normally gridlocked with traffic, I can drive across Ventura Boulevard in a matter of minutes.

DISCLAIMER: Honda North America provided me with a 2016 Civic Touring for five days. It didn't take long for me to fall in love with the car.

I'm not a morning person in any respect – quite the opposite really – so doing this sort of thing is very rare for me. However, the new, tenth generation of Civic is special enough that I did this not once or twice but three times during the five days I had the car. If I had the keys to the previous generation Civic instead, I would have slept in until noon.

The sun rises at Dead Man’s Overlook on Mulholland Drive (Amou “Joe” Seto)
The sun rises at Dead Man’s Overlook on Mulholland Drive (Amou “Joe” Seto)

The last generation Civic was just a car in the sense that it did what it was supposed to do, and nothing else. Anytime a non-car person asked me a recommendation as to what to buy, I almost always pointed to them to the Civic. It's good on gas, inexpensive to maintain and just inexpensive period, which is what most people look for. For someone such as myself, I wanted something more than "just a car" which is why I focused my attention to the Civic Si, while the standard model got no love from me.

So, what exactly has Honda done that makes this car so radically different from the last generation? How have they turned the Civic into a car that I'd never buy for myself into one that I would?

Let's start with the way the Civic sedan looks. The previous Civic employed a very traditional three-box design, which is widely recognized as the sedan body type. The new Civic sedan has a new fastback-like design, which uses a mix of sleek and sharp lines to blend the trunk into the rest of the body. Honda has also added more pronounced wheel arches for a more aggressive looking body. The new redesign is a far cry from what anybody was expecting.

Although the new Civic may appear massive, the increase in difference is subtle (Amou “Joe” Seto/USC Annenberg Media)
Although the new Civic may appear massive, the increase in difference is subtle (Amou “Joe” Seto/USC Annenberg Media)

This new design gives the Civic the illusion of looking much bigger than it actually is – people have told me nonstop that it looked as big as an Accord. In truth, the new car has only gained 2.9 inches in overall length, 1.2 of those inches stemming from the wheelbase. It's also 1.9 inches wider and sports a 25mm increase in track and 20mm inch in tire width. This new, larger body is made from larger amounts of ultra-high and high-strength steel to aid crash protection and body rigidity. Despite all this, the new Civic isn't some porker, and in fact the new body has shed 68 lbs from the last generation.

Inside, the incredibly distracting multi-gauge/screen arrangement has been changed to a more uniform, traditional layout. The handbrake has been replaced for an electronic parking brake, and a big, beefy shifter sits in the center console. The EPA passenger volume has increased 3.2 cubic feet, and the cargo volume has increased by 2.6 cubic feet.

The old R18 engine which served as the sole powerplant for most Civics was a decent engine, but it lacked character; it droned through the power band with an unenthusiastic tone and didn't have much torque. For the EX-T, EX-L and Touring trims, a new turbocharged and intercooled 1.5L DOHC 16-valve 4-cylinder engine which produces 174 horsepower and 162 torque is the sole power plant. The engine makes peak torque from 1,700 to 5,500 RPM, and the CVT will do its best to hold the revs within the torque band, easily shuttling the car up steep hills. If anything, the torque delivery makes the car feel like an EV and very unlike any Honda I've driven. There is a fair bit of turbo lag when coming from a standstill, but once the turbo begins to spool, you're in torque city.

Honda’s turbocharged 1.5L mill is one of the most surprising additions to the tenth generation Civic (Amou “Joe” Seto/USC Annenberg Media)
Honda’s turbocharged 1.5L mill is one of the most surprising additions to the tenth generation Civic (Amou “Joe” Seto/USC Annenberg Media)

Currently, the only transmission pairing is Honda's LL-CVT for this engine, but there have been reports that Honda will add a manual later. The Civic will do 80 mph at around 2,300-2,400 RPM – a tad higher than I was expecting, considering it's a CVT. There's no simulated gearset with the LL-CVT, meaning there's no manual mode like there is with the Toyota Corolla's CVT. There is a sport mode on the transmission which you can engage for faster overtaking, but it doesn't work well enough for something such as canyon carving where you need to hold the revs higher in the corners.

The new brakes are shockingly good; just a dab of the pedal and the calipers bite at the rotors with surprising force. The steering has been overhauled as well; the new, dual-pinion system is laser-accurate, allowing you to slew into tight parking spaces and fly through canyon passes effortlessly. The turns lock to lock have gone from an exhausting 3.1 turns to a microscopic 2.2 turns – combine this with the Civic's 35.7 foot turning radius and you won't want to die every time you're forced to do a three-point turn.

Even on twisty roads like Latigo Canyon, the Civic can hold its own quite well (Amou “Joe” Seto/USC Annenberg Media)
Even on twisty roads like Latigo Canyon, the Civic can hold its own quite well (Amou “Joe” Seto/USC Annenberg Media)

Most importantly of all, this car is more than happy when you take it out for a drive. The last one reeked of unenthusiasm – that feeling you get when you're out with a friend who really doesn't want to be out, and their horrible vibe ruins the whole evening. This one will laugh at all your dumb jokes, share a pint with your friends and cheer along with your favorite team.

There is an elephant in the room, which is the price. The Touring is a whopping $26,500 MSRP. For that price, I can think of lots of other cars I'd rather buy: the Subaru WRX, VW Golf GTI Performance and Scion FR-S are just a few examples. However, these cars aren't what the Touring competes with. For the new Civic, Honda has stated that along with their traditional competitors, they are now taking on compact luxury cars as well.

Now, imagine that you're in the market for a compact luxury car. If you go to the more "traditional" luxury brands, you'll end up paying over $30,000 for a base model, where options such as navigation, heated seats and a moonroof are optional extras, all of which rack up the price fairly quickly.

For $26,500, the Touring comes with a leather interior, heated power front seats, heated rear outboard seats, moonroof, navigation, dual zone climate control, a 450-watt 10-speaker stereo and adaptive cruise control all as standard equipment. When all of this comes into the light, things start to get very interesting indeed. Still, luxury is more than gadgets and fancy upholstery – It won't matter if a car has seats made from the finest leather if the car sounds like it's falling apart at 50 mph.

Thankfully, the Touring has a very solid build, so much so that you don't notice the interior plastics at all there's no rattles or squeaks to report either. NVH levels have been extremely improved over the last generation, especially wind noise at freeway speeds which has nearly been eliminated. The ride, especially on the rear axle has been highly improved – the back doesn't flop around when you're going over speed bumps anymore. There's some noticeable body roll when you're trying to maneuver tight mountain roads, a byproduct of the smoother ride.

Despite the quietness of the cabin and the smoothness of the ride, this car doesn't feel as relaxed to drive on the freeway as it should be. There's a slight feeling of instability that kept popping up at higher speeds, which reminds you that this is still a compact segment car and not some big, heavy GT.

Honda’s return to conservative interior styling removes the incredibly distracting multi-dash layout of the previous generation (Amou “Joe” Seto/USC Annenberg Media)
Honda’s return to conservative interior styling removes the incredibly distracting multi-dash layout of the previous generation (Amou “Joe” Seto/USC Annenberg Media)

Moving on to the high-tech gadgetry, most of it works reasonably well. Still, there are some kinks in the system which need attention.

The adaptive cruise control works relatively well, increasing following speeds by 1 MPH and can gradually slow down the car, but if some maniac cuts you off you will have to manually apply the brakes or risk bulldozing into the back of said maniac's car. The collision warning system will flash a gigantic orange box with the words "BRAKE" in the event this happens, but the system can be a little be too panicky at times which gets old quick.

Honda's brilliant Lanewatch system returns from the previous generation and is standard on the Touring. A camera mounted on the passenger door mirror allows you to see your blind spot when you're changing lanes or whenever you'd like using a switch on the stalk. The refresh rate feeding from the camera to the display is awful, but it's a very helpful feature regardless. On the driver's side mirror, a small part of the mirror is modified to allow you to see part of your blind spot, though it gives anything in this area of the mirror a fun-house effect.

The Honda Lanewatch system uses a camera mounted on the door mirror to show objects which may be hiding in your blind spot (Amou “Joe” Seto/USC Annenberg Media)
The Honda Lanewatch system uses a camera mounted on the door mirror to show objects which may be hiding in your blind spot (Amou “Joe” Seto/USC Annenberg Media)

The new infotainment system has been reworked, with a navigation system from Garmin being used instead of Honda's confusing previous unit. The i-MID secondary screen has been integrated into the center gauge cluster, making things a lot less distracting compared to the previous generation's layout.

Although these changes are welcome, one major headache that was not addressed from the previous Civic is the lack of an auxiliary input. Instead of letting your friends plug in their devices through an aux, you must transmit audio through Bluetooth or USB. Not all devices have Bluetooth and not everybody carries the USB cable for their devices at all times, but since nearly all devices have an aux output, it aggravates me (and Reddit and 9thGenCivic forum users) to no end that Honda hasn't included this feature.

Bluetooth never seemed to work seamlessly, as sometimes the audio stream would be perfect, other times it would skip like a jumping CD, or it would stutter and cut out. Other times the stream refused to work at all. The 10-speaker, 450-watt sound system fitted to the Touring doesn't sound as good as it should be, and it cannot natively decode certain lossless formats such as FLAC via USB. The CD player has also been removed for 2016. Android Auto refused to work with my LG G4 despite numerous attempts, giving me error codes each time.

The tenth generation Honda Civic is a serious performer and a step in the right direction for the company (Amou “Joe” Seto/Neon Tommy)
The tenth generation Honda Civic is a serious performer and a step in the right direction for the company (Amou “Joe” Seto/Neon Tommy)

As I finished up my road test, I knew that this car represented something important for Honda. They actually sat back and said "let's make cars that are more than just appliances; we'll make cars that almost everyone would be happy to put in their driveway."

It's the start of a new direction for the company – a change that everyone will welcome. If Honda were to add an auxiliary input and a manual transmission, the Touring practically removes nearly all the reasons why you should buy anything else in this class. Especially when you consider the price, the new Touring is ready to play hardball with the luxury pillars. Watch out, Mercedes!

Overall Score: A

Compact Cars Score: A

Price as tested: $27,335

At-A-Glance Specifications:

Engine: 1.5L turbocharged and intercooled 16-valve DOHC 4-cylinder

Turbo: MHI TD03 w/ Internal Wastegate

Boost Pressure: 16.5 PSI

Horsepower: 174 @ 6,000 RPM

Torque: 162 lb-ft @ 1,700-5,500 RPM

Redline: 6,500 PM

Transmission: LL-CVT

Turns Lock-To-Lock: 2.22

Turning Radius: 35.7 ft

Tire: Firestone FT140

Tire Size: 215/50R17 91H

Curb Weight: 2923

Weight Distribution: 61.4/38.6

Cargo Volume: 14.7 cu. ft

EPA Estimated MPG (City/Highway/Combined): 31/42/35

Observed Combined MPG: 31.6

Fuel Tank Capacity: 12.39

Fuel Type: 87 octane gasoline (regular unleaded)

Estimated Range: 391.5 mi

Reach Staff Reporter Joe Seto here. Follow him on Twitter here.