You could almost hear it. There was a furor. And it all had to do with a transmission. On September 16, Honda showed the all-new, tenth-generation Civic. Fitted with a turbocharged engine for the first time, enthusiasts were excited. Until they realized the new 1.5-liter Earth Dreams four-cylinder turbo would only be offered with a continuously variable transmission, something that elicits a passionate, all-consuming, and utterly unquenchable hatred among (most) enthusiasts.
Honda was listening. On the recent Civic Coupe launch, the company confirmed to us that a manual transmission will soon be offered on turbocharged Civics, regardless of body style. And then we drove a prototype.
Now, let's be very clear, the car we drove was an early test vehicle. It was camouflaged, cobbled together – it was born with a turbo and an automatic before Honda's engineers got their hands on it – and to cap it all off, we got approximately five minutes of seat time. We couldn't even shoot the darn thing, which is why you're looking at one really bad iPhone picture up top. But five minutes is better than nothing at all, right?
Our immediate impression is that even though this is an early development vehicle, fitting the 1.5-liter turbo with a manual transmission is a natural pairing. This is largely because the engine and transmission are so good on their own. We've raved about the turbocharged four-cylinder and its ultra-broad torque peak before – all 162 pound-feet of torque are on tap between 1,700 and 5,500 rpm – but the six-speed stick is no slouch either. Normally paired with the 2.0-liter, naturally aspirated four-cylinder, the clutch's action is light and springy, and finding the catch point is easy. And the shift lever, in typical Honda fashion, has a smooth, enjoyable action and easy-to-access gates.
Putting the turbo and manual together doesn't transform a normal Civic into an Si or Type R, but it automatically (sorry) makes for a more engaging and entertaining compact sedan. Because of the broad torque curve, more speed is just a single-gear downshift away. And that downshift is downright easy to kick out, too. Simply put, the turbocharged engine feels more urgent and eager, especially off the line, with the manual. There's a sense of lag on the CVT car that just isn't there in this prototype,
There are still a bunch of questions that haven't been answered about this pairing, partially because of Honda's cagey attitude about details. We don't know if the manual will be offered across turbocharged trim levels or if it will just come to the base EX-T model. In fact, we don't even know when Honda will begin offering turbo/manual cars in dealers (it'll be model year 2017 at the earliest). And when that day comes, we don't even know if Honda will go whole hog across all three body styles or if it will be a staggered release. And while we'll continue to pester Honda for those details, we're happy knowing that the company has listened to the pleas of enthusiasts. The resulting product is showing a lot of promise at an early stage.