Honda Brings Back the Hatchback

The last time Honda had a five-door Civic was for the third generation: from 1988 to 1991. Now on generation 10, the hatch is back.

The 10th-generation Honda Civic is racking up sales and plaudits in a way that is uncharacteristic for a compact car in the Age of the Crossover. And while the car has been represented in the market by the sedan and coupe body styles, there is now a third variant, one that would ordinarily have existed, but not in the U.S. market. 

Now there is the 2017 Civic Hatchback and this five-door is, as Honda itself acknowledges, “Euro-inspired styling.”

In point of fact, the vehicle was jointly developed by Honda R&D teams in both Europe and Japan.
And the styling and engineering aren’t the only Euro-inspired aspects of the vehicle, as it is being exclusively manufactured by Honda of the UK Manufacturing in a factory in Swindon.

Hideki Matsumoto works for Honda R&D in Japan. His title is “design chief engineer.” Which means that he and his team were responsible for creating the look for the car. According to Matsumoto, the vehicle’s exterior styling concept is “Exciting Hatchback!,” which probably loses something in translation from the Japanese, but which goes to the point that they wanted to create a five-door that was more about a stylish presence than a functional utility.

This is readily manifest in such things as a fast roofline and wheels that are planted wide.

Realize that this car has global availability, so while the Eurostyle might be striking in the U.S. market, it is the baseline for those who are living and working in Swindon or Paris or elsewhere. It has to have more than a modicum of visual presence.

On the inside of the car, there is familiarity with the two predecessor Civics, with an emphasis on the quality, texture and tactile quality of the materials, as well as on having an ergonomic approach to not only the fundamentals like the steering wheel and gear selector (in addition to a continuously variable transmission, there is a six-speed manual, which is standard on the base LX and Sport trims), but also to the infotainment and HVAC interface and controls.

The Hatchback is based on the same platform as the Sedan and Coupe. While the wheelbase is the same, there are slight dimensional differences, as in the overall length of the hatch being shorter by 4.3 inches than the sedan—largely predicated on having different front and rear fascias—and the height of the hatch is 0.8 inches greater, because part of the rationale for having a hatch is accessibility to the cargo area in the back. (The cargo area is 25.7-ft3 with the second row seats up and 46.2-ft3 with the seats folded.)

Speaking of which, there is an internal rear structural ring in the hatch unibody that’s used to stiffen the structure, something that’s not in the sedan or coupe.

Like the other Civics, this car has a high-strength steel-intensive body structure, with 61 percent consisting of high-strength steel and of that, 21 percent is ultra-high-strength (9 percent is hot-stamped 1500 MPa material and 12 percent is material ranging from 980 to 1180 MPa).

And while of the subject of things that make the vehicle strong and stiff, there is an interesting welding process that’s used on the forward edge of the front door hinge pillars: T-direction welding. Rather than using the conventional lateral overlapping welded joints on the high pillars, there is a longitudinally welded seam. The purpose is to help manage the sheer forces that are setup during an offset frontal collision, should the wheel move rearward and hit the pillar.

As mentioned, the Hatchback is available with two transmissions. It is available with one engine. Though it is one engine that, depending on the model that it is used in, has two different outputs.

That is, the engine is a 1.5-liter, DOHC direct-injected inline four. It is turbocharged, featuring a low-inertia mono scroll system. The block is die cast aluminum with cast-in iron cylinder liners. The head is a pressure cast aluminum alloy; the exhaust ports are cast directly into the head, helping reduce mass and assembly complexity. (Speaking of the head and mass reduction: M12 spark plugs are used rather than the more common M14; these smaller plugs save both space and mass.)

When used for the LX model (manual or CVT), the EX with a CVT or the EX-L with a CVT, the engine, running on regular unleaded, produces 174 hp at 6,000 rpm and 162 lb-ft of torque at 1,700 to 5,500 rpm; the LX manual produces 174 hp at 5,500 rpm and 167 lb-ft of torque at 1,800 to 5,500 rpm.

However, the engine, when used in the Sport CVT or the Sport Touring CVT produces 180 hp at 6,000 rpm and 162 lb-ft of torque at from 1,700 to 5,500 rpm; the Sport manual produces 180 hp at 5,500 rpm and 177 lb-ft of torque at from 1,900 to 5,000 rpm; in all cases, the engine is operating with premium unleaded.

Here’s something that Honda discovered during buyer research that almost seems to be apples and oranges. When comparing the hatch with the sedan and the coupe, the hatch scored higher than either of the other two in the “Fun to Drive” category. It also trumped them in “Exterior Styling.” Here’s what seems somewhat strange. When asked about their hobbies, the number-one hobby for the hatch buyer, both overall in terms of hobbies as well as in the context of the other two body styles is “Home Projects/DIY.”

Given the increasing success of vehicles like the Ford Transit Connect, which is fundamentally a boxy and not dynamic truck, among the DIY community, the high “Fun to Drive” interest along with the DIY score makes the Honda Civic Hatchback a rather interesting proposition.