HENRY PAYNE

Payne: Civic Coupe’s a hoot

Henry Payne
The Detroit News

Spectators usually come to race tracks to ogle race cars. But on a recent visit to South Haven, Michigan’s Gingerman Raceway to flog my Lola 90, the Honda Civic I parked in the paddock got plenty of eyeballs. Is that the new Honda Civic Coupe? When is it coming out? What’s it like?

The Coupe continues the Civic renaissance begun by the critically-acclaimed sedan.

The paparazzi are starved for the reborn Civic.

After years in the wilderness, Honda got its performance mojo back in 2015 with the introduction of a lower, wider, hotter, bigger, better compact Civic sedan benchmarked to the Audi A3. Civic’s retail sales may not have showed it, but even Honda admitted that they had betrayed the faithful. To make amends, Honda has promised not only the sedan – which has debuted to rave reviews – but a Coupe, five-door wagon, Si, and mouth-breathing, road-eating Type R. No compact lineup can touch King Civic.

I can’t wait for the Type R, but the Coupe at least foreshadows its styling. If the reaction to my wicked looking, six-speed manual, blood-red tester is any indication, the tuners will be lined up 10 deep at Honda dealerships by the time the R arrives.

My Coupe date didn’t start well actually. Only because it arrived in my driveway the day after I returned from testing the new, immortal 2017 Porsche 911 in northern California. It’s like dancing with Beyonce followed by a dance with, well, anyone. Back to Planet Earth.

Among mere mortal compact cars, Civic is impressive even in base form. The manual feels crisp – even after the Porsche’s magic box – making the perky, 158-horse 2.0-liter engine fun to row.

My three-hour journey to Gingerman was pleasant in the quiet cabin, the Civic’s soft-seat and door-rest materials transporting me in comfort. The trip was marred, however, by details Chevy’s upstart Cruze does better: Cruze control (pun-intended) and Apple Car Play and Android Auto. Chevy offers the latter standard, meaning I could have used my Samsung to navigate the Michigan west side’s unfamiliar roads. Kudos to Honda, however, for the (typically) excellent console which gave me not only plenty of space to drop my phone – but a pass through space to charge below.

As for cruise control, the Honda’s steering wheel-mounted plastic buttons not only looked like they had come off a kids toy – the acted cheap as well. Press the PLUS button to increase speed and the car reacted slower than a sloth to an alarm clock.

Lunch hour at race events can be a wonderful time to show family around the track – and test a street vehicle’s envelope. At Gingerman the A3-baseline Coupe showed off its athletic prowess. One of four cars in class (Mazda 3, Subaru Impreza, and Ford Focus are the others) to feature an independent rear suspension, the Civic was noticeably more nimble through comers – even compared to my wife’s all-wheel drive Impreza.

Over an half-hour the Civic showed no signs of brake fade or upset, while the Subaru eventually panicked – hysterically flashing its engine light (an oxygen sensor failure) that led to it shutting off its traction control. Eek! Too many g-loads.

“Pshaw! Amateur!” You could almost hear Civic mocking its Japanese brother.

Point taken, but where the Coupe rally shines is in the paddock. Park it next to a last generation Civic and it is Cinderella transformed.

The new Coupe’s boomerang, arched taillights are a neon Times Square billboard. And while I still prefer the old Civic’s simpler, bullet-shaped profile, the 2016 Coupe’s designer jewelry and “Hot Wheels” rims make it the most dramatic car in class now that the Hyundai Elantra went all conservative on us.

Cool Coupe sculpture - but not a fan of the stick-on, lower plastic vents.

My devil in a red dress, however, remains plenty practical on the inside. Your outsized 6-foot-5 car critic easily folded into the rear seat thanks to Coupe’s easy-slide front seat. Once in back, the Civic’s best-in-class rear leg room is as roomy as the sedan. Which means the Honda can have its dramatic fast back and also fit me. Try that in, say, a Hyundai Veloster.

All my thrashing about on track, of course, made for a less-than-advertised 27.1 mpg on my 400-mile, journey. But (ahem) assuming you don’t fling the Civic around tracks on a regular basis, the little car should be good for 31 mpg – a budget-friendly item for the Coupe’s twenty-something core audience.

I still don’t like the Coupe’s tack-on plastic wear, like the lower rear vents. But then, my styling preferences lie with stealthy Golfs, not (previous-gen) Elantra and Civic drama queens. For those who do, the Honda is your toy.

Wait another year, and that drama shape will come with 300 horsepower under the hood too. It’ll need security guards to keep the paparazzi away at the track.

Henry Payne is The News’ auto critic. Email: hpayne@detroitnews.com. Twitter: @HenryEPayne

2016 Honda Civic Coupe

Specifications

Vehicle type: Front-engine, front-wheel drive, 5-passenger compact coupe

Price: $19,895 base (Manual LX as tested)

Powerplant: 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder

Power: 159 horsepower, 138 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: 6-speed manual

Performance: Zero-60: 6.8 seconds (Car & Driver est.)

Weight: 2,739 pounds

Fuel economy: EPA 26 mpg city/38 mpg highway/31 combined

Report card

Highs: Head-turner; roomy back seat

Lows: Platicky controls; sleepy cruise control

Overall:★★★

Grading scale

Excellent ★★★★Good ★★★

Fair ★★★Poor ★