What is it?
This is the new Honda Civic EX Sport Line. Essentially, it’s the sort of sensibly shaped family car you might buy if you want something that looks vaguely like a hardcore hot hatchback but don't need the associated hardcore ride or performance. Think of it as a Civic Type R lite, or something to that effect.
Previously, the Civic Sport Line was based on the lower-rung SR trim, but this has been changed for 2020 and it now uses the plusher EX model as its foundation.
As such, there has been a bit of a price jump (the old car cost from £22,750, whereas this new one starts at £25,510) but standard equipment has also been increased. It now has adaptive dampers and heated seats, and a more comprehensive suite of safety systems has been thrown in, too.
Then, of course, there’s the fact that it gets all those extra sporting flourishes, such as glossy black 17in alloy wheels, a more aggressive bodykit, a small new rear spoiler and contrasting interior stitching. It’s never really going to be mistaken for a full-fat Type R, not even if you squint, but that’s probably the point, I guess.
What's it like?
As before, the Civic Sport Line is available with just one engine option: Honda’s 1.0-litre three-cylinder petrol. And once again, it can be paired with either a six-speed manual or CVT gearbox, that - as always - sends power to the front wheels.
The motor produces a modest 124bhp (hardly Type R-baiting but, again, that’s probably the point) and torque is either 148lb ft or 133lb ft, depending on which of the two transmissions you pick. For the avoidance of doubt, the manual gets the powerplant with the greater twist.
It’s the manual that you’ll want to go for, too. The CVT offers marginally better fuel economy and, on the outgoing NEDC cycle, is a single CO2 emissions bracket cheaper to tax but, purely from a driving standpoint, it’s the stick shift that has the edge.
This is because Honda’s six-speed manual ’box is an absolute peach. Mechanical, accurate and wonderfully tactile, it’s just really, really nice to interact with. In this guise, the motor isn’t too bad, either. It can struggle for shove at very low revs, but once up and running, it pulls enthusiastically and sounds the part. It’s not exactly quick, but it feels urgent enough so as not to feel grossly under-endowed.
By contrast, the CVT falls into that old trap of flaring the revs and holding them at around 5000-5500rpm on a wide open throttle. So what began as quite a characterful and enjoyable aural accompaniment to your acceleration in the manual model is morphed into more of a tedious drone in the CVT. Still, cabin isolation is pretty good, so engine noise or transmission whine never become too overbearing.