The 2017 Honda Civic Hatch Sport, with its powerful turbo engine and six-speed manual, makes us wonder if Honda needs a Civic Si anymore.
What is it?
The Honda Civic is a mid-sized, five-passenger car that now comes in sedan, coupe, and hatchback configurations. Its arch-rival is the Toyota Corolla, which comes only in a sedan, and only in a sedate commuter-car formula. Honda has gone well past that point with its Civic line and offers multiple quick and nimble vehicles that rival the most enjoyable vehicles at this price. The Hatch Sport is just like it sounds – sporty, but with manual cloth seats and no safety or infotainment options. This is what the Civic Si trim started out being.
I should know. In the early 1990s I was one of the first U.S. buyers of the Civic Si with the VTEC engine. Mine had manual black cloth seats, a manual transmission, and the newly-upgraded engine. That was a fun and affordable car, just like this new 2017 Civic Hatch Sport.
Pricing and trims
Honda offers 2017 Civics as coupes, sedans, and hatchbacks starting at about $20K. The priciest Civic, the Sport Touring, tops out over $26K.
The Hatch Sport is Honda’s Civic with “five doors.” By that, Honda means a sedan with a hatchback. The Hatch Sport only comes with the 1.5-liter turbocharged engine. The six-speed manual in our test vehicle is the standard transmission, and the excellent CVT is optional. You can find a five-door Civic with more comfort and convenience options (EX or EX-L Navi), but it will have only the CVT – the manual will not be offered.
Honda provides important safety systems like forward emergency braking as reasonably priced options on almost all Civics. The Hatch Sport trim stands alone as the only one that does not give buyers the choice to add such systems. Had I been driving this Civic the day that the entry-level Acura ILX I was in saved my bacon I may not be typing this now. I might have lost my job as a car tester. Or lost much more.
We are HUGE fans of proven active safety systems, and we know from real-world experience they help even when drivers are not texting, sleeping, or watching a Harry Potter video. New for 2017, such systems come standard in a Corolla, but remain options on all of Civic’s other peers.
IIHS rates the new 2017 Civic sedan as a Top Safety Pick, which, despite the name, is one step below perfect. With the active safety systems that are unavailable on our tester, the Civic scores even higher.
Honda’s newest engine is its 1.5-liter turbocharged in-line four cylinder. It produces 180 horsepower and great low-end torque. We first tested this engine in the Civic Touring. Our tester Philip Ruth liked it overall, but he noted that it was a bit slow to get off the line with the CVT transmission. The manual transmission in our vehicle did not cure that, but it was never a problem, just a trait.
The engine seems to be a bit slow to pull from a stop in first gear. We strongly suspect that the gear ratio is the reason. However, later in the rev-band it wakes up and pulls strongly. Shift and then keep the power pedal down and this car starts to fly in second gear. So much so, that I adopted a 1-2-4 shift habit. I loved zinging the car deep into its powerband in the first two gears and then skipping third to let the car settle down at an arguably legal speed.
The six-speed manual is a joy to drive. One notable aspect of this transmission is it can be shifted comfortably back into first gear while still rolling, or it can pull from almost a dead stop in second gear making intersections easy. The hill-holder clutch is very helpful too. This would be a great car to learn to drive a stick-shift in.
Clutch operation is linear and easy to predict. Pedal placement also feels right. This is a car that has the right setup for matching revs on downshifts approaching a corner. One unusual thing we did note was then when one finishes accelerating, and then shifts up to a cruising gear, this Civic Hatch Sport seems to dwell longer in the higher RPMs before falling back than most cars do. Perhaps a high-mass flywheel? Perhaps some sort of emissions setting? Or maybe I was a little rusty with the clutch. See if you detect it on a test drive.
One additional plus of the manual transmission is that in this Civic Hatch Sport is it offers slightly better fuel economy than the CVT automatic. That is unusual today. I loved this engine with the CVT. I felt they were a good match together in the 2016 Civic EX-T Sedan I tested. One downside to this engine is that Honda suggests Premium Fuel, and its specs all reflect its use. Still, with a combined fuel efficiency rating of 33 mpg and a highway number of 39 mpg, you won’t go broke putting gas in this Civic.
Ride and handling
Driving the Civic Hatch Sport is fun around town, on back-roads and on highway on and off ramps. It is a car that we would recommend to a pal looking for some excitement in a car normally used for commuting.
However, it is not a car that an enthusiast would call a sports car. Please understand that in our opinion that is not a bad thing. This particular Civic is not a hard-edged street racer like the MazdaSpeed3, or Mitsubishi Evo were, may they rest in peace (wipes tear from corner of eye). However, Honda can make you a Civic like that if you want such a car. That is what the Civic Si and Civic Type R are all about.
In our introduction, we reminded our readers that the Civic is no longer compact. In fact, the EPA lumps it in with its category title of “Large Cars.” To earn that largest category a vehicle must offer over 120 cubic feet of combined passenger and cargo space. Imagine, a Civic that is a large car! You feel this space most in the seats. These are not the barstools one might expect in an economy car, but full-sized seats with lots of knee, shoulder, and headroom.
Our tester’s manual seats were good, but we always prefer power adjustment for the driver (at least). Our test car was new with less than 600 miles on the odometer, yet the lint on the black cloth was already substantial. You’re going to want to get one of those sticky-rollers for the glove box and keep your pets out.
The rear seating area is very large and comfortable in this Civic Hatch Sport. Compared to the Mazda3 5-door, the Civic offers one about an inch of added total legroom and a couple of inches of added rear shoulder room. The truth is, both are very comfortable.
Cargo room is plentiful and under the cargo floor is a compact spare with gobs of extra room to stuff emergency supplies. We checked out the cargo area specs for the Civic Hatch Sport and found it has 25.7 cu ft of storage with the rear seats up and 46.2 cu ft with the rear seats folded. The similarly shaped Mazda3 5-door offers 20.2 and 47.1 cu ft by comparison.
Infotainment and controls
At first glance, we were a bit disappointed by the small screen and old-school orange look of the Civic Hatch Sport’s infotainment display. Honda does not list Apple Car Play and Android Auto, nor Honda Link on the features list, which made us a bit more concerned. Without these, and with no Nav, we would be back to sneaking peeks at a phone as we drove using directions.
There is also no Pandora app, nor is there any satellite radio. We made do with the Bluetooth link to our phone and streamed Pandora that way (with limited functionality). This is exactly the car that Honda should be putting Apple Car Play/Android Auto into. We missed it.
On the plus side, the 160 Watt audio system rocked. Loud, clear audio makes up for much.
To answer our title question, you may not need the Honda Civic SI or Type R, but Honda certainly has room with this chassis to offer more capability and a harder-edge. That said, we loved this 5-door Civic Hatch Sport. Despite the many missing features we have come to look for in affordable mid-sized cars, it is a pleasure to drive and offers a lot of value.
In the five-door Civic, it seems as if Honda makes one choose between the six-speed and options like forward emergency braking, Nav, Apple Car Play, and even a moonroof. Those shopping for a better-equipped Civic with a stick, who can live with 2 doors, should check out the Civic Coupe EX-T six-speed manual.
We give the five-door Civic Hatch Sport a thumbs up. However, take it from a guy that bought a sporty stick-shift Civic with manual cloth seats and a complete lack of infotainment features in 1992. All those little options you are looking past to get the stick shift and sporty engine will become more valuable to you as time goes on and your seat-time in traffic mounts. Consider the Civic EX-L Navi unless you absolutely cannot live without a stick shift. If you listen to your brain you will heed this advice. If you listen to your heart you won’t.
2017 Honda Civic Hatch Sport
Base price: $20,575 (LX Manual 5-door)
Price as tested, $22,175 including $825 destination charge:
Options: Not a single one!
- Jazzy styling
- Slick stick shift
- Roomy interior
- Weak first gear (gear ratio) pulling power
- Premium fuel recommended