The ninth-generation Civic came out at a time when nothing was going well for Honda. The Japanese carmaker had reduced itself to a meek shadow of what it once stood for. Most of its models had let the brand’s enthusiastic followers down. The 2012 Civic was no different. It drew flak from the motoring community and the automotive press for not living up to the bulletproof reputation the nameplate had established over the decades. Honda tried to salvage the situation by rolling out updates almost every year, but it was still far from the car that distinguished itself from the rest in class with its impeccable build quality and drivability.

The 2016 Civic is Honda’s attempt at erasing the legacy of that not-so-memorable iteration and starting afresh. It really is all new, built on a new chassis, sporting a completely new look, boasting new technology features, a couple of new engines and a new transmission. The 10th-gen car is longer, wider and lower than its predecessor, with a longer wheelbase, too. Viewed from the front, the Civic now bears family resemblance with the current Accord, thanks to its redesigned grille and the sleek LED headlights. In profile, the car’s swept back lines, the conspicuous crease along the flared wheelarches and the sloping coupé-like roofline all add to the Civic’s sporty looks. Rounding off the design changes are the C-shaped LED taillights at the back. Our test car is the top-of-the-range RS trim, and has a few additional styling differentiators, which include a black grille up front, a spoiler on the boot with an integrated LED stop light, twin exhaust pipes, and a set of black and silver 17in alloys. All these elements lend the RS a muscular, belligerent appearance.

The sweeping changes seen outside have been carried over to the cabin as well, which is significantly better laid out. The two-tier dash has been replaced with a more straightforward and more elegantly styled one, trimmed with classy brushed aluminium. Soft touch materials abound, and the RS variant’s black leather looks and feels quite upscale for a car in this segment. There’s no dual screen set-up as in the Accord, but the high-resolution 7.0in touchscreen infotainment display, which seems to be from the new Pilot, is impressively responsive and easy to use. There are a few minor niggles, though, such as the lack of dedicated buttons for volume control and the air conditioner’s fan. Both these functions have to be accessed via the touchscreen interface now.

Finding a comfortable seating position behind the steering wheel isn’t a problem at all, with the well-bolstered bucket seat offering flexible adjustment options. Despite its fastback rear, headroom is plenty at the back and thanks to the longer wheelbase, so is legroom. 

The biggest change in the new Civic, though, is in the powertrain department. Not only has Honda ditched the ageing 139bhp 1.8-litre four-cylinder, but it has also brought in two new engines to our region, a 2.0-litre four-cylinder producing 158bhp and 187Nm of torque for the base LXi and the mid-range EXi variants, and a 180bhp, 220Nm 1.5-litre turbocharged four-pot powering the top-spec RS. This, in fact, is the first time Honda is bringing a force-fed engine to the Middle East market. While I’m yet to drive the 2.0-litre-propelled variant, I can tell you with conviction that this turbo 1.5 is by far one of the best engines seen in a Civic saloon’s engine bay, and feels as smooth and powerful as the larger 2.4-litre four-pot that propels the base Accord. I can only imagine how brilliant it would have been mated to a manual or a six-speed automatic, as it is paired with a CVT here. As disappointed as I am about this move, I must admit the CVT seems to gel well with the turbo lump and is surprisingly not as bad as I had imagined. Although there is a bit of lag from a standing start, as the revs go up, power delivery is smooth and linear. In the sportier ‘S’ mode, and controlled by the paddle shifters, the CVT does a decent job imitating a conventional auto ’box with its seven simulated ‘cogs’.

The Civic has always been one of the best cars in its class to drive, and thanks to the new chassis, a reworked strut front and a multi-link rear suspension, the 2016 model is no different. In fact, it rides and handles better than the previous generation. The stiffer frame and the well-weighted variable gear ratio steering add to the overall poise of the car.

Honda hasn’t skimped on features either, with the Civic packing six airbags and a raft of other safety features. A handy new convenience feature is the remote engine start, along with a cap-less fuelling system, the lane watch blind-spot camera that we’ve come to dig in all Hondas, an electric parking brake with auto hold function, cruise control and rear parking sensors. Prices start at Dh72,900 for the LXi, and Dh78,900 for the EXi, and a relatively steep Dh95,900 for the range-topping RS.

The 2016 Civic is a triumphant comeback by Honda in the C-segment family saloon segment. Stylish, sprightly, and boasting great driving dynamics, it’s positioned itself right back as the top contender in this fiercely competitive class.