Though it may seem like the terms “Honda Civic” and “hatchback” are inextricably linked, in truth the brand as well known for its lawnmowers as its family cars has had an up-and-down relationship with tailgates. 

The Civic hatchback is back for 2017, a more practical (and not much pricier) alternative to the Civic sedan that we’ve liked very much since the redesigned model popped onto the market in 2016. I spent a week with the one aimed at enthusiasts—the $22,135 Civic Hatchback Sport with its standard 6-speed manual transmission, buttoned-down chassis, and over-the-top styling.

Honda got into—and quickly dominated—the small car game decades ago with its original Civic hatchback, but buyers moved toward sedans in the early 21st century. The last Civic hatch sold here was dropped it after the 2005 model year. It was only an Si, assembled in England, and more of a step-sibling than a blood relative to the four-door. The same is sort of true with this latest hatchback; it’s screwed together in Swindon, England, while the sedans sold here come from America’s heartland.

DON'T MISS: 2017 Honda Civic Review

Honda has made the Civic hatchback even more unique with a Sport trim level not available on the sedan. It includes its own suspension tuning with special shocks that are firmer than what you’ll find on a standard Civic. It’s firm without being punishing, but the Sport’s low-profile 18-inch wheels let in every bit of road rumble. Delightfully accurate electric power steering is only the icing on the Civic Hatchback Sport’s cake.

It’s not perfect, but it’s the Civic to buy if you’re a fan of hauling things—or hauling butt, that is at least until the Si and the Type R models hit the market.

2017 Honda Civic Hatchback Sport

2017 Honda Civic Hatchback Sport

A brilliant powertrain

The Civic’s little 1.5-liter turbo-4 is rated at a solid 180 horsepower in the Sport thanks to a unique exhaust setup (174 hp otherwise). It pairs wonderfully to the snick-snick short-throw manual with its just-right clutch and it pulls stronger than just about anything else in this segment. All the while, the Civic returned darn near 40 mpg on the highway in our testing.

And one more bonus to the stick: running premium fuel, it’s rated at 177 pound-feet of torque compared to 162 with the optional CVT.

2017 Honda Civic Hatchback Sport

2017 Honda Civic Hatchback Sport

Practically perfect

With 22.6 cubic feet of cargo room (seats up; 46.2 cubes with the seats down), the Civic hatch is far more usable than the sedan’s 15.1-cubic-foot trunk. And at $960 pricier (that’s LX sedan against LX hatch since there’s no Sport sedan), it’s worth every penny.

Caveat: The Civic Sport’s wide spare tire means that it has a hefty 3.1 cubic feet less cargo room than non-Sport models.

Otherworldly styling

Few have ever lusted after a Honda Civic for its styling, but the latest lineup at least merits a second glance. That said, we do like the way the sedan wears its elongated tail more than the sliced-off look of the Civic hatch. And as for the Sport’s model-specific body kit? It looks like a ground effects package that would have been advertised in the back of a 1989 Car & Driver magazine.

2017 Honda Civic Hatchback Sport

2017 Honda Civic Hatchback Sport

What you’re not getting

Over the course of a week, the little things a car lacks start to add up. With the Civic Hatchback Sport, there’s no satellite or HD radio and the sound emitted from its four speakers is crummy at best. And when spring rains fell, we suddenly realized how much we missed variable intermittent wipers; the Sport offers just intermittent. True, you can buy a swankier Civic Sport Touring, but not with a stick. 

We’re looking forward to what’s to come

With the bar set this high with the Civic Hatchback Sport, at least in terms of the way it leaps forward to slice through the next corner, our expectations for the upcoming Civic Si and Type R are very high. We’re hoping that both will be sharper without riding rougher, since the Sport is already on the firm side.