Honda will start selling an entirely new version of its Civic compact sedan later this year, the automaker announced as it unveiled a concept model at the New York International Auto Show.
The 10th-generation Civic will be longer and wider than the current model and feature new engine choices, Honda said Wednesday. Although Honda is billing the new Civic as a “global” car, it will have a strong California flavor. The exterior was designed at Honda’s U.S. sales headquarters in Torrance.
The new Civic is an important vehicle for the Japanese automaker. Honda stumbled when it introduced the current generation five years ago, said Jake Fisher, the automotive test director for Consumer Reports.
The automaker cut expenses, producing a noisy car stuffed with a low-quality interior. The influential magazine pulled its endorsement on what previously was one of its favorite vehicles.
Honda quickly owned up to its poor judgment and with each successive model year made improvements. It sharpened the ride with a new suspension and upgraded the materials in the cabin. It added insulated windows to cut down on noise. It scrapped the five-speed automatic transmission for a smooth, fuel-sipping, continuously variable transmission.
The Civic regained traction. Honda sold 325,981 Civics last year, making it the fifth-best-selling passenger car in America.
But it still faces tough competition. Back in 2008, the Civic accounted for 14.7% of all compact car sales in the U.S. That has slid to 11% so far this year, according to Edmunds.com, an auto shopping website.
"The Civic established Honda as a viable Japanese automaker in the U.S., but recent versions haven’t lived up to its iconic status," said Karl Brauer, an analyst with Kelley Blue Book, the auto information company.
"The 2016 Civic should correct that trajectory," he said, "offering styling and performance that will stand out in the crowded compact car segment."
Although the version Honda displayed Wednesday is the working concept for the two-door coupe, what goes on sale this fall is the traditional four-door model. The coupe will follow.
The new Civic will forsake the “cab forward” design of the current model. Designers have pulled the windshield back toward the driver, giving the new Civic a longer hood and more athletic look. It also reduces the reflective light and glare that comes off the current windshield.
“It is as if we sent the car to the gym for the last six months,” said Guy Melville-Brown, who led the exterior design effort for Honda.
Honda plans to spice it up with a new 1.5-liter four-cylinder turbocharged engine that will be mated to the new continuously variable transmission. Honda also will offer the 2016 Civic with a 6-speed manual transmission.
In back, the new Civic features a distinctive, elongated trapezoid-shaped tailpipe that looks like a jet engine exhaust port. It will make the car instantly recognizable.
“We set out to make the car more charismatic, sporty and fun to drive,” Melville-Brown said.
This Civic is a crucial vehicle for Honda because it accounts for nearly a quarter of the brand’s annual sales in the U.S. It is the least expensive entry vehicle in Honda’s million-vehicle selling troika that includes the Accord sedan and the CR-V crossover.
The car is back on Consumer Reports' recommended list, but the test drivers there are looking for more improvements with the next generation.
“They need to make it feel less like a budget car,” said Gabriel Shenhar, senior automotive engineer at Consumer Reports.
Honda needs to make the Civic as quiet as compact sedan rivals Ford Focus and Chevrolet Cruz. The Civic has fallen behind other competitors such as the Mazda3 in fuel economy “and they need to get rid of the awful touch screen radio that is without any knobs and buttons,” Shenhar said.
But even a Civic that ranks in the middle of the pack should sell well, he said.
“Honda has great brand equity people trust,” Shenhar said. “ They know it will be reliable and will hold its value. People don’t buy it because they perform better than the other cars.”