What is it?
Our first steer on UK roads in a Honda Civic you’d consider buying with your head as well as your heart: the 1.6 turbodiesel-powered Civic, with wallet-friendly 78.5mpg and 94g/km headline economy and emissions figures.
Truth is, at present the Civic’s oddball looks would instantly turn off many looking for an economy-minded hatchback, and even if they win you over, only petrol engines and a larger 2.2-litre turbodiesel could be found in the line-up until now.
That’s all changed with the arrival of the new smaller engine, which has been five years in the making.
Honda hopes the new engine’s economy figures and performance will thrust the Civic back into the heartland hatchback arena in the UK and the rest of Europe.
What is it like?
It’s only a couple of weeks since we drove the car on the smoother and better-maintained roads in and around Nice, France. There, the lighter weight of the engine, suspension, steering tweaks and added refinement that the smaller diesel engine brings with it to the Civic, revealed an improved but still far from class-leading Civic.
Thankfully, those improvements still shine through here in the UK, where the Civic and its new engine are built and much of the on-road development has taken place.
It’s the engine that takes a starring role here, though. In no way does it feel like an economy-minded engine under acceleration, such is the low-end grunt and sharpness of the throttle response.
Refinement is excellent, too. There’s an absence of the gruff diesel grunt you’d usually expect to find, and you could almost be fooled into thinking you’re driving a petrol model when it settles down into a motorway cruise.
Real-world economy is also mightily impressive. We returned in excess of 60mpg over a 300-mile test route, most of which was at a fast motorway pace.
The 1.6 diesel Civic has 50kg less over its front wheels than the 2.2, and it’s certainly crisper and keener to drive to an extent. Turn-in is improved, and understeer reduced, traits exploited by the quicker steering.
Still, overall it lacks the balance and poise of the class best, and, like other Civics, the ride can still be choppy over high frequency surfaces.
The smaller diesel also doesn’t do anything to change the fact you sit too high, improve the woeful rear visibility, or make the dashboard functions any less confusing to master control of or read. It took me about 100 miles of driving, for instance, to work out how to master the digital radio channel list.
Should I buy one?
There’s more to recommend about this Civic than any of the others in the range. The new Civic has always been a refined car, and that refinement is taken to an even higher level here, while also being a good deal sharper to drive.
Get over the way it looks and if you’re not put off by other irks — such as the ride quality and driving position — then you’ve got yourself a decent and cheap-to-run (if not buy) alternative to the Ford Focus and VW Golf mainstream.
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 4 cyls, 1597cc, turbodiesel; Power 118bhp at 4000rpm; Torque 221lb ft at 2000rpm; Gearbox 6-spd manual