What is it?
The new Honda Civic is due in 2017 - and the Japanese manufacturer knows that its Volkswagen Golf and Ford Focus rival needs to offer smoother, punchier and more efficient petrol engines to keep up with those rivals and cars like the latest Vauxhall Astra. Downsizing is king in the family hatchback class, it seems.
We already know that the car will get a 1.5-litre four-cylinder turbocharged engine, but now Honda has announced that the next generation of Civic will also be offered with a turbocharged 1.0-litre three-cylinder motor - and given us an early chance to try it.
The baby triple - an all-new, all-aluminium design with no balancer shaft and intake VTEC - is designed to replace the normally aspirated four-cylinder 1.8-litre petrol in the Civic’s line-up. It offers 127bhp and 148lb ft of torque, but should slash the car’s fuel consumption and CO2 emissions. Honda is aiming for 99g/km on versions with a manual transmission.
What's it like?
Our test drive took place at Honda’s R&D centre - and in an existing Civic fitted with the new engine, mated to a six-speed manual gearbox. The motor doesn’t quite have the oomph to make the car feel particularly rapid - it doesn't feel like it has 127bhp on tap, it must be said - but enough of that torque is present low down in the rev range to allow for fairly relaxed and sensible progress.
Drivers of the 1.8 will certainly notice how the turbo gives a bit more low shove in fifth and sixth gears on motorways. It's not particularly keen to rev out, though; Honda had taped an artificial redline of 5700rpm to the steering wheel to keep us in check, but in truth it felt done and dusted long before that figure came into view.
Refinement? It’s probably a tad unfair to say this, given that our car was a late prototype and an existing Civic, but it definitely sounded a bit more gruff than Ford’s Ecoboost - which manages to sound so much more sophisticated than a 1.0 triple when it’s in the Focus.
There’s not a huge amount of vibration through the pedals or seat, but Honda’s NVH engineers are going to have to work hard to make sure the next generation of Civic does a better job of suppressing that unmistakeable three-cylinder thrum, particularly at a motorway cruise, where it was too noticeable at the 3000rpm that was required for 80mph.
Should I buy one?
You can’t; you won’t be able to get this engine in the current Civic at all, in fact. When it does arrive in the next generation of the car it should have appeal to Civic devotees craving a bit more bottom-end torque than the normally-aspirated 1.8-litre units they’ve been used to. They should see real benefits in fuel economy and running costs.
Everyone else’s reaction will depend as much on how many of the existing Civic’s foibles have been ironed out - and on how good a job the new one does on making the new engine seem sophisticated and refined as well as capable and efficient. The basics are there, then, but plenty of hard work remains.
Honda Civic 1.0 prototype
Location Tochigi, Japan; On sale 2017; Price From £16,000 (est); Engine 3cyls, 1.0 litre, petrol; Power 127bhp; Torque 148lb ft; Economy 66mpg (est); CO2 emissions 99g/km (est)