From £18,4758
Honda’s all-new Civic has had the quirks beaten out of it and ends up more broadly competitive — but also a lot more ordinary

Our Verdict

Honda Civic

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

What is it?

For the past 10 years, the Honda Civic has provided a handy reference point for anyone shopping for a new hatchback. Family five-doors simply haven’t come any more wonderfully weird.

When the eighth-generation Civic was unveiled in 2006, it challenged accepted norms on mechanical layout, as well as what constituted appealing styling and a tolerably comfortable ride and handling compromise in a modern hatchback. And when the ninth-generation car followed, the daring styling and innovative packaging (fuel tank located under the front seats, making room for the cleverest and most versatile rear seats that any hatchback has yet known) were carried over, while the jostlingly firm ride and rapier steering were toned down.

Now it’s all change. Civic generation 10 trades ‘alternative’ for ‘competitive’ in so many ways. In a switch that bears witness to how difficult it has become to launch a truly outstanding car in one of Europe’s most crowded market segments, Honda is moving away from the original thinking that made the British-built Civic an exemplar of quirky innovation. Instead, it has apparently accepted the need to play by the same rules as the Volkswagen Group, PSA Peugeot Citroën, the Renault-Nissan Alliance, Toyota and everybody else.

So the new Civic hatchback has switched to an all-new global platform shared with its US-market saloon and coupé derivatives. It is significantly larger than before and is now a whisker under 4.5 metres in length, with a 2.7m wheelbase that becomes the longest in the European C-segment.

Two-thirds of the engine line-up is new. There are two downsized turbocharged VTEC petrols ranging from 1.0 to 1.5-litres and 127bhp to 180bhp. The 118bhp 1.6-litre i-DTEC diesel, which is due to join the Civic range six months after launch, is the only combustive carry-over.

The Civic is wider and lower than its predecessor, too. Its body-in-white is both 16kg lighter than that of the last Civic and 52% more torsionally rigid, and the car’s centre of gravity is 10mm lower. Most of which sounds like good news.

And yet, to lower the floor, roofline and centre of gravity sufficiently, to better locate its driver at the centre of its driving experience spatially, and to create the necessary cabin space to rival the leading European hatchback set, Honda has reverted to sitting the fuel tank in the conventional place, just ahead of the rear axle, and jettisoned those ingenious ‘magic’ rear seats. This will be greatly regretted by pottery collectors, cello players and downhill mountain bikers all over the UK.

A more upmarket cabin ambience and a more engaging drive are the gains offered up as payback for the Civic’s relocation towards the notional five-door mainstream, the latter facilitated by independent rear suspension on all versions of the car and new four-stage adaptive dampers fitted to upper-level Sport-badged models. And it was with a short test drive in a 180bhp 1.5-litre VTEC Turbo Sport that Honda allowed us an early taste of exactly what has been gained.

What's it like?

In the metal, the new Civic is unmistakably big. Given tacit permission to grow, in European showrooms at least, by the void where the Honda Accord used to be, the car has what designers call ‘good stance’: it looks wide, with its wheels dragged out towards the corners, and has a gently curving roofline. There’s little of the visual compactness that the Civic has traded on so effectively over four decades.

The oversized grille, air intakes and lights, meanwhile, are fairly transparent attempts to disguise the car’s bulk and decorate what’s a relatively unimaginative shape compared with what Civic customers will be used to. It may be true that the Civic’s styling has, for a decade now, put certain buyers off – but you wouldn’t bet that this new version, although smart-enough looking, will definitely do the opposite.

The biggest change inside is the driving position. Moving the fuel tank has allowed Honda to lower the driver’s hip point by 35mm, so you feel much less perched up at the wheel than in the outgoing Civic and you have more head room.

But the layout of the dashboard has significantly altered, too. Gone are the old car’s split-level instruments and driver-focused asymmetrical fascia, and in comes an architecture that’s a little more expensive to the touch and space-efficient, albeit much more ordinary on the eye. The rev counter and speedo are on a colour TFT screen, which is flanked by stylised digital temperature and fuel gauges. But counted together, they lend the interior only a superficial air of technical sophistication that Honda’s new 7.0in touchscreen infotainment system attempts, but ultimately struggles, to build on.

Material quality is high almost everywhere, but the cabin’s sense of perceived quality isn’t so cleverly conjured as it is in an Audi A3 or Volkswagen Golf. The Civic has a soft-touch roll-top dashboard pad, but its plastics are otherwise mostly hard. Although its switchgear feels very solid and robust, the Civic’s button consoles aren’t as skilfully arranged as they could be and don’t look or feel as designed or expensive as an A3’s.

Plenty of existing Civic owners will be more interested, you’d imagine, in usability than in premium feel, though, and the better news is that making the Civic grow has compensated for the abandonment of what made the previous car so cleverly packaged. Passenger space in the second row is good, with plenty of leg room and head room for all but the tallest adults, and boot space is close to class-leading, at 478 litres with the back seats in place.

But here’s the bad news for all those new owners whom Honda has been hoping to conquest. Making the Civic that much bigger hasn’t, unsurprisingly, made it much more engaging to drive. Not, at any rate, to the extent that you’d notice on the 30min test route that Honda permitted us. The 1.5-litre turbocharged petrol engine offers significantly better real-world performance and drivability than the current Civic’s normally aspirated lumps, and there’s refinement and roundedness to the dynamic character that should suit the car's existing customer base very nicely. But even in Sport trim (which buys you those adaptive dampers, sporty styling and a centrally mounted sports exhaust), the Civic isn’t a shining reason for a keen driver not to buy a Seat Leon, Ford Focus, Mazda 3 or any of the other hatchbacks at the sportier end of this segment.

The Civic steers with well-judged pace and weight and it corners precisely, with strong grip levels and more than adequate body control. That it doesn’t exactly feel agile or brilliantly balanced underneath you has more to do with the long wheelbase than anything, but there’s no mistaking the fact that it doesn’t.

There’s also certainly no mistaking what the Civic does best: ride. With those adaptive dampers set to Normal mode, there’s pleasing compliance and decent isolation about the way that the car interacts with the road surface, and the new rear axle deals with mid-corner bumps very effectively indeed. Select Dynamic and the ride becomes tauter but retains a sense of pragmatism and decent bump absorption.

Honda’s new 1.5-litre turbo engine, meanwhile, seems like a worthwhile step forwards for the Civic – without quite seeming like the best motor of its kind. It has good throttle response and a mid-range delivery that’s strong but not so strong as to feel abrupt or non-linear. It’s quiet and smooth at low and medium revs and gets slightly noisy and breathless above 5000rpm – at least a part of which may be exacerbated by that sports exhaust.

Should I buy one?

Received wisdom suggests that hatchback buyers want their cars to be good at everything, and if that notion is to be trusted – if cars just don’t get on the company fleet lists these days unless they’re all so similar that they’re damn near equally quick, economical and practical and generally of a type – then moving the Civic into the segment’s centre ground could be a sales masterstroke.

As you might have already surmised, this tester is sad to see a car that stood out for being genuinely different replaced by one so conservative. Nevertheless, the new Civic is still a long way from dull or insipid, and if its change of character gives you permission to consider one, chances are you’ll still find it a refreshing break from the norm.

Honda Civic 1.5 VTEC Turbo Sport

Location Frankfurt, Germany; On sale March 2017; Price £21,500 (est); Engine 4 cyls, 1498cc, turbo, petrol; Power 180bhp at 5500rpm; Torque 177lb ft at 1900rpm; Gearbox 6-spd manual; Kerb weight tbc; 0-62mph tbc; Top speed tbc; Economy 47.1mpg; CO2/tax band 137g/km, 24%  Rivals VW Golf 1.4 TSI, Audi A3 Sportback 1.4 TSI

Join the debate

Comments
28

7 November 2016
It's absolutely hideous!

But at least they have done something about the ride, having driven a 2008 version which was ridiculously hard.

It seems car makers have forgotten how to make something that attracts the buyer to it, this is the kind of car you're going to have to justify to everyone.

7 November 2016
Finally Honda have seen sense and replaced those dire 1.4 and 1.8 NA engines. The 1.4 took a 13.5 seconds to reach 60, which was probably due to it needing a nearly 5000 revs to hit maximum torque. The article summarised it perfectly "The 1.5-litre turbocharged petrol engine offers significantly better real-world performance and drivability than the current Civic’s normally aspirated lumps" END OF!

 

Hydrogen cars just went POP

7 November 2016
xxxx wrote:

Finally Honda have seen sense and replaced those dire 1.4 and 1.8 NA engines. The 1.4 took a 13.5 seconds to reach 60, which was probably due to it needing a nearly 5000 revs to hit maximum torque. The article summarised it perfectly "The 1.5-litre turbocharged petrol engine offers significantly better real-world performance and drivability than the current Civic’s normally aspirated lumps" END OF!

Honda NA lumps are very nice. They needed updating for sure, but when they were modern, they made the best 4 cylinder engines bar none. They certainly aren't dire in the sense that Vauxhall engines are dire.

10 November 2016
winniethewoo wrote:
xxxx wrote:

Finally Honda have seen sense and replaced those dire 1.4 and 1.8 NA engines. The 1.4 took a 13.5 seconds to reach 60, which was probably due to it needing a nearly 5000 revs to hit maximum torque. The article summarised it perfectly "The 1.5-litre turbocharged petrol engine offers significantly better real-world performance and drivability than the current Civic’s normally aspirated lumps" END OF!

Honda NA lumps are very nice. They needed updating for sure, but when they were modern, they made the best 4 cylinder engines bar none. They certainly aren't dire in the sense that Vauxhall engines are dire.

Nope they're dire for my reasons given, you must think no torque till 1.3 million revs and a 0-60 time of 13.5 seconds is good. Fair play to you for defending the indefenseiable with your anti-GM bias.

 

Hydrogen cars just went POP

16 November 2016
But to be fair GM cars are s.h.i.t!

7 November 2016
Honda is gambling a lot on this car and has poured a lot of investment into it. It has gone back to a more sophisticated design of rear suspension, which no doubt helps the ride whilst also assisting the handling. Tests I have seen from the US rate is highly, and people there seem more amenable to the 'stealth fighter' inspired styling (really?). The size of the thing would actually put me off, but that's secondary to the looks, especially that grille arrangement ...
The car-buying public gets what it deserves, unfortunately ...

7 November 2016
Otherwise Honda's future in Europe is questionable, as is the Swindon plant which now I believe builds only Civics. But what is effectively an American design with a hatchback to suit European preferences isn't the best starting point. It just seems slightly wrong that a model once renowned for its bold design and innovation has now become so conservative. Maybe it's just got the wrong badge on it: viewed as a compact, cut price replacement Accord it might fare better...

7 November 2016
I think the article nailed the positioning of this car, not only is it a replacement for the current Civic, but it and the CRV are replacements for the Accord, a car which like the Legend grew too big and expensive for UK/EU tastes.

So it is effectively straddling the C/D segments, hedging their bets. Selling as a compact to the US market where the larger size means it can be successful.

Think of it less as a successor to the "Rocket door handles" Civic and more of a modern day 5 door mk5 Accord.

7 November 2016
The 'ride' sounds highly appealing but no mention of refinement and road noise, traditional Honda failings. Not that I would ever buy one, like most manufacturers they keep lowering the seating when I prefer not to be looking up SUV's tailpipes.

7 November 2016
I loved the previous 2 generation civics for looking unique and attractive and while I am in no doubt the new car is far more sophisticated etc I can only say and I cannot be subtle: that its Fucking ugly- YUK!
One of the ugliest cars I have ever seen!
Oh well a Lexus it is then for my next purchase.
Gad!

Pages

Add your comment

Log in or register to post comments

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week

  • Skoda-Karoq 2.0 TDI 4x4
    First Drive
    16 October 2017
    Diesel version of Skoda’s junior SUV is unobtrusive and undemanding, but we’d still go for the silkier petrol version of the Karoq
  • Audi Q7 e-tron
    First Drive
    16 October 2017
    Expensive and flawed but this understated diesel-electric Audi Q7 has a lot to offer
  • Citroën C3
    First Drive
    16 October 2017
    Is the third gen Citroën C3 ‘fresh and different’ enough to take on its supermini rivals? We spend six months with one to find out
  • BMW X3
    First Drive
    15 October 2017
    A satisfying rework of the X3 that usefully improves its handling, cabin finish, space and connectivity to make this BMW a class front-runner again
  • Vauxhall Insignia Country Tourer
    First Drive
    13 October 2017
    Off-road estate is now bigger, more spacious and available with torque-vectoring all-wheel drive, but is it enough to make its German rivals anxious?