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.