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?
A big gamble. Honda is banking that the design of old Civic was so avant-garde when it was new six years ago that it does not need replacing as such, merely refreshing.
It shares its platform, basic suspension architecture (including its infamous torsion beam rear axle) and basic engine line up with old Civic. On the plus side, the revised exterior still looks modern and stands apart from the crowd while the interior retains its class leading space, vast boot and clever flip-up rear seats.
Honda says that, beneath the skin, the Civic has been improved in every important regard and directed us to a 2.2-litre diesel that’ll account for most sales to make its point. Power is up 10bhp, but fuel consumption is dramatically down from 55.3mpg to an impressive 67.3mpg if you stay clear of the 17in rims. CO2 has tumbled from 134 to a class-busting 110g/km.
Is it any good?
This is not a car that endears immediately endears itself to you. The driving position is a little high, the weird confluence of analogue dials and LED readouts on the dash less than successful.
Nor has Honda thought sufficiently hard about how the driver will operate the car which, given all the year spent studying that the paragon or ergonomic simplicity that is the VW Golf, is a mite disappointing. Up spec EX and GT models come with a central combined information, entertainment and navigation module which looks off the shelf, has very poor graphics and is needlessly fiddly and complex to operate.
But you’ll not be far from the car park before you realise Honda has spent the last six years doing a lot more than doodling a slightly different shape for the Civic.
It’s the ride quality you notice first. There’s a new compliancy and fluency which means it doesn’t jolt or rattle any more. And while there’s no doubt a properly engineered multi-link rear end can be tuned to work yet more effectively across a wider spectrum of surfaces, the ills of the old Civic rear end can now be regarded as substantially cured.
It handles too, proving poised, balanced and benefitting from steering greatly improved by new front suspension geometry and a quicker rack. Once more the Civic a reasonably fun and capable car to punt down a decent road.
But it’s most effective in more humdrum environments. It seems strange that the world’s largest producer of engines still either can’t or won’t prise more than 148bhp from a 2.2-litre diesel when so many produce far more from less, but perhaps Honda regards the startling headline fuel consumption and emissions figures that result as a worthwhile alternative. And you can’t question the smoothness of the engine at part throttle, nor overall levels of refinement that are genuinely outstanding.
That said, the motor is hobbled slightly by high gearing, particularly in its intermediate ratios, a condition exacerbated by a discernable lack of low down torque. While some diesels are happy chugging at 1500rpm, this one is not shy about rumbling its displeasure and encouraging you to change down. None of which, of course, is incorporated into the official fuel consumption calculations which, I strongly suspect, is why the car has been geared this way in the first place…
Should I buy one?
This is a car in which Honda at least places a lot of confidence, a fact it is more than happy to demonstrate by asking you to put your money where its mouth is.
And even if you forget extremely expensive GT version more lowly models remain premium-priced, the EX costing more than either the most expensive diesel Ford Focus, Alfa Romeo Giulietta or non GTI-chassis’d diesel Golf you can buy. Given that these represent the most able cars the Civic is likely to encounter any time soon, that’s fighting talk.
Is it up to it? Can Honda take an old Civic and so transform what was never a very good car even when new into something than can take on the best brand new designs and the established class leader?
In a word, no. But to a certain sort of customer, a family man or woman who most values interior space, fuel consumption, mechanical refinement and safety I expect it might yet craft a compelling case for itself.
And no matter who you are, you should know the Civic is radically improved, far more so than its looks might suggest.
In short the Civic is good enough to be regarded as if not a new car, then at least one that has been effectively renewed. But what is beyond doubt is that for 10th generation of Civic, coming to a showroom near you some time in 2018, nothing less than a clean sheet will be required.
Honda Civic 2.2i DTEC EX GT
Price: £26,595; Top speed: 135mph; 0-62mph: 8.8sec; Economy: 64.2mpg; Co2: 115g/km; Kerbweight: 1367kg; Engine: 4 cyls in line, 2199cc, turbocharged diesel; Power: 148bhp at 4000rpm; Torque lb ft: 258lb ft at 2000rpm; Gearbox: 6-sp manual.