The Honda Civic Hatchback, model year 2022, delivers fun with the stick shift

Understanding the Honda Civic hatchback, which will be available in 2022, is a straightforward three-step process. Keep in mind that the Accord—particularly the turbocharged 2.0-liter Sport model that we've praised for years—is a level-headed combination of utility and off-road ability. Step two: Take into consideration that the new Civic sedan, which was introduced earlier this year and is so mature, refined, and capable that we kept referring to it as the Accord by mistake during our recent small-sedan comparison test, which it easily won. The third step is to imagine a Civic hatchback that looks so similar to the Civic sedan that it's difficult to tell the two apart even when they're parked next to each other. Step four: There you have it, the conclusion of your homework assignment.

It's true that the previous Civic hatchback was chunky, flamboyantly edgy, and festooned with enough goofy fake air intakes and outlets that it bordered on jet-age caricature in terms of its appearance. The new hatchback, on the other hand, is designed in the same understated, fluid manner as the latest Civic sedan, right down to the elegant sweep of its roof. The hatchback model has grown by only 1.1 inches in length over the previous model, but it appears much larger on the outside, almost as long as its handsome sedan sibling despite being 5.0 inches shorter in overall length than it. The legroom in the rear seat of the new hatchback is subjectively every bit as generous as it is in the sedan; the legroom in the rear seat of the previous hatchback was significantly tighter. Some of the advantage in rear-seat space comes from the new car's 1.4-inch-longer wheelbase (the Civic sedan and hatchback have identical wheelbases again), which stretches the cabin even further.

Despite the fact that passenger space is virtually identical between the new Civic sedan and hatchback, there's no doubt which one is better suited for the longer Costco trip. The sedan's trunk can hold 14 cubic feet of newly purchased items, whereas the hatchback's trunk can hold 25 cubic feet of items behind its fold-down rear seat. However, the hatchback's ability to tote cargo isn't the only feature that distinguishes it from the rest of the Civic lineup. Like the previous generation, it is also available with a manual transmission as an alternative. The sedan, on the other hand, does not.

It is possible to get the manual transmission in two of the four hatchback models, including the entry-level Sport and our test car, which is the highest-spec Sport Touring model. The LX and EX-L are only available with Honda's continuously variable automatic transmission, which is standard on both models (CVT). The $25,115 Sport would be our top pick for the best combination of price and stick-shift enjoyment, but it is only available with the base 2.0-liter inline-four with 158 horsepower. While the fully loaded Sport Touring is powered by the more powerful, 180-hp turbocharged 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine, which is by far the livelier combination, at a base price of $30,415, its sticker price is closing in on that of the superb 252-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter Accord Sport, which went for $33,125 in 2021 (prices for the 2022 Accord line have not yet been released). The Accord, on the other hand, is no longer available with a manual transmission.

It was easy to get a sporty vibe from our Sonic Gray Civic Sport Touring test car, thanks to its standard blacked-out trim and the aggressive-looking 235/40R-18 Continental ContiProContact all-season tires mounted on stylish 10-spoke wheels. The Sport Touring is unquestionably more engaging thanks to the six-speed manual transmission. This transmission's clutch is effortless, and the shift action is good—not as well oiled as some of Honda's best manual transmissions, but precise and easy to use nonetheless. Although the engine purrs softly even when pushed hard, the stick-shift hatchback accelerates quickly, reaching 60 mph in 7.3 seconds and covering the quarter-mile in 15.5 seconds at 91 miles per hour. Even though the manual isn't significantly faster than the CVT, which we tested in a Civic Sport Touring sedan and recorded times of 7.2 seconds to 60 mph and 15.6 seconds to quarter mile, the manual is unquestionably more enjoyable. There were less than 400 miles on the odometer of our manually equipped test car, and we anticipate that after a few more break-in miles, there will be a greater separation between the two vehicles.

Even with a manual transmission, the Sport Touring, like its Civic sedan sibling, made us think "little Accord" rather than "sport sedan." Even when pushed aggressively through twisty two-lane roads, the hatchback's ride is supple and its handling secure. On our skidpad, we measured an impressive 0.90 g of cornering grip, which could have easily been higher had the stability control not intervened. When pressed, this is a car that does not come to its knees, which is exactly what we have to say about the Accord Sport.

Additionally, the interior of the Civic Sport Touring looks and feels like the Accord's; it is similarly well-appointed and conservative in design as the exterior. Although the standard leather seats are not particularly supportive, the cabin materials are pleasing to the eye, with many softly padded surfaces and little in the way of rigid plastic trim. It is the intricate metal honeycomb panel that stretches across the dashboard and conceals the air vents that we particularly admire as evidenced by the designer's touch.

Aside from that, the Sport Touring trim level includes the kind of high-end features that have become standard across the small-car segment in recent years. A Bose premium audio system, a 9.0-inch touchscreen with navigation, a 10.2-inch digital instrument cluster, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, dual rear 2.5-amp USB ports, a sunroof, dual-zone climate control, power seats, wireless phone charging, and many other features are available. All Honda hatchbacks are equipped with Honda's lane-keeping and active cruise-control systems as standard equipment.

The hatchback lineup has a starting price of $23,915, which is $1000 more than the sedan lineup. For Civic buyers, the relatively small price difference between the sedan and the coupe means more options. The hatchback is virtually identical in appearance to the elegant sedan. It's just as roomy, it's just as comfortable, it feels just as solid, and it drives just as well as the competition. In addition, it has a manual transmission and a cargo capacity that is comparable to that of a mid-size SUV. There's nothing wrong with either model, but as fans of do-it-yourself shifting, we know which one we'd go with if we had to choose.

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