What is it?
The latest version of the Honda Civic which, contrary to appearances, isn’t just about a new engine. As well as the Japanese firm’s new and vitally important low-emissions diesel engine, there are suspension revisions, steering revisions and extra refinement measures thrown into the mix here, all intended to make Swindon’s long-time sales also-ran a proper contender for European tastes.
What is it like?
The sub-100g/km engine is the headline news. Like the 2.2-litre i-DTEC it’s all-aluminium, but it’s a clean-sheet design with a lightweight crankshaft, particularly compact piston skirts, concurrently low internal friction, a small variable geometry turbocharger and an on-demand alternator. Its 118bhp of peak power and 221lb ft of torque, combined with CO2 emissions of 94g/km, make it an outstanding on-paper prospect among its peers.
In practice, it’s pleasingly unaffected by the usual rattle and clatter of diesel engines at low and middling crank speeds, and pulls as hard as many 2.0-litre units at times. It doesn’t like revving beyond 3500rpm too much, and isn’t as refined at high revs as it is lower down. But throttle response is good, and there’s no sense at all that what you’re driving might be in any way austerity-minded.
The chief dynamic advantage of the engine – that it has taken almost 50kg off the front wheels relative to the 2.2-litre oil-burner – has been seized upon by Honda as an opportunity to make the car handle, and it does to a point. Steering feedback is improved and initial turn-in is much more crisp, thanks to a quicker steering box and stiffer front suspension bushings. Press on and there’s also better cornering balance at higher speeds. The car still isn’t quite as agile or poised as the class leaders, and its ride quality isn’t as highly polished, but unlike in the bigger-engined diesel, there’s no shortage of underlying competence here and little in the way of understeer.
Should I buy one?
As a quirky alternative, yes. A good engine and newly competitive dynamics help but in other ways the Civic could still do with a rethink. The driving position remains unusually high (because you’re sitting on the fuel tank), the exterior styling is still willfully weird and the cabin looks like your own personal brand of Radio Shack, circa 1989.
But if all of that doesn’t put you off, there is now little else that should.
Honda Civic 1.6 i-DTEC EX
Price £23,175; 0-62mph 10.5sec; Top speed 129mph; Economy 78.5mpg; CO2 94g/km; Kerb weight 1428kg; Engine 4cyls, 1597cc, turbodiesel; Power 118bhp at 4000rpm; Torque 221lb ft at 2000rpm; Gearbox 6-spd manual