First drive review: 2022 Honda Civic hatchback makes case for manual transmission

Much of the wailing from the “save the manuals” crowd has come from the lack of stick shifts in high performance models like the BMW M5 and Toyota Supra. If I’m being honest, I haven’t really missed a stick shift in models like those. At that level of power and price, the automatic transmissions are so good now (looking at you PDK) that they make the cars both faster and more efficient.

Where I think the manual will really be missed is in entry-level enthusiast cars like the Honda Civic, with smaller engines that don’t have prodigious power. That’s why I was so happy to hear that the 2022 Civic hatchback would add an optional 6-speed manual to two of its trim levels (and forthcoming Type R). A few days spent with both the 6-speed manual and CVT equipped Sport Touring trim of the Civic hatchback confirmed the fact that the manual is simply more fun.

The hatchback comes in mostly the same trim levels as the sedan, though an EX-L (L for the added standard leather upholstery) replaces the EX, and the Sport Touring replaces the Touring trim. The LX and Sport trims get the less powerful, 158-hp naturally aspirated 2.0-liter 4-cylinder that makes 138 lb-ft of torque. Jump up to the EX-L and Sport Touring to get the 180-hp, 1.5-liter turbo-4 that makes 177 lb-ft of torque.

The CVT comes standard on all models, with the Sport and Sport Touring offering the 6-speed manual as a no-cost option. I was only able to test the manual with the more powerful engine, so we’ll have to wait for another opportunity to try it with the base engine.

The manual’s big leg up is its ability to wring the most out of the engine. With it, the engine and by extension the car itself feels responsive. Clutch action is on the lighter side and very smooth, with a generous catch point that’s easy to find right away. While the throws aren’t too long, Honda still has room for a shortened shifter for the sporty Si (sedan only) and Type R variants.

My only complaint was an occasional hint of vagueness when trying to slot the shifter into gear, especially in second. Instead of slotting into gear with a positive click, it feels like the stick bounces a bit off the gate, and that made me try again a few times when I was first acclimating to the shifter. I adapted to the feel within a few hours behind the wheel.

The CVT isn’t bad, but it’s not as engaging as the manual. The Sport Touring offers paddle shifters with it to let the driver move through simulated gears to keep the engine in its powerband. Though maximum torque kicks in from 1,700-4,500 rpm, you have to wait a long time for the horsepower to hit its peak output at 6,000 rpm. While the CVT will touch that for a second, it’s harder to keep the car in the powerband so it’s ready to accelerate when exiting a corner.

Just like the sedan, the hatchback rides on a stiffened version of the chassis that underpinned the last generation of the Civic with a slightly elongated wheelbase. Both of those factors make the car feel very solid on the road in both bodystyles, almost like a mid-size sedan. From behind the wheel, the Civic hatchback imparts a reassuring sense that everything is buttoned down. Even with fixed dampers that remain pliant in day-to-day driving, body roll is well controlled through corners. If the forthcoming Si comes with a set of adaptive dampers that stiffen up even more (and better tires), that car has the potential to be very special.

Front suspension changes including new low-friction ball joints and damper mount bearings, work with the revised electric power steering feedback control to provide excellent steering feel. There’s just enough weight to track on center well while still being easy to maneuver on city streets. It’s a very pleasant, well-sorted car to drive in every environment.

Other than the rear cargo area, the hatchback’s interior is identical to the sedan’s, and that’s a positive. A rather simple setup, it sports thoughtful touches like real metal on the air vent grates and the surfaces on the center console, which are designed to resist fingerprints. That’s a nice change in a class where competitors overdo it on piano black plastics that hold onto skin oils like flypaper.

I also prefer the hatchback’s styling. It is 4.9 inches shorter than the sedan, with that length coming off of the rear overhang. The Civic sedan has gotten so big it could be confused for an Accord, but the hatchback won’t suffer from that problem. It looks great in profile, with the low hood and fastback-style liftgate giving it solid proportions. Overall styling is still muted compared to the Hyundai Elantra, which throws angles on angles at you, but the Civic’s understated approach has appeal as well. 

Even with all of that length chopped off, the rear cargo area is significantly larger with 24.5 cubic feet of space versus the sedan’s 14.8 cubic feet. It’s also much easier to load large items into a liftgate versus a slim trunk opening, and Honda has installed a pair of privacy screens that keep prying eyes off of items stored in the back.

Most of the Civic hatchback’s trims cost about $1,000 more than their sedan counterparts, the exception being the EX-L with its additional adds leather upholstery. The range starts with the LX at $23,915, followed by the Sport at $25,115, the EX-L at $27,615, and finally the Sport Touring at $30,415 (all prices include destination charges).

The only caveat with the hatchback is a slight dip in fuel economy. The most efficient model is the EX-L with the CVT at an EPA rated 31 mpg city, 39 highway, and 35 combined, which is only slightly behind the EX sedan’s 33/42/36 mpg. You lose a little more with the manual. The Civic Sport Touring hatchback with the 6-speed gets 28/37/31 mpg, which trails both the hatchback with the CVT (30/37/33 mpg) and the sedan (31/38/34 mpg), which only gets the CVT.

The 2022 Civic hatchback serves as a fantastic gateway vehicle for the budding enthusiast, or for anyone who doesn’t think that basic transportation doesn’t need to be boring. Will it save the manual? Not forever, but it makes a great case for its continued existence today and in these rough times that feels like a win.

Honda dropped off two varieties of Civic hatchback for a week for Motor Authority to bring you this firsthand report.