What is it?
This is the European Civic powered by the Honda’s long-awaited 1.6-litre, 94g/km, diesel engine. Both the car and the new engine will be made at Honda’s Swindon factory for export to mainland Europe.
Work on the new engine started around five years ago and it is a very big investment for the company, because it will sell primarily in Europe (although a lower powered version may also be sent to India), where Honda’s sales have collapsed to just 170,000 units per year. For the rest of the world, Honda is investing heavily in petrol-electric hybrids. It’s easy to forget, but the rest of the automotive world - especially Japan and the US - don’t care for diesel engines.
Honda says the engine is the lightest in class and has internal friction levels comparable with the best petrol engine. It gets 1800 bar injection (on the lower side by the latest standards), uses a small single turbo and gets a catalyst and DPF filter.
It is built around a new aluminium block which uses an open deck block (where the cylinder is surrounded by a continuous water jacket) and it also gets a radically smaller and lighter crankshaft. Compared to the 15.9kg crankshaft in the 2.2-litre Honda diesel, the unit in the new engine weighs 10.1kg - a 36 per cent reduction. The pistons have shorter skirts and are said to be 10 per cent lighter than other best-in-class pistons, both of which should make the engine quick and smoother revving.
Having separate crankshaft bearing caps in the lower block (they are integrated in the 2.2-litre engine) has also massively reduced radiated noise, according to the engineers. They also claim that, at 1500rpm, the engine has 40 per cent lower internal friction than a typical rival diesel engine. Impressively, it does without a balancer shaft. The Civic diesel also gets a new, 7kg lighter, six-speed manual gearbox which sits in a stiffer casing. This, and the 47kg saved over the heavier 2.2-litre engine, takes a noticeable 54kg out of the car’s nose.
What is it like?
Based on this limited first impression, pretty impressive. We were restricted to a few laps of Honda’s high speed oval at its Tochigi test facility, which is super-smooth after its re-build in the wake of the recent earthquake.
Pulling away from a standing start, the engine is clearly a diesel. Once we settled into a 70mph cruise around the bowl, however, the Civic proved to be pretty refined. And any noise that is produced is much less like the typical low-frequency diesel grumbles that are as much felt as heard.
At 60mph on the A419 near Swindon, Honda’s engineers say the front seats of the Civic are the least disturbed in the Golf class and on a par with some Mondeo-class diesels. Indeed, it’s not just down to the new engine. This model also has an active noise cancellation system, which uses a microphone in the roof lining and pumps out anti-noise via the sound-system.
The Civic feels very well-planted and stable and rode very well, although the track was exceptionally well-surfaced. The ‘box’s shift action is very slick, although it is pulling just over 2000rpm at 70mph in sixth. Luckily, the Civic is quiet enough for this not to be a problem and it underlines that the character of the engine is much more petrol-like and much less of a typical slogging diesel. The reduced weight in the car’s nose is also noticeable, making the front end keener to change direction. The whole car feels very well and tightly engineered.
Should I buy one?
Quite possibly. The Civic i-DTEC is light on its feet, potentially very economical and – as befits a company that is supreme in petrol engine technology – one of the least ‘diesel’ four cylinder diesel engines on sale. However, our short drive on a super-smooth test track means that that a definitive, real-world, judgment will have to wait until early December.
The upcoming Civic estate – which makes even better use of the Civic’s superb multi-folding rear seats – will be ideally suited to this engine. The Civic is something of an underrated car. This engine should allow it a much better showing in diesel-centric Europe.
Honda Civic 1.6 i-DTEC
Price: £19,400 0-62mph: 10sec Top speed: 124mph Economy: 83mpg (combined) CO2: 94g/km Kerb weight: 1346kg Engine type: turbocharged diesel, 1597cc Power: 118bhp at 4000rpm Torque: 221lb ft at 2000rpm Gearbox: Six-speed manual