Payne: Makeover tones down Civic's brash looks for 2022

Henry Payne
The Detroit News

The Honda Civic sedan has gone clean cut.

The best-selling retail compact car in America got an extreme makeover for its 11th generation, revealed Thursday. The outgoing generation, which debuted in 2015, burned eyeballs with an expressive wardrobe that included angular body lines, loud grille, and even louder boomerang-shaped taillights. A rolling billboard for ambitious upgrades in chassis dynamics and engines, the design was hard to miss.

For its next act, the Civic's looks are more spare inside and out, echoing big brother Honda Accord. If the 10th-gen looked like it was designed by Marvel Comics, the 2022 car might have been penned by Mondrian.

The exterior is Audi-like in its simplicity, with a thin grille, sweeping high shoulder line and crisp, rectangular taillights. The horizontal discipline extends to the interior with a wide dash capped by a high touchscreen for good driver visibility.

If there is common ground between the two generations, it’s that Civic remains a driver’s car, with the new model improving on a 10th-gen chassis honed at the Nurburgring race track in Germany. The new Civic boasts 8% better rigidity, thanks to liberal use of aluminum, high-strength steel and structural adhesives.

Expect even more athletic versions to come with Si and Type R performance trims. For now, the Civic is showing off its LX, Sport, EX and Touring trims.

The Japanese brand’s longest-running nameplate, Civic has sold 12 million copies to U.S. customers since 1973 (5 million made in North America) making it one of the top three best-selling cars in America. The 2022 sedan will be produced in Ontario, while the forthcoming hatchback will be built for the first time in Greensburg, Indiana.

The 2022 Honda Civic sedan sophisticated, simple design is a departure from the more expressive, 10th generation model.

As American automakers have abandoned compact cars for all-SUV lineups, Asian and German manufacturers now dominate the segment. Civic sales have remained strong at more than 300,000 units annually (260,000 in a down, 2020 COVID year) ranking as the No. 1 model with first-time buyers, Millennials, and Gen Z since the 10th-gen was launched in 2015.

“Civic has been the go-to choice for compact car buyers for almost 50 years and the all-new 11th-generation Honda Civic builds on that leadership with simple and sporty styling,” said Dave Gardner, executive vice president of American Honda operations.

Civic’s popular, diverse model lineup is an industry benchmark that faces competition from new entries like the daring Hyundai Elantra, Mazda 3 and Nissan Sentra.

But rather than match those upstarts with attention-getting earrings and tattoos, the Civic has dressed itself more simply and authoritatively as the establishment choice. Knock me off the throne, it seems to say.

The design harkens back to simpler Civics of yore like the 1991 (5th generation) or 2005 (8th gen) models. Honda calls this return to simplicity “Man-Maximum, Machine-Minimum.” The horizontal design cues give the Civic a wide, planted stance. Other notable exterior changes include door-mounted mirrors for better visibility.

Inside, the horizontal theme continues with a metal honeycomb mesh accent that stretches from A-pillar to A-pillar. It serves both form and function — visually dividing the infotainment tablet and climate controls while  concealing the air vents for an uncluttered look. The wheelbase is stretched by 1.4 inches (and overall length by 1.3), but interior dimensions remain virtually the same with cargo space slightly reduced.

Unchanged is the front-wheel-drive Civic’s suite of engines, beginning with a standard 158-horsepower 2.0-liter four-banger and optional 1.5-liter turbo-4. Both improve fuel economy over the last gen, with the turbo getting a 3% boost in power to 180 horses.

The Civic continues to push the envelope with standard tech features as common in this $22K class as in $50K luxury cars. Adaptive cruise control, for example, comes standard, as does Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, forward brake assist and lane keep-assist.

The simple interior of the 2022 Honda Civic sedan is anchored by a horizontal mesh that integrates air vents.

The Civic also pinches airbag tech from its luxury Acura brand. The new, doughnut-shaped airbags are designed to cradle the head to reduce brain injuries sometimes suffered in severe frontal collisions.

High-tech gewgaws include an available, all-digital, 10.2-inch, customizable LCD instrument display in the top-trim Touring model. The standard, 7-inch console touchscreen can be upgraded to a high-def, 9-inch screen. Other premium options include a 12-speaker Bose sound system and wireless charging.

The 2022 Civic goes on sale this summer.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.