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Honda’s 10th-generation Civic hatchback goes global — but is that good news?

Starting from scratch is never a quick, easy or cheap thing for a car maker to do.

Plenty of them claim to do it every time they replace any model, but when the 10th-generation Honda Civic is claimed to be part of a project stretching back fully seven years, and that Honda says making it has cost more money, time and effort than any other model replacement programme in its history (including, presumably, the Honda Honda NSX), you begin to believe that ‘all-new’, in this instance, really means just that.

All-new platform gives the Civic the second-longest wheelbase in the hatchback class, and independent rear suspension for the first time in three model generations

Your eyes confirm as much when you first see the car. Having grown significantly longer and wider than the outgoing 2012-2017 Honda Civic as well as becoming lower to the ground, the new model has distanced itself from the unorthodox styling that, more than anything else, made its predecessor a bit of a niche choice.

The new Civic has abandoned the unorthodox layout that allowed the previous couple of generations their flip-up rear seat cushions, favouring instead a design that prioritises the lower centre of gravity, low-slung driving position, widened axle tracks and plenty more besides that suggest handling dynamism and driver engagement ought to be chief among the car’s most attractive qualities.

Also offered is a pair of all-new turbocharged petrol engines directly related to the one that powered the Honda Civic Type R hot hatch of 2015.

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For all those reasons and more, this new model promises to offer a greater challenge to Europe’s five-door hatchback elite than any of its forebears and demands the chance to prove itself in a full Autocar road test.

The new Civic also brings greater strategic importance for the factory in which it is made. Honda’s UK manufacturing facility in Swindon will be the global production hub for the five-door Civic – the only factory in the world where Civic hatchbacks will be made.

So will the ‘global car’ treatment serve the Civic brand better than the left-field, Euro-centric approach has? 

 

DESIGN & STYLING

Honda Civic rear

The philosophy that brought us the previous two generations of ‘European’ Civic has been shattered into tiny pieces by this new car.

With a global audience in mind and the outgoing Civic’s underwhelming record of European success as an advert for the alternative approach, Honda decided that hatchback buyers on this continent are not as sensitive to size as they once thought.

Electronic parking brakes that take a Fred Flintstone-style stamp on the foot brake to disengage are held in low regard by us. The weight of a dead butterfly ought to be enough, Honda

Bigger, then, is better. The new Honda Civic is 136mm longer than the car it replaces, representing a growth spurt the likes of which you almost never see among cars cracked up to be compact. It’s 30mm wider, too, and 20mm lower, the latter measurement further enhancing the former, while its wheelbase is within millimetres of being the longest in the class.

The new all-steel monocoque platform makes for a slightly lighter but also significantly stiffer body-in-white structure than that which went before. But it’s the repositioning of the car’s fuel tank (formerly in a quirky location under the previous-generation car’s front seats) to where it’s most commonly found under the back seats that has allowed Honda to drop the driver’s hip point by some 35mm, as well as lowering its cabin floor and dropping its overall centre of gravity by a full 10mm.

The previous Civic’s atmospheric petrol engines have been dropped and a new pair of aluminium-blocked turbocharged replacements ushered in.

The smaller of the two displaces just under a litre and has three cylinders, direct fuel injection and a peak power output of 127bhp. The larger one, powering our test car, is a 1.5-litre four-cylinder unit with 180bhp and 177lb ft.

Both engines adopt Honda’s trademark i-VTEC valve timing technology and both, says Honda, are directly related to the 306bhp 2.0-litre turbo that powered the outgoing Civic Type R. A 1.6-litre i-DTEC turbodiesel joins the Civic’s engine range later this year.

Otherwise, it’s the car’s suspension that shows the most evidence of change. While the previous Civic used space-saving torsion beam rear suspension, this new one switches to a multi-link set-up that should allow Honda greater ride and handling tuning potential. Adaptive damping is also now available on both axles, having been pioneered on the rear axle of the outgoing Civic Tourer. Our upper mid-level Sport Plus-specification test car had it.

INTERIOR

Honda Civic interior

The wholesale changes made to the Honda Civic’s interior ought to prove less decisive than those performed on its exterior.

All that extra wheelbase length has edged the cabin towards Skoda Octavia-style spaciousness, and Honda’s never-ending quest to deliver ‘premium’ surroundings has continued apace – which isn’t to say, of course, that everyone will be happy.

Honda has a history of doing clever things with tonneau covers. The Civic’s side-mounted affair would be great in a seven-seater, because you wouldn’t need to remove it in order to put the back seats up

The repositioning of the fuel tank has necessitated a rethink of the ingenious ‘Magic’ rear seats, meaning there’s no flipping the seat bases up and out of the way in order to fit unusually tall loads behind the front seats.

That’s a shame, but elsewhere the shift towards conventionality feels more like a maturing than a backward step.

Because the fuel tank no longer resides under the front seats, Honda has been able to drop the driver considerably closer to the lower floor – more so, perhaps, than in any rival family hatch.

The consequence for keen motorists is considerable and indulged further by a dashboard that replaces the discordant quirky surfaces of its predecessor for something much sleeker.

Cleverly inclined and now with a proper centre console and stack, the Civic feels more at ease with its switchgear placement and is easier on the eye and, yes, easily more grown up, too.

A peerless amalgamation of materials it isn’t. The plastic overdose prescribed by the previous generation is partly addressed by fewer hollow-sounding surfaces, but Honda still isn’t as good at handling the cabin’s cheaper plastics as well as Volkswagen or even Mazda are.

That won’t concern those in the rear, though, where passengers ought to come as close to stretching out as this class of car realistically allows.

The boot is no less generously proportioned; the Sport Plus’s 420 litres of seats-up capacity easily eclipses the class yardstick, and (even without any sorcery occurring under the rear bench) it expands to 770 litres with an admirably flat floor.

The 770mm of load space height won’t stop previously indulged mountain bikers from grumbling – but the price for such orthodoxy is ultimately well paid out.

Honda’s Connect infotainment system is now in its second generation, and in its generosity of specification at least, Sport Plus’s 7.0in touchscreen can hardly be faulted.

There’s sat-nav (supplied by Garmin), two USB sockets and one HDMI jack, a DAB tuner, Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and an upgraded eight-speaker audio system. Short of generating its own wi-fi hotspot without needing a connection to your phone, that’s pretty much everything on our family hatch wish list covered.

Only the usability suffers slightly in comparison with rival units, mostly because the fixed controls to the right-hand side of the touchscreen (audio, home, volume, menu and back) require an overly assertive finger push to operate.

Had Honda supplied a three-dimensional knob for the volume control and a physical button for back, the system’s broader quirks might have been less noticeable. Trifling stuff, perhaps, but ease of use tends to describe the difference between first-rate infotainment and the rest. 

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

1.5-litre i-VTEC Honda Civic petrol engine

For a company that prides itself on making fine petrol engines, the comparative performance of the outgoing four-cylinder units will have been a source of mild distress to Honda.

Credit where it’s due, then: the Civic’s turbocharged replacements return the firm to the cutting-edge fold – and in a way that remains idiosyncratically pleasing, too.

The dampers could do a better job of keeping the car’s weight in check over larger bumps

We’ve driven the new three-cylinder motor elsewhere and complimented its well-mannered usability and inherent parsimoniousness, but the larger 1.5-litre four is demonstratively the much more potent option.

Honda claims a 0-62mph time of 8.3sec, but we went half a second quicker to 60mph with more than 200kg of collective road tester heft aboard.

Not so long ago, that would have been sufficient for hot hatch respectability, but even now it lands the Civic comfortably at the head of the downsized petrol field and equivalent to the kind of performance we’ve previously wrested from the hybridised VW Golf GTE.

The Honda Civic’s delivery is no less likeable, primarily because the introduction of forced induction has not made an empty acronym of VTEC.

In fact, while there is now inevitably more twist to play with than before, with 177lb ft available from 1900rpm, it is of a lazier and less substantial sort than the forcefully linear Golf GTE  – as evidenced by the Honda’s tendency to move from  30-70mph and out of low revs at a noticeably slower pace.

So while the Civic’s functionality at medium crank speeds is improved, it still politely suggests that it is building to something – that being the unexpectedly keen and pleasantly reminiscent surge that appears at 4000rpm and remains unfettered until the limiter at 6500rpm.

It is this hard-edged eagerness – and the immodest 180bhp that appears at 5500rpm – that differentiates the Civic from most of its rivals, just as it agreeably connects it to the brand’s recent past.

Combined with 49.6mpg touring potential and an amenable six-speed manual gearbox, that makes the 1.5 i-VTEC Turbo a genuine selling point.

RIDE & HANDLING

Honda Civic cornering

Now some slightly less encouraging news.

All Honda’s talk of added handling dynamism for the new Civic was to be swallowed with a big pinch of salt, it turns out.

Decent handling response makes it easy to hit apexes, but the front washes wide when you come back on the power

Much as the firm is keen to grow and subtly change the Civic’s customer base, it plainly couldn’t afford to alienate the more traditional core who like a pleasant, comfortable and easy-to-drive hatchback – and they will find a lot to like about this new one.

Driven at everyday speeds on most UK roads, the Civic feels solid, planted, settled and reassuring. To point out that it has ‘big-car’ feel hardly seems necessary, given that it’s plainly a relatively large car among its rivals.

And yet the meaty weight and moderate pace of its steering, the excellent ‘bump-thump’ isolation of its generally smooth ride and the stability-first bias of its handling all show how the impression of a bigger saloon has been engineered in here.

First-rate suppression of wind noise would make the Honda Civic remarkably quiet if not for the fact that a slightly intrusive amount of road roar finds its way into the cabin.

It’s only a problem over particularly coarse surfaces but is at odds with the Civic’s general demeanour as a hatchback so comfortable, refined, spacious and mature-feeling that it could otherwise almost pass for a more expensive saloon.

That the Civic doesn’t handle with the natural agility of a smaller five-door, despite the influence of that lower centre of gravity, is disappointing, but it was predictable, and it’s no particularly stinging criticism in a class where a dwindling number of hatchbacks really deliver an engaging driving experience.

The Honda is a long way from a chore to drive quickly, though.

Its handling is precise and responsive enough and its grip levels are fairly high, but the fluency that our test car’s adaptive dampers provided just above town speeds is replaced by a slightly grabby, fussy ride at higher motorway speeds and on quicker A and B-roads.

Beyond a certain speed, the electronically augmented suspension appears more interested in dialling out body movement as quickly and completely as possible than in maintaining good, predictable body control, and it becomes hard to read and tough to take confidence from at times.

Although it proved acceptably precise and composed around the Millbrook Hill Route, in harder cornering our Civic test car felt like it might have benefited from Honda’s optional 18in wheels and more performance-orientated tyres than the Michelin Primacy rubber with which it was fitted.

While body control was good and grip levels high enough to carry plenty of speed on a smooth surface, when that adhesion ran out it made the car understeer on corner exit and scrabble at the asphalt a little untidily.

The Hill Route’s bigger bumps and compressions provided tough tests for the Honda’s damping reserves — and it didn’t always pass with distinction, lacking fluency under higher vertical loads and allowing bumps to disturb stability slightly.

The car’s electronic stability control system worked fairly well but didn’t prevent power-on understeer as neatly as it might have.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

Honda Civic review hero front

Building the Honda Civic in Swindon is to Honda’s advantage when it comes to the UK market, but that hasn’t meant customers here have enjoyed rock-bottom prices – mostly because the brand is famously adamant about the model’s positioning, and such a policy generally negates the kind of bargain basement options that Kia and Vauxhall typically offer.

As a result, the Civic line-up starts beyond £18k for a 1.0 SE and stops (excluding the fifth-generation Type R) at just shy of £28k for a 1.5-litre Prestige with CVT.

A residual value of 41 percent after three years is a decent result. It should make for competitive monthly deals

In between the two are SR, EX, Sport and Sport Plus, the last of which, after paint, costs £25,930.

In Volkswagen Golf terms (very much Honda’s benchmark), that amount would until recently have seen you into a similarly high-spec GT Edition with a 148bhp 1.4 TSI engine, or else a Ford Focus Titanium X with a 180bhp 1.5-litre petrol unit.

In other words, the Civic is equipped and priced to compete with the best of its competitors, not the cheapest.

Honda does, at least, simplify the ordering process by bundling plenty of kit into the quietly ambitious price. The entry-level SE gets 16in alloy wheels and LED daytime running lights, but makes do with manual air conditioning inside the cabin. The step-up SE model comes with climate control, front and rear parking sensors, DAB radio with USB and bluetooth.

The SR variant adds 17in alloys, privacy glass, and body coloured door mirrors outside, along with a 7.0in touchscreen infotainment system with Android Auto and Apple Carplay, dual-zone climate control and a rear parking camera. EX trim gains adaptive dampers, leather interior with heated front seats, an uprated stereo system and sunroof. The optional Technology pack adds wireless charging for your smarthphone, LED headlights and rear heated seats.

Our advice would be to avoid the Sport Plus trim, despite the generous equipment list, and opt for the slightly cheaper Sport trim at £22,540, which adds more aggressive front and rear sills, a central dual exhaust, and paddle shifters (if you opt for the CVT automatic).

A C-segment hatch with a touchscreen infotainment and sat-nav, adaptive dampers, premium audio, LED headlights, a full suite of active safety kit and 180bhp isn’t a bad deal for £25k, after all, and a 133g/km CO2 output makes it broadly competitive with its rivals.

 

VERDICT

4 star Honda Civic

The 10th-generation Civic has been subjected to an awful lot of change – only to feel, to our eyes, as if it hasn’t quite changed enough.

After the hard-riding eighth-generation car was roundly criticised for not being comfortable enough, it isn’t surprising that Honda wasn’t bolder with this Civic’s dynamic tuning.

Radically altered Civic isn’t really so different to drive after all

Considering the new car’s size and bulk, and the need for it to appeal to buyers in the US and elsewhere as well as here, this may well be as far as Honda could have taken the car on driver appeal.

This is progress, after all. The Honda Civic’s new turbocharged engine gives it an energetic flavour and a turn of pace that no version of the previous car enjoyed, and there’s some dynamic composure and sophistication here to allow keener drivers to enjoy that pace.

Driving experience aside, the new Civic is plainly a practical, generally refined, quietly upmarket, creditably economical and well-equipped car – and on all of those respects, it’s decent value, although pricey.

We regret that it isn’t a bit more fun, but we also recognise that it’s early days for this car and that there’s plenty more to come in that department. That is why overall we can only place the Civic behind the Audi A3 Sportback, Seat Leon, Ford Focus and the ever-present Volkswagen Golf.

 

Honda Civic 2017-2022 First drives