A few months ago, we dubbed the new 2016 Honda Civic our top overall 2016 Best Buy winner. A couple months later, it was crowned a winner in our 2016 Best Family Cars competition. What we’re saying is, we like the new Civic, and our high opinion has been backed up by plenty of others.

But most of the cars we’ve driven so far have been fully loaded Civic EX-L models, with price tags north of $27,000. It’s hard not to be impressed by adaptive cruise, leather seats, dual-zone climate control, and all manner of features once exclusive to luxury cars, not to mention Honda‘s excellent new 174-horsepower 1.5-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine. It got us wondering: what about the base model 2016 Honda Civic LX with a manual transmission?

Also: Kelley Blue Book Best Buy Awards of 2016

Life at the entry level

At about $19,500, the Civic LX we drove anchors the bottom of the lineup. Under the hood is a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder with 158 horsepower connected to a 6-speed manual transmission, and if you’re a row-your-own type, this is the only way to get a manual transmission in a Civic until the next Civic Si debuts.

We’ll admit that nearly $20K sounds like a lot for an entry-level car, but the Civic LX comes extremely well equipped. Things like power windows, mirrors, keyless entry, and a tilt-and-telescope steering column aren’t uncommon these days. But automatic climate control, cruise control, Bluetooth streaming audio, USB inputs, and even a backup camera show that Honda is serious about high-level content for the price, and suddenly that price seems just right.  About the only downside is the audio system interface; it uses an LCD screen for display, but it’s oddly not a touch-screen device; you control it with a knob instead. It’d also be nice if Apple CarPlay was also standard.

Also: See the New and Redesigned Cars of 2016

Manual dexterity

There’s definitely no compromise when it comes to how the Civic LX drives. The manual transmission is so good that we wish Honda would make it available across the board. The engine itself surprised us with its flexibility and overall power. While the torque number isn’t groundbreaking — 138 lb-ft at 4,200 rpm — the Civic delivers it nicely, the car never feels slow, downshifting is quick and painless when you need more. Like the rest of the Civic lineup, the razor sharp steering puts to rest the myth that electrically assisted power steering can’t provide good feedback, and the suspension offers up a compliant ride and surprisingly good handling. It makes this little car fun: put the Civic into a corner and it stays the course without the cha-cha of unwanted body motions. Cruise around, and the Civic returns a smooth and quiet ride around town, plus excellent fuel economy that hovered in the 31-32 mpg range despite our lead-footed driving.

Is it the best handling compact sedan? Well, the Mazda3 is a little better on a twisty road, but to get that last nth of handling ability, you give up the Civic’s huge rear seat and trunk. Put another way, theMazda gives up more in practicality than the Civic gives up in performance. There’s no doubt in our minds that the 2016 Honda Civic LX is every bit as much an award winner as the top-line models.

By: Keith Buglewicz

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