by Frank A. Aukofer

If any vehicle can eliminate the longstanding prejudice against hatchbacks, it’s the 2017 Honda Civic Hatchback.

The company has such confidence its latest iteration of the Honda Civic that it doesn’t shy away from simply calling it a hatchback. For many years until just recently, hatchbacks — as well as station wagons — have been anathema to U.S. buyers.

That’s changing, mainly because of the growing popularity of small and midsize crossover sport utility vehicles. Many of the smaller ones are little more than tall hatchbacks with front- or all-wheel drive. Entry-level crossovers now constitute the biggest vehicle segment in the U.S.

2017 Honda Civic Hatchback Sport Touring

That’s not the case, yet, with hatchbacks. But they do appear to be finding increasing acceptance among buyers — to the point where Chevrolet, for example, designed its new electric car, the Bolt, as a four-door hatchback. It also has added a well appointed four-door hatchback to its compact Cruze lineup. Honda takes a different approach. It started last year with the 10th generation Civic, first as a four-door sedan followed by a two-door coupe. The Civic won the Car of the Year honor from the independent panel of automotive journalists who are members of the North American Car of the Year organization.

Now Honda follows with the four-door Hatchback; performance models are coming later. The Hatchback spans the spectrum from the basic LX, which starts at $20,535 with a six-speed manual gearbox to the plush EX-L Navi, at $26,635.

2017 Honda Civic Hatchback Sport Touring
2017 Honda Civic Hatchback Sport Touring

The latter includes, among other features, a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), navigation, motorized glass sunroof, leather upholstery, dual-zone automatic climate control, heated front seats, satellite radio, 17-inch alloy wheels, heated outside mirrors and Honda’s Lane Watch camera that covers the right-side blind spot. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto also are part of the standard equipment.

But the real hoot for fans comes with two enthusiast-oriented versions: Sport and Sport Touring. The latter, fully equipped at $29,135, unfortunately comes only with the CVT.

The hot number is the Sport, reviewed here, which sells for just $22,135 with the six-speed manual gearbox. It gets the juices flowing with sporting performance and handling. You can order it with the CVT for an additional $800 but unless you’re dead set against shifting for yourself, don’t bother. The stick shift is the way to travel.

2017 Honda Civic Hatchback Sport Touring
2017 Honda Civic Hatchback Sport Touring

It is the most powerful in the Hatchback lineup, with 180 hp and 177 lb-ft of torque from a new 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that is so precisely programmed that the dreaded so-called turbo lag is eliminated.

City/highway/combined fuel consumption works out to 30/39/33 mpg. Premium fuel is recommended for maximum performance but regular is OK.

The Sport also features handling enhancements that include stabilizer bars, front and rear fluid-filled suspension bushings, multi-link rear suspension system and a tight steering ratio that results in just 2.1 turns of the steering wheel from hard left to hard right.

That and a stiff chassis delivers a car that stays firmly planted in a straight line or around curves, yet delivers a comfortable ride. The Sport’s supportive front seats are covered in a high-quality cloth that grips the torso.

The Sport’s clutch action and shift linkage are among the best anywhere. Clutch engagement is smooth and progressive, and the greasy shifter follows the driver’s inputs without glitches.

All of the streamlined new Hatchbacks resemble sedans. But they feature a shorter rear overhang, sculptured exterior design and stylish 18-inch alloy wheels that fill the wheel openings and are positioned near the corners of the car.

2017 Honda Civic Hatchback Sport Touring
2017 Honda Civic Hatchback Sport Touring

Under the hatch is an innovative cargo cover that moves sideways rather than fore and aft, eliminating the need for a crossbar. Cargo volume is 23 cubic feet behind the rear seatbacks. Fold the seatbacks and the space expands to 46 cubic feet. Total interior volume, including 97 cubic feet for passengers, is120 cubic feet, which classifies the Hatchback as a large car, though it is marketed as a compact.

That makes for a roomy interior. The outboard back seats offer plenty of head and knee room for people more than six feet tall, and even the center-rear position, which is a punishing perch in most cars, provides decent head and knee room, although the passenger sits on a rigid cushion and must splay his feet on both sides of a four-inch floor hump.

The Civic Sport is conceived and built for driving entertainment, which it delivers with a shot of excitement and a dose of practicality.

2017 Honda Civic Hatchback Sport Touring
2017 Honda Civic Hatchback Sport Touring

Specifications

  • Model: 2017 Honda Civic Sport four-door hatchback.
  • Engine:1.5-liter four cylinder, 180 hp, 177 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Six-speed manual.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 10 inches.
  • EPA passenger/cargo volume: 97/23 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 2,864 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 30/39/33 mpg. Premium fuel recommended.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $22,135.
  • Price as tested: $22,135.

Disclaimer: This test drive was conducted at a manufacturer-sponsored press event. The manufacturer provided travel, accommodations, vehicles, meals and fuel.

Photos (c) Honda.