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The manual is everything the CVT should be but isn’t – well-designed, responsive, accessible and user-friendly

Ted LaturnusA few weeks back, I drove the new Honda Civic equipped with a continuously variable transmission (CVT). To put it mildly, I was disappointed.

I found the CVT to be inconsistent, power-robbing, unrefined and almost unusable. It ruined, in my opinion, an other wise decent little car. Potential buyers, I cautioned, should be aware of this and, if possible, opt for the manual transmission version of the Civic.

So here we are a couple of weeks later and I’ve just spent a week with the new Civic Hatchback with a manual six-speed gearbox.

Whatever misgivings I have about the CVT are offset by my admiration for the manual transmission. I’m hard-pressed to think of another manual gearbox that’s smoother, more refined or easier to get along with than this one.

Available in three versions – LX, Sport, Sport Touring – the new Civic Hatchback is powered by either a normally-aspirated 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine or a turbocharged 1.5-litre. Both engines can be had with the six-speed manual or the CVT.

I think I’ve made my feelings clear on the CVT but the manual is everything the CVT should be but isn’t – well-designed, responsive, accessible and user-friendly.

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My standard test with manual transmissions is to shift a few times without using the clutch. If it’s well-engineered, you should be able to match engine rpm levels and slip into each gear without a problem.

Although the shift gate is a bit on the snug side, the Civic passes this test with flying colours and, when using the clutch, it slides into gear with deceptive smoothness. This car has easy clutch action, well-spaced shift gates and positive drivetrain response.

It’s always been my opinion that you can judge a carmaker by the way it designs and engineers it’s manual transmissions and, in this corner of the market, Honda leads the pack.

Pity only two or three percent of Canadian drivers are interested in a manual transmission when they go shopping for a new car, compared to 80 percent in Europe. But if you decided to be one of the chosen few, this may be the car for you.

The Civic Hatchback offers almost 700 litres (24.7 cubic feet) of cargo space with the backseat folded and although it’s not completely flat back there, it’s close. One of my tests is to see if cars of this configuration can handle a full acoustic drum set. This one absolutely can.

When the Civic first debuted in North America, one of its charms was its hatchback configuration and that hasn’t changed.

And I’m happy to report that the intangible driveability of so many Honda products is intact with the new Civic Hatchback. Although it’s kind of an entry-level model for Honda, the Civic feels like a much more upscale automobile and is comparable in size to the original Accord.


The Civic Hatchback offers almost 700 litres (24.7 cubic feet) of cargo space with the backseat folded and although it’s not completely flat back there, it’s close

I still have a few quibbles with the soundproofing. Noise, vibration, harshness on the highway is kind of disappointing, but nothing onerous.

I could also complain about the seats – they could be a little more comfortable and, on a long road trip, could present a problem. But I’m picking nits here and they’re no worse than anything else in this market.

The base LX starts at $28,000 but you can go right up to $35,000 for the turbocharged Sport Touring model. All three versions come with heated front seats, but the Sport Touring includes heated rear seats, leather upholstery and power driver seat, among other things. All things considered, I’d stick with the LX.

And I wouldn’t even consider the CVT.

2022 Honda Civic Hatchback

Engine: normally-aspirated 2.0-litre four cylinder or turbocharged 1.5-litre four cylinder
Transmission: six-speed manual or continuously variable
Drive: front-wheel
Horsepower: 158 at 6,500 rpm or 180 at 6,000 rpm
Torque: 138 foot pounds at 4,200 rpm and 177 foot pounds at 1,700 to 4,500 rpm
Price range: $28,000 to $35,000
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 9.1 city and 6.6 highway, with regular gas
Some alternatives: Toyota Corolla, Hyundai Elantra, Kia Forte, Nissan Sentra, Chevrolet Cruze, Subaru Impreza, Mazda3, Volkswagen Jetta

Ted Laturnus has been an automotive journalist since 1976. He was named Canadian Automobile Journalist of the Year twice and is past president of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC). For interview requests, click here.

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