Honda is eager to get back in enthusiasts’ good graces with its new 10th-generation Civic, what with a five-door hatchback model and a hotted-up Type R variant slated to join the U.S. lineup. But when the Civic sedan and coupe models launched, many were disappointed that the standard Civic would only offer a continuously variable automatic transmission with the car’s capable new turbocharged engine.
Apparently Honda was listening because it recently let us loose in a special prototype Civic: a Civic sedan with the 1.5-liter turbo-four mated to a six-speed manual. Before you get too excited, Honda hasn’t committed to bringing this car to production yet. This powertrain combination is just in the testing phase.
Though we don’t have any definitive specs for the manual turbo Civic, we assume that the manual-1.5T combination makes around the same 162 lb-ft of torque as the CVT-turbo Civic. This low-down grunt gives the turbo Civic a different character than the high-revving VTEC motors with which Honda made a name for itself over the last quarter-century. Luckily, the manual transmission means that you can really take advantage of the mid-range punch in spirited driving. Boost comes on especially strong between 3,000 and 4,000 rpm, and we had a blast downshifting and using the instantaneous torque to power out of corners. Wringing out the 1.5-liter to its 6,500-rpm redline is also far more enjoyable with a manual than with the automatic transmission—the sonorous engine note shines brighter when the CVT isn’t causing it to drone at sustained rpms.
This is what we love about Honda—a buttery-smooth gearbox, a light clutch, and a pedal box that easily allows for heel-toe shifting. Combined with its buttoned-down chassis and turbo engine, the Civic 1.5T manual is about as engaging to drive as the last-generation Si even if it doesn’t rev quite as high.
As compelling as it is, though, we’re not quite ready to get on our knees and beg for Honda to build the Civic 1.5T manual. After all, the base-model Civic LX already offers a pleasant, engaging six-speed manual with its naturally aspirated four-cylinder to satisfy budget shoppers. And the CVT that currently mates with the 1.5T engine is responsive, unobtrusive, efficient, and perfectly suited to the way most normal Civic buyers drive. The impending Civic Si seems a sure bet to combine turbo-four power with a stick shift, and we’d wager that the vast majority of buyers looking for a shift-it-yourself Civic will gravitate toward the performance-minded Civic Si anyway.
So, Honda, if you want to build this car, more power to you. But we won’t be torn up about it if you don’t. The 2016 Civic was already on the sporty end of the compact-car spectrum, and the manual transmission in this prototype is less a game-changer and more just a cherry on top of an already great-to-drive package.