‘Oh, new Civic. Right’
I’ve been standing in front of the 2019 Honda Civic RS for several minutes, and I haven’t quite realized it yet. Okay, so maybe I should be a little embarrassed, as a veteran motoring writer, not to have noticed the changes. But the new ‘Belrina Black’ alloy wheels soon catch my eye, and it hits me: “Oh, new Civic. Right.” Those big 18-inch wheels are a whole lot more aggressive than the previous 17-inch alloys. I can’t help but think that the color was chosen specifically to ride on the popularity of the Type R, with its 20-inch black alloys.
Soon, I’m poring over the new front end, with its subtle RS badging on the grille and a new front bumper. I’d initially thought the black strip was simply the old bumper stays blacked out, but they’ve actually gone AWOL. The lower grille is now slightly wider, bleeding into the foglight surrounds. More air is certainly a good thing for a turbocharged engine, especially in our hellish tropical traffic.
Nothing has really changed under the hood. If there is any power to be gained from (slightly) better cooling, it isn’t reflected in the spec-sheet figures or the drive. The high-tech 1.5-liter engine under the hood still makes 171hp at 5,500rpm and 220Nm of torque from a lowly 1,700rpm. The CVT is still as responsive as ever. Honestly, I was hoping for more, but given that nothing in this class is quite as potent as the Civic, that’s not a big deal. This is still the big dog in terms of performance, with the quick-reacting CVT giving it stoplight bragging rights to take on more potent, more focused sport compacts one rung up.
And those new wheels, shod in Michelin Pilots this time around, rather than the Yokohama dBs on the old RS, give it some handling verve to go with the power. Okay, so it’s still not a Type R. It doesn’t telepathically slice from curb to curb like a manic turbocharged katana, but the handling has firmed up quite a bit—at least as far as we can tell on this limited drive—with only a minor effect on ride comfort. In the end, however, this is still a posh grand tourer rather than an out-and-out sports car, albeit one with seating for five and all the luxuries you could want in a family sedan.
Those luxuries include the expected leather-and-cloth seats, with their sporty contrast stitching, LED-everything, inside and out—the start-up animation on the cluster gauge still tickling our collective fancies, three years on—and the ever-present touchscreen infotainment center. Here, thankfully, saner heads have decreed the removal of the touch-strip controls on the side, replacing them with physical toggles and knobs. A much appreciated gesture, as a volume knob doesn’t require you to remove your eyes from the road like a volume slider does.
The new seven-inch screen retains the cluster-integrated navigation system, but now also gets Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as on other new Honda models. Bully for those who can get Android Auto to sync. At least the Bluetooth still works for my battered Huawei.
Other new niceties include alloy pedal covers, which give the Civic a more sporting vibe without functionally changing anything about the drive—hey, I’m still holding out for a three-pedal RS—and the bragging rights of having the newest kid on the block. It’s a very small block, admittedly. The invasion of small crossovers has seriously dented the compact-sedan class—a class the Civic barely fits into anymore, being nearly as large as the old Accord. The price has increased correspondingly as well, and some might find the new RS a bit too dear for their wallet.
For those people, Honda is releasing a base 1.8 S underneath the older 1.8 E, which gets new gunmetal 16-inch alloys and a similar touchscreen infotainment system, minus two speakers and one USB port. All the better to keep the Civic an attainable proposition for those looking for the best family car around. Yes, there are those that are cheaper, and those that are nimbler, but the Civic is still the top dog in this class, facelift or not, and it’s hard to argue against that.