I had to search Google for the look of the old Honda Civic dashboard, and then I wished I hadn’t bothered. The Honda compact can be many things – affordable, economical, surprisingly cheerful to drive and a gateway for new owners to the automaker’s brand – but being memorable for its cabin was not one of them. All of that changes with the new 2022 Honda Civic Sedan.
Officially unveiled yesterday, the 11th generation Civic is an important car in many ways. For Honda, it is a crucial entry point for ownership among younger drivers, a first experience that often sees them replacing their Civic with an Accord, a CR-V or anything else from the automaker’s range.
It was also never a bad place to start. Civic has built a reputation for pleasant engine power, and although outliers like the Civic Type R have added a touch of legitimate enthusiasm, the Civic sedan and everyday hatchback models are perennially well rated in aspects such as practicality and reliability. If there was a problem, it was with the personality.
The Civic panel came to summarize this obstacle. First, it was bland; then, Honda started to redesign it, and it got weird. Eleven generations is a long time to move – and Honda has sold over 12 million Civic cars in the United States since 1973 – not to mention mid-cycle upgrades and adjustments, but it took nearly five decades for the automaker to come up with something legitimately, memorably. well.
The 2022 Civic dashboard … doesn’t look like what you would expect from a Honda dashboard. The delivery mechanism and the buttons seem more careful and restricted; All-digital driver instrumentation is available in the top-level Touring finish. This also brings the biggest info-entertainment touchscreen on any Honda so far, with 9 inches, plus a new and much improved user interface.
What stands out the most, however, is the honeycomb mesh that covers the cabin. Honda, being Honda, cannot fail to defend its practical benefits: it helps to hide the ventilation openings, which normally add visual clutter to the panel. At the same time, however, it is a piece of style that is legitimately cheerful, not least because of the way in which the automaker did the detailing.
These hidden openings, for example, are not fitted with plastic pedestrian guides. Instead, glorious little joystick controls protrude through the mesh band, just begging you to move them around as you would on an 8-bit game console.
Honda was not incapable of good design. The Clarity Fuel Cell demonstrated that it could drill above its weight for premium materials and overall cohesion, although even so, the hydrogen-powered car’s charm was more about enhancing the cabin’s quality than absolute aesthetics. More recently, the Honda and all-electric hatchback – not sold in the United States – has proven to be an intriguing combination of high technology with almost retro elements.
The 2022 Civic is a leap forward as big as that EV, but without being as divisive. It is a reminder that mass-market vehicles do not have to sacrifice a strong, cohesive design, and that conventional cars can swing the needle more aggressively than luxury and exotic models. Bentley may be artisans with leather and wood veneer, McLaren the kings of exposed carbon fiber and Pagani capable of turning a gearshift into a work of art, but much, much more people will experience the new Civic cabin than the interiors of any of the goods of these automakers.
Time will tell if the feel of the electric controller matches the appearance of the new Civic. Honda’s typical focus on practicality suggests that we can probably expect resistant materials, even though plastic almost certainly has a strong presence in more expensive alternatives. Prices for the 2022 Civic have not been confirmed, but it never carried a premium label and it does not seem likely to change in this 11th generation.
What has changed is how attractive the Civic can be more than a sensible point of view. Like it or hate it, at least you remember the interior of this new Honda. We expect the willingness to take some style risks to continue as the automaker updates the rest of its range – and pushes hard for EVs.