A new 1.5-liter four-cylinder available in the pricier trims makes 174 horsepower at 6000 rpm. Fitted with a single-scroll turbocharger pumping up to 16.5 psi of boost, its 162 pound-feet of torque makes it a small-displacement Honda engine with heretofore unheard of grunt from a stoplight. The power is felt but not heard, the engine’s voice corked by the turbocharger and the new car’s extensive sound isolation. Lesser Civics get a naturally aspirated 2.0-liter with only 158 horsepower, which still shames last year’s 143-hp 1.8-liter four. The 1.5-liter engine, the first turbo the Honda brand has offered here in a car, is good enough to speed the 2924-pound 2016 Civic from zero to 60 mph in 6.8 seconds, cutting two seconds off the old car’s run.
Spoiler alert: The Civic performs this feat with a continuously variable transmission tucked between its crankshaft and constant-velocity joints. At least the CVT mostly behaves itself, with the turbo four’s 1700-to-5500-rpm torque plateau keeping it from chasing the ends of the tachometer with your right foot’s every twitch. There is some turbo lag from a standing start, but once revs build, throttle response is better than with most CVTs. Put the transmission in S rather than D and the engine is kept spinning about 1000 rpm higher so that the turbo spools up more quickly. The CVT even does a reasonable imitation of a conventional automatic when the driver mashes the throttle pedal to the floor, “upshifting” at its 6000-rpm power peak. But just as in last year’s CVT-equipped Civic, there is no manual mode to control the ratio slide. At this point, no manual transmission is offered with the turbocharged engine, either, though Honda will sell you a six-speed with the 2.0-liter.