2022 Honda Civic Hatchback First Drive | A bridge to R

The 2022 Honda Civic Hatchback is what happens when the straight-A honors student gets tutored by an Ivy League professor. There might’ve been a few youthful, rough edges before, but add in a mature, guiding hand, and the end result surpasses your wildest expectations.

You see, even in the previous generation’s curtain call, the Civic Hatchback was a smart buy. Honda, knowing how well it dominates this small hatchback market, didn’t futz with a formula that’s been working beautifully for the past half decade. 

The 2022 Hatchback’s shape is still closer to what we’d call a sportback with its fast-sloping roofline. Except, this time, the details are less dramatic, following the 11th-gen Civic Sedan’s lead of mature and clean design. That’s not to say the car isn’t exciting to look at. The sum of Honda’s changes — lower and longer hood, full-length horizontal beltline and full-width rear taillights — combine to make the Civic Hatchback appear lower, wider and sportier. What it loses in fake vents and extra tacked-on plastic, it gains in sheer road presence. 

Honda throws more than a few bones to enthusiasts, too. The Hatchback gets a different honeycomb mesh grille than the Sedan, and its overbite where the Honda logo cascades into it isn’t quite as severe, either. A noticeable shortening of the rear overhang (4.9 inches shorter than the Sedan’s) keeps the rear looking nipped and tucked. A small diffuser is decoration for down below, while more aggressive side sills offer some visual interest to the side view. Those who obsess over the finer details will love that Honda managed to make the new hatchback’s hinges nearly unnoticeable — plus, the Hatchbacks get a classy dual exhaust not seen on the Sedan.

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To our eyes, the Hatchback is more appealing than its Sedan counterpart. But even if you think the looks are a wash, Honda drives a hard bargain when it comes to added utility with the hatch. Its 24.5 cubic-feet of space may be ever-so-slightly less than the 25.7-cube max of the previous-gen car, but it’s still competitive with crossovers and greatly surpasses the Sedan’s 14.8 cubic-feet. Also, there’s no space penalty with the Sport and Sport Touring trims this time around (10th-gen Hatchbacks lost 3.1 cubes of space in those trims). Honda made the lift door itself lighter and easier to open by making it out of composite. In some ways, it’s better than many compact crossovers due to its super-low load height, ease of operation and utterly enormous opening. 

All 1.4 inches of the 2022 model’s additional wheelbase is baked directly into rear-seat legroom. Frankly, Honda didn’t need to do that; the Civic already had a giant backseat. If you were worried about excessive weight gain, don’t be, as the 11th-gen Civic Hatchback is only between 51 and 91 pounds heavier depending on which trims you compare.

So, the Hatchback is obviously the practical Civic to get, but it’s also the driver’s choice (well, at least until the Si arrives). The Hatchback gets a unique suspension setup versus the Sedan that’s dialed-in for a better-handling car. Honda gives all Hatchbacks thicker coil springs that are fractionally stiffer than those on the Sedan — especially so in the rear. The dampers are the same between the two body styles, but the rear stabilizer bar is bigger by 0.5 millimeters on the Hatchback, and similar to the one found on the Sedan Touring trim (all other Sedan trims get a smaller rear bar). Honda also says it’s retuned the steering, and goes as far as adjusting the tune for the different trims available with the Hatchback body style. We only drove Sport Touring models, but we’re told the difference is minimal if hardly noticeable amongst the various Hatchbacks. Versus the outgoing Hatch, this new one is considerably stiffer with damper stiffness up 2% in front and 17% in back.

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All of the above is great news for handling — more on that in a bit — but the most important factor of all is the ability to spec the Hatchback with a six-speed manual transmission. You can’t get the manual with the regular Sedan, making this the only way to get three pedals in a Civic … for now. Honda even lets you pair the manual with both of its available engines — get the Sport trim for the naturally aspirated 2.0-liter, or the Sport Touring for the 1.5-liter turbo and all the other goodies that come with it.

Thank goodness that Honda still offers the manual, too, because it’s typical Honda transmission brilliance. It’s flickable, but weighty. Notchy, but not burdensome. A technical treat, but oh-so-fun to play with. Seriously, the shifter feel in this approximately $30,000 Honda puts to shame those in much more expensive sports cars.

If you don’t spec the manual, Honda gives you a continuously variable transmission. It’s improved for 2022 with a new and more natural “shifting logic.” We drove both the automatic and the manual, and the CVT’s responsiveness to foot prodding was about as good as it gets for CVTs. It helps that the 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder it’s paired with is a torquey and powerful bugger. 

At 180 horsepower and 177 pound-feet of torque, its acceleration won’t blow you away (Honda doesn’t quote a 0-60 time), but it’s still enough to burn rubber through first and get some hefty tire spin on the shift into second. We suspect that 60 mph arrives in the mid 6-second range. What’s most impressive about this boosted engine is the way it delivers strong power all the way up to the top of the rev band — most small turbocharged engines have long run out of forward thrust by the time you’re reaching for redline, but not this one. Honda added its VTEC (Variable Timing and lift Electronic Control) technology to the exhaust valves this year, and you can tell when they’re doing their job. Instead of petering out in the final 1,500 rpm, this engine picks up steam and runs you hard and fast into redline with a little extra zest to the engine sound right at the top end. The effect is most noticeable with the manual, but you can still pick up on a small rush of power coming on in the CVT models. It’s the little things like this that makes the Civic Hatchback so engaging and fun to drive.

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Its handling and ride characteristics tie it all up in a bow. The fixed suspension is firmly damped, and exhibits both excellent body motion control and a superb ability to shrug off poor roads and pavement heaves. Steering in our Sport Touring testers is just how we like. It imparts a sense of handling confidence to the driver right away, and after just a few corners, it’s clear that the relatively low-grip all-season tires are the main roadblock holding this chassis back. Handling performance is right about on-par with what Mazda accomplishes with the Mazda3, which is tops for the segment.

Honda says the suspension and steering were developed in Europe, then fine-tuned in North America. And indeed, its firm, always-on connection to the road is reminiscent of sporty European cars. All of the changes made for the Sedan carry over here — new low-friction ball joints and front damper mount bearings, new lower control arm bushings, larger compliance bushing and optimized spring and damper alignment. Plus, don’t forget about all the changes specifically made for the Hatchback that results in a stiffer, more playful rear end.

And it makes sense that Honda is zeroing in on making the Hatchback so great to drive. After all, it will serve as the platform for the upcoming next-gen Type R. Minus the absence of a limited-slip differential and quicker acceleration, we could be convinced that the Hatchback Sport Touring was the Si. It’s that good to tear around in.

The sweet handling might suggest that the Hatchback’s ride over bumpy pavement is less agreeable, but it’s plenty fine, even with the stiffer springs. A Corolla or Elantra might be a touch more forgiving, but we were left with nary a complaint after an hour on Michigan’s pockmarked freeways. The cabin is better isolated than the last Hatchback, and the excellent visibility around all sides carries over.

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And despite the previous generation’s spaciousness, the old interior was its sorest point in the end. Just like the Sedan, the Hatchback gets all of the necessary tech to bring it into modern times. Its 9-inch infotainment system (equipped on Sport Touring models) is snappy, and you get every driver assistance system in Honda’s grab bag — the manual isn’t left out for the latter either. We’re still loving the metal mesh air vents, and the same can be said for the rest of this car’s controls and buttons — serious attention to detail has been put into the feel of everything you touch in the cabin with a near Mazda-like obsession. Our biggest complaint is the lack of lumbar support in the (admittedly still comfortable) power driver’s seat.

Unlike most first drive reviews, you don’t have to wait between reading this one and going to buy a 2022 Civic Hatchback, because they’re already on sale. The base LX model starts at $23,915, which is a $1,220 increase over its Sedan equivalent. Worth it? Without a doubt, yes. We still haven’t driven the base 2.0-liter model with its 158-horsepower engine, but can confirm the previous generation’s 2.0-liter was still a mighty fun time with the six-speed manual. Both the auto and manual Sport Touring models list for the same $30,415. That’s getting expensive, but the car is good enough to warrant such a price. 

The decision between this Civic Hatchback and the Mazda3 Hatchback remains a difficult one now that Honda has thrust itself back onto stage so forcefully. With the base Golf going away and the Corolla Hatchback leaving us only mildly impressed, the 2022 Civic Hatchback is yet again poised to dominate. Furthermore, considering how primo the Hatchback Sport Touring is, we have great confidence that the next-gen Type R will raise the bar even higher than its current standout status.

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