It used to be that if you wanted a compact car, you ended up with a hatchback. Oh sure, automakers often offered a sedan variant, but the ratio of four-doors to five-doors was as close to one-to-one as it's ever been. Today, compact and subcompact crossovers have largely supplanted traditional hatchbacks.
That makes the continued existence of the Honda Civic Hatchback worth noting. The Civic Type R tends to get the most attention, and it's easy to understand why. But the standard five-door model impresses with the everyday comfort, an expansive safety suite, and a pleasant driving character that matches the Civic sedan, all while offering a wee bit of extra space and some unique styling. For a huge swath of customers, a Civic Hatchback is all the car they'll ever need.
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The Civic Hatchback, particularly in our tester's Sport Touring trim, is an inoffensive thing on the exterior. The overall proportions are excellent, hiding the five-door shape well (in case you don’t want to be seen driving a hatchback). There's some weirdness at the tail, where you'll find a split rear window, but there are also twin center-exit exhaust pipes at the back, which overshadow any other complaint. We still don't love the Civic's face, although it's worth pointing out the Sport Touring Hatchback is much more toned down than the Civic Type R.
The Civic's overall dash design is clean and there's just the right amount of buttons and controls. In particular, Honda's mix of materials, despite the heavy reliance on the color black, keeps the interior feeling fresh and pleasant.
We like our Sport Touring's handsome upholstery, in particular. The leather isn't especially nice, but details like a thick strip of cloth in the seat centers and subtle contrast stitching give the chairs a premium appearance. We like the high center tunnel, too, and the easy to miss floating bridge design is great for storage.
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Comfortable, supportive seats, a wide level of adjustability, and an overall pleasant seating position make the driver's chair a fine place to hang out. This Honda will appeal to fans of riding low in the cabin especially, as the eight-way chairs seemingly go all the way down to the floor. Visibility is great in every direction, even with the split rear window.
Pop open the rear doors and there's enough space for two adults, with the Civic offering plenty of legroom (36.0 inches) compared to the Hyundai Elantra GT (34.8), Mazda3 Hatch (35.1), and Toyota Corolla Hatchback (a dismal 29.9 inches). This is a road-trip-worthy amount of space, making the Civic a fine vehicle for toting four across state lines.
Somehow, Honda managed to expand the cargo hold without sacrificing the Civic's overall profile. There's 25.8 cubic feet of cargo space back there, a full 10.7 cubes more than the Civic Sedan. In fact, the Hatchback even bests rivals with more traditional five-door shapes, like the Hyundai Elantra GT (24.9) and Mazda3 (20.1). That hatchback body makes accessing cargo space easy, too. The rear aperture is sizable and the liftgate opens wide, while a low rear bumper means easy loading and unloading.
Once it's loaded up and on the road, the Civic exhibits a composed, comfortable ride over rough stuff. Props to Honda for resisting the urge to fit huge wheels to the Sport Touring trim – the 18-inch alloys have a generous-enough 40-series aspect ratio, and the tuning of the McPherson front/multi-link rear suspension is soft and compliant. There's little suspension noise, although wind noise, particularly from the A-pillar, was more present than we'd like.
Honda desperately needs to replace the Civic's aging, cumbersome infotainment system. The return to a physical volume control is nice, but changing radio stations is still a painful process. The graphics, meanwhile, are aging poorly and the general layout is difficult to learn. Even the screen itself is disappointing – it responds readily to inputs, but the 7.0-inch display is tiny in a world of increasingly massive displays. At least Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are both standard.
The Civic's broader tech suite is adequate for the segment, though. There are LED headlights, a solid audio system, and the 7.0-inch display in the instrument cluster feels big for the class. Swapping the info displayed on this screen is just a matter of tapping a button on the steering wheel, so you can view audio information, trip computer data, or even a fun boost gauge.
Every Civic Hatchback comes standard with a turbocharged 1.5-liter four-cylinder, unlike the Coupe and Sedan models. If you're purchasing a Civic, this is the engine you want (unless you can afford the Si or Type R…). This engine packs 174 horsepower normally, but the Sport Touring adds six ponies. If you go with the six-speed manual, there's 177 pound-feet of torque, but our CVT-equipped car only has 162 lb-ft.
Performance is more than adequate, with ample low-end torque and enough high-end punch. The engine sounds swell, too, with a refined note that enters the cabin at an appropriate volume. Honda long ago solved continuously variable transmissions, so it's little surprise the Civic exhibits such pleasant behavior while accelerating. The CVT, partnered with such a responsive engine, keeps the revs at an appropriate level while avoiding the buzzy behavior present in older powertrain combos.
The Civic's composed ride pairs well with a willing handling character. There's the expected level of body motion for the class, but the Civic's behavior is progressive and predictable. Turn-in is sharp, but the Honda lacks the reflexes and verve of the Mazda3. Feedback is, unsurprisingly, muted through both the chassis and electric steering rack.
Honda's excellent Sensing safety suite is standard across all five Civic Hatchback trims, offering drivers one of the industry's best setups. Sensing packs full-speed adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, lane-keeping assist, and road-departure mitigation. Each system works well, informing the driver rather than barraging them with warnings or disrupting the driving experience.
Honda's nifty LaneWatch system is standard on the EX, EX-L, and our Sport Touring tester, and is a decent stand-in for a traditional blind-spot monitoring system. A camera under the passenger's side mirror pipes a video feed of the Civic's blind spot into the infotainment screen when activating the right-hand turn signal. A button at the end of the turn-signal stalk activates the camera independently, if you're the sort that likes to keep the display up while driving.
The CVT-equipped Civic Hatchback Sport Touring returns an EPA-estimated 29 miles per gallon city, 35 highway, and 32 combined on 87-octane fuel. Going with the six-speed manual will up the fun factor, lower the price by $800, and improve the highway fuel economy to 37 mpg.
Meanwhile, competitive hatchbacks struggle to match the Civic Hatchback's fuel economy. The naturally aspirated Mazda3 nets just 26 mpg city, 35 highway, and 30 combined, while the Elantra GT nets 25 city, 32 highway, and 27 combined. The Corolla Hatchback is the exception, though, with 32 mpg city, 41 highway, and 35 combined when carrying a continuously variable box.
Prices for the 2020 Civic Hatchback start at $21,750, but our Sport Touring kicks off at $29,105 (including the $955 destination charge). As is the case with most of the Honda lineup, there are few options. You can spend $800 for the CVT, pick from three no-cost colors and that's about it. If that price tag is too high, you can snag the $22,850 Hatchback Sport, which features all the Sport Touring's aesthetics but with less equipment. Frankly, that might be the better buy – the Sport still packs Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Honda Sensing for over $5,000 in savings (although you’ll give up heated leather seats, LED headlights, and a host of some other equipment).
The Hyundai Elantra GT is a significant bargain relative to our Sport Touring tester, starting at $20,650 and maxing out at $24,525 for the base trim or $25,575 for the GT N-Line. The Mazda3 is very close to the Civic, though, starting at $23,700 while the range-topping Premium demands $28,745.
Gallery: 2020 Honda Civic Hatchback Sport Touring: Review
2020 Honda Civic Hatchback Sport Touring