The Honda Civic is an impressive achievement and a worthy rival to the Volkswagen Golf and Ford Focus, but it isn't quite up to class-leading standards
First DriveHonda is ready to play the downsizing card against Ford Focus Ecoboost and the latest Vauxhall Astra with a 1.0-litre Civic
First DriveHonda's quirky hatchback gets styling and equipment tweaks for 2015, as well as this new Sport trim
What is it?
Never mind the diesel, Honda UK reckons this 1.8-litre petrol model will be the biggest selling model of new Honda Civic. Honda is hoping to sell 25,000 new Civics in the UK next year, and it believes 60 per cent of those will have petrol power.
Whether that’s because Honda’s customers have traditionally preferred a high-revving VTEC buzz, or simply because its diesel engines simply haven’t been up to scratch and shopped elsewhere for an oil burner is debatable, but the fact is that this is where Honda is looking to reap most rewards with this thoroughly reworked evolutionary, rather than revolutionary, ninth-generation Civic.
There’s a new 1.4-litre petrol version coming, too, but that’s only expected to account for a very small percentage of sales.
The car driven here is a six-speed manual version in top-level EX GT trim, which costs a not inconsiderable £24,495. If that sounds like a lot to swallow, the 1.8 Civic also comes in EX, ES and SE trim, priced £21,795, £18,995 and £17,995 respectively.
What’s it like?
Overall, this is a much improved car. As we’ve already found with the diesel version, the Civic’s ride, composure and rolling refinement are commendable steps up from the previous generation’s. The steering feels more direct and responsive, too, although it is on the light side and lacking in some feel, but broadly speaking this is a more engaging car to drive.
Cabin noise, or rather the lack of it, at motorway cruising speeds is most impressive. There’s some wind noise around the A-pillars and over the panoramic glass roof fitted to top-sepc EX GT models, but it’s only of note due to the absence of any significant road or engine noise. At least that was the case on the Spanish motorways we drove on in this petrol-engined car.
The engine is a mixed bag. It’s a little bit cleaner and a little bit more powerful than before (140bhp and 145g/km beats 138bhp and 152g/km) and around town and at a cruise it’s a model of smooth, hushed refinement, but it isn’t particularly satisfying to work hard.
Peak torque – and it is a peak, not a broad spread – of just 128lb ft appears up at 4300rpm, and consequently the 140bhp peak power figure appears high up, too, at a lofty 6500rpm. Add long, widely spaced upper gear ratios, presumably to help lower the CO2 figure, and the perverse consequence is that you have to rev the high heavens out of it on wide throttle openings to make the car feel reasonable sprightly, which results in anything but low CO2 figures. It also results in quite a bit of noise in the cabin and the need to shuffle up and down the gearbox to maintain speed.
Should I buy one?
If you’re going to cover a lot of miles then the diesel Civic probably makes a better case for itself than this petrol version – a claimed 46.3mpg (or 47.1mpg in anything below EX GT trim) doesn’t compare too favourably with the diesel’s 64.2mpg (or 67.3mpg in lesser trim levels).
However, a Golf or Focus makes a more convincing proposition both on paper and from behind the wheel, but the new Civic shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand. Far from it. It’s more rewarding to drive than before but has a nice cabin and retains useful practicalities such as a huge boot and the clever ‘Magic Seat’ system in the rear which gives an extremely flexible load space. It’s also very well finished and solidly screwed together, but for the money you’d hope it would be.
Honda Civic 1.8 i-VTEC EX GT
Price: £24,495; 0-62mph: 9.6sec; Top speed: 134mph; Kerb weight: 1344kg; Economy: 46.3mpg (combined); CO2: 145g/km; Engine: 4 cyls in line, 1798cc, petrol; Max power: 140bhp at 6500rpm; Max torque: 128lb ft at 4300rpm; Gearbox: 6-spd manual