If the ninth-generation 2012 Civic was considered a sizeable step back, the tenth-generation 2016 Civic represented two giant steps forward for the nameplate and the entire lineup. The mildly facelifted 2019 Civic expands on that progress by introducing a Sport trim for the sedan that offers a six-speed manual transmission. But don't think of the long, lean four-door as a trunked version of the more expensive Sport hatchback with its more powerful turbocharged engine. The sedan, which Honda describes as "entry-level performance," aims at the hearts of budget-conscious and first-time buyers seeking sedan sobriety leavened by a touch of old-fashioned Honda fun.
Cosmetic changes across the lineup for 2019 introduce a gloss black grille, a wider, more sculpted lower bumper, and repositioned Honda Sensing gear to add symmetry to the lower front intakes. The Sport trim goes without the chrome accents around the front fog lights found on the other four trims — LX, EX, EX-L, and Touring. And unlike those other variants, the Sport sedan slots a trapezoidal exhaust finisher into a four-fin, diffuser-like insert. Inside, the instrument binnacle glows with red lighting, the pedals are made of aluminum, it has a leather-wrapped steering wheel, and it features the nicer infotainment system with a 7-inch screen (and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration).
Honda added more sound deadening to every Civic to quell cabin noise, but our tester still fussed it up on certain road surfaces. The standard Honda Sensing safety suite makes a welcome addition, albeit with the same rough edges we encountered in our 2019 Honda Passport Elite review. The lane keeping assist system is so eager to find a line that on wide roads without markings, it'll veer side-to-side seeking a painted edge. The "BRAKE!" icon strobes in the digital screen disconcertingly often, and often with little cause. As on the Passport, the Civic uses the previous-generation Honda Sensing, doubtless the cause for most foibles. Because the safety package's pros far outweigh its cons, and since the Civic costs less than half the price of the Passport Elite, we take no offense.
On the daily commute or weekend errand, the sedan typifies the economical decorum and respectable acceleration expected from a nameplate selling more than 300,000 units per year in the U.S. Neat touches include the Velcro-backed floor mats that don't need aerospace tolerances to fit properly. Throw them down, they stick. There's plenty of room for four adults inside. The stock, eight-speaker stereo punches out surprisingly good sound with plenty of bass. And the ACC works even after shifting gears. Best of all, our $21,150 tester didn't come with any options, and not once did we lament the lack of some expensive extra.
The controls are entry-level light, the shifter's long throw a touch notchy, and the clutch bites suddenly about a third of the way into its deep travel. The 2.0-liter, naturally-aspirated engine's 138 pound-feet of torque don't show until 4,200 rpm, 158 horsepower arrives at 6,500 rpm, just 200 rpm below redline. Short-ish gearing, especially first, rewards urgent use of the throttle, spinning the tachometer past the 3,500-rpm mark where the engine digs deep – a classic, wring-it-out Honda experience. The exhaust note allows a hint of bass into the cabin, incentivizing the driver to extract every thrilling iota from the engine. This Civic feels faster to 60 mph than it actually is.
Nevertheless, with 2,838 pounds to swing around, maintaining momentum is essential to having fun on a twisty road. The Civic's chassis, praised as first-class in the Si and Type R trims, doesn't skimp on competence even in a coach-class trim. The Sport builds on the base LX model, swapping in new shocks, rear lower control arms, and a 0.5-mm thicker front stabilizer bar. 18-inch wheels on 235/45 tires practically match Si fitment, save for a touch more sidewall on the Sport. The Civic needs nothing more than good sense to conserve thrust through a corner.
The body feels light yet holds its poise through transitions. The way the back end pivots around in response to lock, crisp and calm, spurs a driver to enter the next corner with more speed. The sweet spot is when the front tires whisper as its tread blocks slip a wee bit sideways. The sound can't be missed, sent straight into the cabin like a soft ringtone. As soon as the front tires squeal, the moment is gone; then it's heavy understeer followed by heavy braking. There's never need to push the Sport that far, though, with plenty of easy merriment on tap before breaking the laws of traction.
The 2019 Civic Sedan Sport (starting at $22,070 with a manual) defies direct comparison with what remains of a segment in turmoil. The Ford Focus and Chevrolet Cruze are dead in the U.S., the Nissan Sentra only offers a manual in its base or much more expensive Nismo forms, and the new 2020 Elantra took its manual transmission off the menu. The Toyota Corolla SE 6MT sedan, available only with a six-speed manual, is — in small yet quantifiable ways — more powerful (169 hp and 151 lb-ft) and less thirsty (32 combined MPG). But it's also smaller, heavier (3,055 lbs), slower, and more expensive ($23,580). We think the Civic is a better choice.
By fusing a Civic's practical savvy with the ability to dance a three-pedal tune on a limber engine, the Sport asks a fair ransom for the kind of sprightly, frugal fun it's getting harder to find at any price.