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King of the Hill

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Starting Price: $19,475 | Build

Above Average: Fuel economy, resale value, overall driving manners

Below Average: Infotainment system

Consensus: Still a benchmark, but not the only one

400 miles in 123 words

The Honda Civic has long been one of the easiest cars to recommend. Whether for its value, efficiency, reliability or driving manners -- or usually a combination of all these factors -- Honda's compact sedan has been a perennial winner of KBB awards for years. In fact, the latest, all-new 2016 model was crowned the overall winner in this year's Kelley Blue Book Best Buy Awards. But the thing about being king of the hill is, someone's always trying to knock you off. In our latest small-sedan comparison test that had the 10th-generation Civic facing even fresher rivals, we again applauded the Civic for the many things it does right, while also seeing chinks in its armor with the few that need addressing.

A Closer Look

It only takes one look at the graph below to see that the 2016 Civic sedan excels in nearly every category in its competitive set.

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Highway Driving

The Honda Civic is a fine companion on the highway. While not quite as compliant as the Chevy Cruze or hushed as the Hyundai Elantra, it more than holds its own in longer-distance travel. Our biggest quibble after logging miles and miles on the highway actually wasn't with the Civic's ride, handling, or noise levels; it was with its lack of lumbar support for the driver's seat. This small feature can make a big difference in driver comfort, especially if you have lower back issues.

City Driving

Compact cars thrive in cities thanks to the very nature of their small footprint. Suffice to say, all the sedans in this comparison were easy to drive in such environs. What set them apart were smaller factors, and in this regard the Civic has an ace up its sleeve. It's called brake hold, and when engaged, holds the brake at traffic stops so you don't have to. This might sound like a small thing, but in busy urban areas with one signal after another, not having to keep your foot on the brake is a big convenience. We applaud Honda for making this feature standard on all trim levels of the Civic.

Sporty Driving

The Civic is surprisingly fun to drive. In terms of athleticism, it notches just below the Mazda3 in this segment. The Honda's sporty dynamics were most on display on our romp over Ortega Highway, which features an exquisitely twisty two-lane section that connects Orange and Riverside counties. Over the roughly 30 miles of twists, turns and switchbacks, the Civic felt immensely balanced. Navigating a road such as this can be a chore in other cars. In the Civic, it was a joy. The sedan felt balanced, the steering sharp, and acceleration from the small turbocharged engine was plentiful, even in normal mode vs. the sport mode that augments shift patterns. Speaking of, the fuel-thrifty continuously variable transmission, while still among the better ones in the way it imitates a standard stepped transmission, did exhibit noticeable drone on longer stretches of the road. In addition to offering good acceleration, the 4-cylinder engine feels bigger than its 1.5-liter size would suggest, and the turbo is so good you may forget there is one.

Interior Appeal

The 2016 Civic sedan's 5-passenger cabin is sleek, open and airy. There is good room up front and in back, and true to Honda form, sightlines are above par through all the windows. A large cubby below the sliding center armrest will swallow larger items, including big beverage cups and bottles. Where the Civic falls short is in its controls (see Infotainment section below) and the placement of some features. One of the USB inputs and the power outlet, for example, are buried underneath the console, near the footwell. It's an awkward reach to use either.

Infotainment

This isn't the first time we'll highlight the Achilles' Heel in Honda's newer vehicles, and until their characteristics are changed, probably won't be the last. The issue with the infotainment system is its reliance on touch. The lack of physical controls for basic functions like volume, tuning and even fan speed is vexing. And while there are redundant volume controls on the steering wheel, the climate controls are especially annoying, as they require you to initially press the main "climate" button, then touch the fan speed and/or vent outlets desired. On the bright side, we like the actual look and resolution of the 7-inch center-mounted display, and one particularly cool feature in our model was the built-in altimeter. It was enlightening to see it at work as we climbed approximately 2,600 feet in altitude cresting Ortega Highway.

Rear Seat

At 37.4 inches, the Honda Civic's rear-seat legroom ties the Sentra for the number-one spot in this test. In addition to enjoying such generous space in a compact sedan, rear-seat passengers have good sightlines out the rear windows. Getting in and out can be awkward, though, due to the wide plastic sill on each side of the rear bench.

Cargo Utility

The Civic sedan's trunk is larger than expected, and the opening makes it easy to load and unload gear. We also like the many storage compartments sprinkled up front, ready to hold keys, cups or digital devices. And while we had our nits about the lower shelf housing a power outlet and USB, it's good for keeping items out of sight. If you're thinking, "I love everything about the Civic, I just wish it had more cargo room," fulfillment is on its way in the 2017 Honda Civic Hatchback slated to arrive later this year. (Conversely, if you desire slightly less space in favor of style, the latest-gen Honda Civic Coupe is already here).

Fuel Economy

With EPA numbers of 31 mpg city/42 highway and 35 mpg combined, the 2016 Civic is the fuel-economy leader among this bunch. Its frugal ways played out in real life, too, with our test model showing a 30.7 mpg average over the duration of our test. This number easily outdistanced its closest rival, the Elantra, which showed 29.3 mpg combined.

Resale Value

Honda in general and the Civic in particular has long had a sterling reputation for holding its value. And while the 2016 model couldn't quite edge the Subaru Impreza in the Kelley Blue Book Best Resale Value Awards among compact cars, the Honda finished a strong second. Among this smaller group of contestants, we'd wager the Civic is the leader in resale value.

Inside and Out: 2016 Honda Civic Touring

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