When I drove the 10th-generation Civic RS for the first time early this year, I knew almost immediately that this was the car Honda so desperately needed; one that’d help it distance itself from the not-so-memorable previous model. Built on a completely new chassis, better-looking, larger in every dimension, and packed with new tech, the 2016 Civic had suddenly transformed from being the least desirable in the highly competitive C segment to my new favourite. But as all those impressions were made after driving the priciest, and sportiest, turbocharged RS variant, I wanted to reserve full judgement until I got my hands on the lesser, naturally aspirated base engine-powered EX.
How are they different? Well, the EX has the same swept-back lines, sloping coupé-like roofline, LED daytime running lights and the new C-shaped LED tail lights at the back as the RS.
But there are many differences, too. My test car here has a chrome grille up front, while the RS has a black one. The RS has a spoiler on the boot, with an integrated LED stop light in the middle; the EX doesn’t. The sporty sibling has twin exhaust pipes, while my test car has only one. Even the cabin looks and feels different, with fabric seats and door cards in place of the top trim’s leather upholstery.
However, this doesn’t mean it feels lacking. It does look less sporty, but the build quality and the workmanship in the spacious cabin are as good as in the more expensive model, and is back up to the Honda standards we were used to before the ninth-gen car.
But the most significant difference lies under the bonnet. While the RS is powered by a 1.5-litre turbo four-pot, the first force-fed engine Honda has brought to the Middle East, the EX is powered by a naturally aspirated 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine. This unit is also all-new, and replaces the old 1.8-litre mill that was the only power train option available in the previous version.
In this Civic, the four-pot makes a decent 158bhp and churns out 187Nm of torque. That is a good 19 horses and 42Nm more than the lump it replaces. And sending all that twist to the front wheels is the same continuously variable transmission as in the RS, but there’s a key dissimilarity here. As you’d know by now, here at wheels we harbour a deep, intense dislike for these ‘rubber band’ transmissions. But after driving the RS, I genuinely didn’t mind the CVT as it did a reasonably good job emulating a conventional automatic gearbox. Although there are other cars with CVT that have come equipped with simulated ‘cogs’, the one in the RS felt more natural than most of them.
However, the Civic EX doesn’t have the steering mounted paddle shifters or any other means to let you select a ‘ratio’ manually. This means the CVT in this car ends up being less amenable than that in the sportier version. But as I’ve said in my earlier reviews of CVT-equipped rides, it’s unfair to hold this against a car that’s mainly aimed at serving as a family hauler. Viewed in that light, the EX is a solid performer.
The 2.0-litre engine is markedly smoother and more powerful than its precursor, handling dynamics are as good as that of any other car in the segment, including the Volkswagen Jetta, and the ride quality is also admirable whether you’re cruising along highways or around city streets.
And to top it all, Honda has packed in a host of convenience and safety features including a remote engine starter, cruise control, automatic climate control, electric parking brake with automatic brake hold function, auto day-night rear-view mirror, a wide-angle rear-view camera, and walk-away locking, handy when you’re carrying something in both hands.
The EX trim also gets the Lane Watch system, which uses a camera mounted below the passenger-side wing mirror to offer a wide-angle display of the sides on the 7.0in screen. As I’ve said in earlier reviews, this is one feature every other manufacturer should incorporate in their cars irrespective of trim levels – it’s a safer, more convenient alternative to the passenger side mirror as it eliminates blind spots completely. Speaking of which, safety is taken good care of in the Civic EX with ABS, EBD, and front dual SRS and side and curtain airbags coming as standard equipment.
Honda has previously been accused of pricing its cars, especially the Civic, much higher than competition. But the starting price of Dh72,900 for the base LX and Dh79,900 for the mid-spec EX seems reasonable considering the raft of features crammed into the car.
Overall, with its sleek new design, a super smooth and potent naturally aspirated engine, plus new features that have brought it up to date with rivals, the 2016 Civic EX is one of the most sensible choices as a family car.