If you’re one of those who says the Honda Civic has gone stale, offering little or nothing for the enthusiast then you haven’t been looking lately. The brand is about to infuse its core Civic with more driving excitement and style than we’ve ever seen before.

Enter the 2017 Honda Civic Hatch Sport and Sport Touring, based on the global Civic Hatch five door – the first ever to go on sale in North America. On an all-new platform, the Civic Hatch shares the same 106.3-inch wheelbase as the new Civic sedan and coupe but has its own silhouette and upper body structure.

The roof line pulls back a little further and remains taller than in the Civic Coupe to make for a more usable cargo area in back and a more livable rear seat. The rear overhang however is significantly shorter than the sedan, and much akin to that of the coupe.

Built at Honda’s Swindon, U.K. plant, all Civic Hatch models get a gloss black grille which is how you’re going to spot them in your rear view mirror. Headlights on upper trim grades EX and Sport Touring are full LED, with halogen headlights on LX and Sport.

The front fascia on the Civic Hatch is also quite unique with larger jowls and a higher cheek line – the side grill treatments being larger and more squared. Going with Sport adds a black lower body package that wraps a somewhat aftermarket looking splitter to the front fascia and lower rocker around the sides.

The rear fascia gets bolder styling with large vent like air-extractor trim treatments, a look that’s accentuated with a dual center exhaust on Sport models – a variation of what we first saw on the Civic Type R Concept at SEMA.

2017-honda-civic-hatch-6Standard LED tail lights wrap up into an integrated spoiler element that floats above the rear glass panel, a design distinct from that of the Civic Coupe. At the top of the hatch, a standard rear spoiler is swept cleanly out of the native roof line.

All Sport and Sport Touring models get 10-spoke 18-inch gloss black wheels with 235/40R tires, 17-inch alloys standard with LX and EX trim grades.

Sport carries through to the cabin with leather lined seats, leather wrapped steering wheel and carbon fiber style trimming across the dash and door panels on the top line Sport Touring. The full function steering wheel gets shift paddles with the CVT.

The seats held my 5′-9”, 170 pound frame pretty tight while driving the twisty roads of the California coast and remained comfortable all day long in spite of their firmness. Cloth seating on the LX Sport is even grippier.

2017-honda-civic-hatch-14While much of the interior is identical to the U.S. built Honda Civic sedan and coupe, the rear cargo area gets 25.7 cubic feet of tall open space, a number Honda tells us beats competitors Golf, Focus and Mazda3.

A slick feature I liked is the side to side lateral shade for the rear area behind the seat that can be used and retracted without having to remove it like a side-to-side pull shade. Neat.

Powering all 2017 Honda Hatch models is the brand’s new 1.5 liter direct-injected turbo four. You can have it with both a continuously variable transmission (CVT) or a six-speed manual transmission – but only on lower trim grades.

Horsepower and torque ratings start at 174 horsepower and 162 pound-feet for Civic Hatch CVT. Stepping up to the Sport or Sport Touring raises output to 180 horsepower by way of tuning. If you opt for the six-speed manual in the Sport your torque comes up significantly to 177 pound-feet.

2017-honda-civic-hatch-4I had the chance to drive both on the windy redwood lined roads of California’s coast, first the CVT with its dual mode paddle shifters and S mode. Not normally a fan of the CVT, I was pleasantly surprised at how well it provided a snappy shift feel and sporting behavior for carving the canyons.

You can toggle various simulated gear ratios on the fly in and out of corners and it will hold your ratio into tight curves and then out just like the best sport automatics out there. The manual on the other hand will be the choice for purists, offering ultimate control and a very good feel with its shifter.

Honda says it will accelerate from 0-60 in as fast as 7.8 seconds with a CVT which feels about right by the seat of the pants. It’s worth noting that to get the extra horsepower with the Sport models does require feeding it Premium Unleaded.

Suspension hardware is virtually identical to that found under the Civic sedan and coupe with MacPherson struts at the front and a multi-link suspension at the rear. Brakes and anti-roll bars are of the same specifications.

2017-honda-civic-hatch-11We’re told that damper and spring settings are dialed in for a more European feel as this Civic Hatch is indeed built over there and is a true global model. My drives both on the back roads and at speed on the highway back that up.

It has very much a supple firmness that you might associate with a Volkswagen Golf. Grip from its 18-inch rubber is a noticeable step up from what you will find elsewhere on Civic. Fluid filled bushings throughout the chassis in addition to lots of sound deadening offer up a refined quality of atmosphere even over rougher pavement.

In summary, the Civic Hatch Sport lineup is the next step up on the enthusiasm ladder at Honda. It’s competitive in spec with most of the five-door class in which it will play, cars from Ford, Kia, Hyundai, VW, Mazda and now Chevrolet.

And if you want more, the 2017 Civic Si sedan and coupe will offer the next step up the ladder. The Civic Hatch Type R will be the top rung of Honda’s performance lineup but a car coming to us quite a bit later down the road.

For the here and now, my first gut reaction to the Civic Hatch Sport is that with a starting price of $21,300 and $28,300 for the fully loaded Sport Touring, it provides an opportunity to get more fun and exhilaration with a higher level of refinement and quality than some in class offer for the money.

The 2017 Civic Hatch is already on sale with the new Civic Hatch Sport models arriving early in 2017.