Honda adds five-door Civic hatchback for 2017

Honda has brought its first five-door Civic hatchback to the U.S. from England, and it comes with a turbocharged four-cylinder engine, the passenger room of a sedan and SUV-like cargo space.

The 2017 Civic hatchback has value-priced LX and Sport models, with a starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, of $20,575 for a base LX with manual transmission. The lowest starting retail price for a Civic hatchback with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) that the driver operates like an automatic is $21,375.

The engine, generating up to 180 horsepower, is fuel efficient, too, helping the new Civic attain U.S. government fuel economy ratings as high as 31 miles per gallon in city driving and 40 mpg on highways. Those are better mileage ratings than the smaller, 2017 Chevrolet Spark gasoline-powered hatchback and Fiat 500.

The U.S. government also reports the Civic hatchback earned five out of five stars for occupant protection in both frontal and side crash tests. The hatchback's low-to-the-ground body helped achieve five out of five stars for rollover protection, too.

Consumer Reports magazine lists the 2017 Civic, across all body styles which include a sedan and coupe, as one out of five for reliability.

The hatchback is a hallowed model at Honda. The first Honda the company sold in the U.S. was a diminutive, N600 hatchback in 1969 followed by a fuel-thrifty, three-door Civic hatchback in 1972. Over the years, Civic hatchbacks developed into some memorable, three-door "pocket rockets" that combined small size, lightweight design and spunky power.

Officially, Honda has not sold a five-door Civic hatchback in the U.S. until now, though Honda did sell a utilitarian, Civic five door in the 1980s that it called a wagon.

Today's Civic hatchback combines most of the interior space of the current Civic four-door sedan with the cargo room buyers expect from the latest small SUVs. The Civic has so much room that the U.S. government classifies it as a "large car."

In the front seats, there's a generous 42.3 inches of legroom — the same that's in the Civic sedan. Rear-seat passengers have 36 inches of legroom, which is 1.4 inches less than in the sedan. Headroom of 39.3 inches in the front seat is identical to that of the sedan's, with the hatchback's rear-seat headroom shaved just 0.3 inch.

The real difference is the cargo space behind the rear seats, which offers 25.7 cubic feet of room, compared with the sedan's 15.1-cubic-foot trunk.

The total cargo space in the hatchback grows to 46.2 cubic feet when the back seats are folded. That's 85 percent of the cargo space found in the back of a Kia Niro small SUV, and the Civic doesn't require a large lift to get items into the car.

The test Civic Sport model was surprisingly nimble and composed in its ride. The Sport model wears sizable, 18-inch tires that gripped the pavement well. Stabilizer bars front and rear, plus a suspension specially tuned for fun, made driving enjoyable. The ride was taut and quite controlled but not overly tight or rough. The electric power steering earned nods of approval for its quick, yet stable response.

The 1.5-liter, double overhead cam, turbocharged, direct-injected four cylinder made the hatchback lively, thanks to 167 foot-pounds of torque coming on by a low, 1,800 rpm. The six-speed manual transmission in the test car was a satisfying shifter.

Even with aggressive driving, the test car averaged the government's 33-mpg rating for combined city/highway travel.

This was enough for 408 miles of travel on a single, 12.39-gallon tank of gasoline.

Note that Honda recommends regular unleaded gasoline for all but the Sport and Sport Touring hatchbacks, which are recommended to use premium.

Some people disliked the hatchback's edgy exterior styling.

Others complained that the radio had no volume knob but a touchy slider button on the dashboard, instead.