What is it?
A prototype of the forthcoming Honda Civic Tourer, bound for UK showrooms in early 2014. And it’s aimed directly at the market-leading compact estate – the Skoda Octavia Estate. Alright, maybe the Octavia isn’t actually so small – but it does have more than 600-litres of boot space under the parcel shelf; something that European buyers are responding to in large numbers. Target number one for the Civic load-lugger, then, was to match that boot volume.
And thanks to the Civic’s space-efficient torsion beam rear suspension system, they’ve hit the bullseye. Seats up and tonneau in place, you get more than 600 litres of storage here, rising to more than 1500 litres with everything folded: numbers that could put a BMW 3-series Touring in the shade. And all that from a car you wouldn’t guess belonged at the capacious end of the class by the way it looks outwardly.
What's it like?
The Civic Tourer is on the same wheelbase as the standard five-door hatchback. It will be built at HMUK Swindon, and uses the hatchback’s engines and major mechanicals – with one addition: adaptive dampers sourced from Sachs. Uniquely, they’re offered as an option for the rear axle only – Honda’s justification being that by dropping the adaptive units on the front they can produce an adaptive chassis with 80 per cent of the functionality of a four-corner system but at half the cost, weight and complexity.
Makes a pragmatic kind of sense typical of Honda – and it works quite well. At a steady state cruise in any car, the greater proportion of ride control flows from the rear axle, and you become very aware of that fact when flicking between ‘Comfort’, ‘Normal’ and ‘Dynamic’ modes on the Civic’s centre stack and perceiving plenty of difference. Not as much as you’d feel in magnetorhelogically damped Audi, or even a VW Golf with adaptive dampers – but enough to make the system worth having.
Our test allowed drives in both a standard passively damped Tourer and an adaptively damped one. The standard car’s a little on the firm-riding side; has to be, says Honda, to provide decent body control with max load onboard. It’s fine – just not quite as roundly impressive as the five-door Civic 1.6 i-DTEC we drove earlier this year.
‘Comfort’ mode on the actively damped car, however, adds a more supple, loping motorway compliance that the passively damped Civic wagon can’t quite match. It also seems to take little precision or feel away from the steering, nor allows the car’s body to wallow. Because the dampers are active, they automatically compensate for load and for a tortuous road surface, firming up in both compression and rebound when necessary. Their function feels a bit like the air-sprung rear-end of a Mercedes E-class Estate, without the automatic self-levelling.
The car rides quietly too, and has pleasing weight and feedback through the steering wheel rim. Handling balance is very decent; rounded, with a slight stability bias, which is exactly as it should be in a car like this.