2022 Honda Civic Hatchback Manual First Test: Better With a Stick

Damn you, Honda. How dare you make the 2022 Honda Civic Hatchback so enjoyable to drive with a manual transmission? We all know the clutch pedal is an endangered species, and the looming electrification of our cars is sure to seal its doom. What do you do in response? You make a stick-shift Civic that’s the best we’ve driven in years. Honda, you are cruel.

We realize this is a bit of a frog-and-scorpion situation (and yes, you’re the scorpion—sorry, Fiat). Good manual transmissions are in your DNA. Some of the finest stick-shifts we’ve driven have been in Honda cars, but it’s not like you don’t know how to screw them up. Remember the fourth-generation Accord? Now that was a lousy manual transmission. The kind thing—the compassionate thing—would have been to give us another turkey like that so we wouldn’t miss our clutch pedals and gear levers quite so much when they finally disappear.

Did You Have to Make the Manual So Good?

But no, you didn’t. You gave the 2022 Civic Hatchback a great clutch, one that is progressive, lightly sprung, and easy to modulate (if we’re being honest though we’d like a bit more feedback at the bite). You also gave it a good shifter—not your best, as the throws are a little stiff and notchy, but its positioning and precise throw lengths are nigh-on perfect.

Though we drive fewer and fewer manual cars each year, we still remember that there are some that take a while to master. Not the Civic: Fifteen minutes behind the wheel and we were zinging through double-clutch rev-matched downshifts that were as smooth as any twin-clutch automatic.

And could you possibly have paired this magnificent little gearbox with a better engine? We know from the last-generation Civic how well your 1.5-liter turbocharged inline four pairs nicely with a stick, and our drive this time reminded us that love is indeed better the second time around.

Once again, were you not a company brimming with heartless cruelty, you could have eased the process of saying goodbye. We know plenty of small-displacement turbocharged engines that don’t mix well with manuals, miring their drivers in turbo lag if they close the clutch too early. But no: Your 1.5 liter gem hits its 177 lb-ft torque peak at 1,700 rpm. The driver can let the clutch in at idle, nail the throttle, and still barely experience any turbo lag—that little engine just gets up and goes. Though the power falls off at high rpms, the flexibility throughout most of the rev range was so good that we almost peeked under the hood to make sure you didn’t sneak in a larger-displacement naturally-aspirated mill. We wouldn’t put it past you.

The Numbers Back Up the Argument

Your Civic even does its best to negate many of the arguments against manual transmissions, particularly being out-performed by modern-day automatics. In our performance testing, the stick-shift Civic Sport Touring hatch zipped to 60 in a respectable (if not breathtaking) 7.7 seconds—identical to a CVT-equipped Civic Hatchback we tested in the otherwise-same configuration. (A 2022 Civic Sport Touring sedan we tested with the CVT did the deed in 7.4 seconds.) By the way, the number we got in the CVT hatch was when we left the CVT in automatic mode; using the paddle shifters slowed its acceleration, adding fuel to the  argument that fake shifting is nowhere near as good as the real thing.

Braking was slightly better in the manual car (114 feet vs. 117 for the automatic), but the stick wasn’t quite as grippy (0.86 g lateral acceleration and 26.9 sec at 0.64 g in the MT figure eight; the automatic car had numbers of 0.89 g and 26.8 sec at 0.65 g). Tires were the same for the manual and automatic test cars we had in, with the only noticeable differences being weight (the manual car is slightly lighter) and weight distribution (59/41 for the manual car vs 60/40 with the CVT).

Fuel economy between the manual and automatic cars is neck-and-neck according to the EPA—both automatic and manual cars return 37 mpg on the highway (which we achieved with ease in our real world drives), and city and combined figures for the manual car (28 and 31 respectively) are just two mpg below the CVT-equipped version.

In other words, the advantages of the automatic are negligible.

Manual Equals Mojo

What wasn’t negligible was how the whole driving experience came together. We already know that the 2022 Civic Touring, in either sedan or hatch form, has a strong 1.5-liter turbo engine option, along with good brakes, a very competent suspension setup, and communicative steering. The manual transmission elevates the entire package  and turns every journey into an utter delight. At least one editor opined that the manual car is the best new Honda Civic he’s driven in a decade and a half. After years of trying to get the Civic’s mojo back, Honda, you’ve finally succeeded.

We could rattle off all the other things we like about the Civic—sensible control layout, high-quality materials (love that metal mesh that conceals the vents), good back seat and cargo space, and last-for-eons build quality, but why swell your corporate heads any larger? Sure, you can spout us a line of baloney about creating an affordable, economic car for people who love to drive, but what you’ve really done is reminded us of how bleak the world is going to be when new cars with manual transmissions finally disappear from this great green Earth.

Oh, Honda—Must you be so cruel only to be kind?

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