First DriveThe latest generation Civic gains a diesel engine – which promises warm hatch fun and big gains in fuel economy. Can this Ford Focus rival deliver?
First DriveThe tenth generation Honda Civic ditches its space race styling but is that enough to help it make a contender in a congested segment?
Why we're running it: Competition among family hatches is fierce. So we have six months to find out if the new Honda Civic is up to the task?
Life with a Honda Civic: Month 7
The Civic departs; it'll be missed – 7 February 2018
According to an old motoring adage, if you have to measure an improvement, you haven’t made one. So there was no need, when we took delivery of our Civic, to reach for the slide rules and tape measures: one drive was enough to tell us that this all-new car was a vast improvement on the model it replaced in nearly every area.
But what people seemed to be far more interested in initially was the new car’s raffish styling. At first, I thought it so ugly I was afraid to go near it, especially at night, but as time went by I grew to love it. Our red car with black alloys looked great, and I was often asked if our humble 127bhp 1.0 triple in mid-spec SR trim was the Type R version. Young people seemed to like it, which should please Honda.
However, according to another old motoring adage, there’s no substitute for cubic inches – and, there’s no getting away from it, our Civic was rather humbly endowed. We thought the 1.0-litre engine the sweet spot in the range and its on-paper performance looks adequate but, on the road, it could feel a little short of puff, this feeling exacerbated by its unusually linear power delivery and relatively low (5500rpm) redline.
Its economy was occasionally a source of concern too. Our final overall average was 37.6mpg – still good, but not exceptionally so.
It could all get a bit vocal too. The engine produced its own distinctive offbeat burble, but it was the road noise that offended the most. The Civic’s fat tyres looked great but their wide footprint could kick up the decibels, especially on motorways.
But here I must stop, because it’s beginning to sound like we didn’t enjoy our time with the Civic when the opposite was true – we loved it. It won’t surprise you to learn that in our 5000 miles with it, nothing went wrong, nothing fell off and, with the exception of the tyre pressure warning light pinging on once, not one thing gave us cause for concern.
All who drove it enthused about it too. It starts off with the low driving position, which I loved, and the clear and logical layout of the dash and the controls. The gearlever falls to hand and that gearchange is a slick delight. Best of all is the steering, which is ideally weighted and a joy to use.
It was more than spacious enough for my family of four, and the boot was cavernous, with a super-useful false boot floor. The infotainment system was a bit of a pain and the visibility was limited by the bar across the rear window, but at least we enjoyed a rear view camera as part of our SR trim.
This car felt like a Honda of old, quasi-sporting, thoughtfully engineered and solidly made. Back in the day, the firm’s small motorbikes felt like mildly detuned versions of their super-sporting machinery, and that’s how this car felt – a bit like a de-tuned Civic Type R.
So don’t measure improvements. Is the Civic a good car? Yes. Would I recommend it? Yes. Would I run one again? Yup, certainly would.
Life with a Honda Civic: Month 6
The Civic does well delivering the goods – 28 December 2017
Pressed to the task, our Civic always delivers.
Well, at least it delivered a lot of house items of indivisible and varying sizes to a rented storage unit, prior to a recent house sale.
The boot is a bit of a stunner: big, wide and mostly flat, with an easily removable parcel shelf. The total capacity is 1580 litres. Pity the rear seats don’t fold fully flat, though.
Life with a Honda Civic: Month 5
Is the long-term Civic a good cruiser – 15 November 2017
The Civic’s motorway manners are altogether quite amiable.
The lane assist is effective yet unobtrusive, the ride is controlled at speed and the seating position is comfortable over a long distance.
Just one foible stops it from being a decent cruiser: fuel economy. An average return of 36mpg over 400 miles of motorway is not enough to justify downsizing to this car’s 1.0-litre triple.
Life with a Honda Civic: Month 4
Tyre pressure japes with the Civic – 18 October 2017
The Civic’s let me down. Well, sort of, and not, I should add, in any major way.
Rather, the tyre pressure warning light pinged on just as I joined the M25. It prompted a slow 40-mile trudge to the next service station, where the tyre gauge then showed nothing to be wrong.
The light has subsequently gone out of its own (pardon the pun) accord.
Getting to grips with the Civic’s design – 20 September 2017
Like or loathe the look of our Civic’s edgy styling, the car certainly has its benefits in other areas.
I’ve mentioned before how the lower stance has improved its dynamics and how the sporty driving position ups the feel-good factor inside.
So does the steering: it’s well weighted and geared (with a variable ratio, in fact, but not done so sharply that you’d notice) at a quick 2.14 turns from lock to lock, despite which its turning circle is a respectable 11m.
I approve of that and also of its handling, which borders on fun – and if its road-holding is no better than you might expect of a car wearing Michelin Primacy 3 tyres (even in such a generous size as our 235/45 R17s), at least the whole driving experience feels like it’s been engineered by someone who gives a damn.
— Darren Moss (@darren_moss) June 23, 2017
For example, it has a novel rear parcel shelf. It’s basically a thin sheet of fabric that can, like a roller blind, be pulled out from one end and then hooked into place at the other, or tucked away completely to provide unhindered access to the boot.
You can even remove the cartridge that holds the rolled-up shelf. This is good, as it looks flash in the showroom and is a dazzlingly simple idea. Only thing is, it’s not strong enough to hold anything. It presumably is not very effective at stopping any noise penetrating into the interior either, although it will at least hide some of your valuables out of sight in the boot.
Don’t worry, though – overall, our Civic is standing up well to its short-distance commutes and high-speed thrashings, as well as large and indivisible loads in the boot and heavy-handed teenagers in the interior.
There are one or two scuffs on the cheaper-looking fabrics that don’t seem to have brushed out quite as easily as we’d have liked but, overall, the quality of the interior plastics, many and varied as they are, is impresses.
Added to that, all the switches feel plush and work well, the ergonomics are first rate and the steering wheel feels good.
The panel gaps, large and, occasionally uneven, I’m not so sure about. But I’m not unduly fussed – the Civic is one of the most reliable cars in its class, and that in itself is probably a better sign of quality.
Life with a Honda Civic: Month 3
First world problems with the Civic – 23 August 2017
It’s a pleasure to drive, this Civic. The driving position is spot on and there’s lots of room for tall drivers.
Rear passengers get plenty of leg room, too, but the swoopy profile restricts head room for anyone over six-foot.
That’s not a problem for my daughters, for whom, after several months in a Vauxhall Astra equipped with OnStar, the only thing lacking is an in-car Wi-Fi hotspot.
A few telling creaks in the Civic’s armour – 16 August 2017
Now, I would be tempted to end this report there were I not professionally obliged to report on all the things, good or bad, that I might dig up during my tenure of this car.
So I’m afraid I’ll have to list some faults that I don’t think will contradict my opening statement.
If I wholeheartedly recommend this Civic as a car to drive and to own – it has been trouble-free so far, unsurprisingly – I have to point out an area in which it disappoints considerably: the infotainment system is terrible.
It’s not just the 7.0in screen, prone to picking up glare. It’s not just the inadequacies of the touchscreen, which often needs a second prod before stirring itself into dreadfully slow action, or the shortcut icons down one side of it, hard to locate and hit, or the awful Fisher-Price graphics.
No, the single worst thing is the utterly unintuitive nature of its operation. More than once, I’ve lost the screen that lists your radio station options, and it has taken me days to find it again.
I’m still not sure how I did it. All I know is the misery of being subjected to someone else’s choice of station for days.
To be honest, finding things within the sub-menus is such a faff that I no longer bother. I can find the ‘Info’ screen that tells me how many miles per gallon I’m doing over the course of a journey, and I have learnt how to programme the sat-nav; that’s relatively easy.
The only good thing I can say about it is it’s slightly better in its responses than I remember the similar set-up being in my Honda Jazz long-term test car.
Don’t worry, though. Unlike the Jazz, the rest of this car’s great. I wish it were a fraction more economical, but that is perhaps an inevitable result of having a fairly weeny 1.0-litre engine in a large-ish car.
Drive it with any vigour and you’ll see as low as 25mpg. However, overall I’m getting 38.6mpg, and on one 60-mile journey from Surrey to Kent via a traffic-laden M25 it achieved 47.1mpg.
I now have just enough space left to tell you that the door mirrors don’t automatically fold in when you stop and the positioning of the sockets for mobile devices annoys me.
Oh, and a wine bottle in the central bin gets in the way of your gearchanging arm.
True ‘eco’ benefit or merely a con? – 09 August 2017
The Civic has one of those Econ buttons that, as far as I can work out, does absolutely nothing other than illuminate an icon on the instrument panel.
I’m told that it actually softens the throttle response and limits the air-con to achieve better fuel economy, but my figures seem to be the same whether the button is on or not.
I’m averaging a reasonable 38.6mpg overall.
Life with a Honda Civic: Month 2
Proving to be the perfect urbanite – 26 July 2017
The Civic is agile, easy to drive and a useful tool in the urban nip and tuck, as a recent trip to central London proved.
But when it came to parking in a tight space on a Kensington street, I was glad that our car has a standard-issue rear-view camera, because that swooping roofline and the bar that dissects the back window do limit its rear visibility.
The Civic’s beauty is in the eyes of its beholder – 05 July 2017
The Civic is proving popular here. The older people in the office want to borrow it for its practicality and fuel economy (40mpg-plus on longer runs) and the younger ones because it looks a little bit like the Type R.
In fact, opinion is divided pretty much 50/50 on the question of the car’s looks. I freely admit to being a convert.
When I first saw it, I thought it was so ugly that it made me weep, but I’ve grown to like our car’s fruity red bodywork and menacing black alloy wheels, and I love the length of its wheelbase and how low the car is, two factors that must contribute towards its impressive dynamics.
What has caused most people to reel in surprise is when they’re told that underneath its bonnet is a mere 1.0-litre three-cylinder engine.
Seems I'm not the only fan of the new Civic... pic.twitter.com/kGcUjFJ0AK
— Mark Pearson (@MarkRJPearson) July 26, 2017
Now, that engine has me a little divided. There is a characteristic offbeat burble at low speed that could perhaps be a little less intrusive, but to a generation brought up on the unseemly low-speed clatter of most diesels, I guess it’s barely noticeable.
If I were uncharitable, I could say the engine noise is drowned out at higher speeds by the road noise anyway.
On top of that, the car never feels as quick as its 127bhp suggests. Part of the blame must go to the car’s kerb weight (the new Civic actually weighs slightly more than the old one) and part to the illusion created by the power delivery being so linear, with no perceived step up and go.
I must admit I still prefer my engines with as many cylinders as possible, preferably with a multiple of six rather than a division of that number.
However, because I like everything else about this Civic so far, and as I’m viewing a red car through rose-tinted spectacles, I could still be converted.
Life with a Honda Civic: Month 1
Welcoming the Honda Civic to our fleet – 14 June 2017
Why, they pondered, risk a further calamity with another car that hasn’t been known for offering much in the way of dynamic involvement or driving pleasure?
I see what they mean, but I disagree. You see, if you cast your mind back to the days before penicillin you might be surprised to find that the humble Honda Civic used to cause quite a stir among keen motorists.
This was, I should add, nothing to do with the ferociously quick Type R variants that were to add such a sporting flourish to the later incarnations, but more to do with the engineering flair and clever thinking that these eminently sensible family hatchbacks have always displayed beneath their inoffensive exteriors.
The same goes for the Civic saloons, coupés, estates and MPVs, the Civic having always been nothing if not versatile. More often than not they showed up their contemporaneous rivals for the dullards they usually were.
It all started with the very first Civic, which was launched in 1972 and by 1975 had an engine (the admirable CVCC) producing such low emissions that it shook the entire US motor industry to the core and continued in a double-wishboned frenzy right up until Honda produced a spacious but distinctly unsexy MPV-style model when the Civic reached its seventh generation in the year 2000.
This version dispensed with the neat double-wishbone front suspension, its successor introducing a torsion beam rear axle into the equation, from which point the car – despite its sporting variants and its quirky styling touches – was never quite the same again.
What is now the tenth-gen Civic is now completely new: longer, lower, wider and stiffer than the car it replaces, with an all-new platform, fully independent rear suspension and the promise – with help from its new turbocharged engines – of bringing back some dynamic finesse.
And then there’s the styling – my word, the styling. Consigned to history is the unorthodox and slightly divisive look of the past two generations to be replaced by something that’s, er, unorthodox and slightly divisive.
If this new one is not exactly handsome, or even cohesive, it at least has an energy to its busy lines that warrants your attention. It brings to mind the designer Raymond Loewy’s maxim that to sell something familiar you must make it surprising, and to sell something surprising make it familiar.
More to the point, though, I think as a result of all these changes it’s now possible for a keen motorist to get a little worked up by a Civic all over again, and that’s why I’ve chosen to run one.
The one I’ve actually snapped up for our long-term fleet is a 1.0 VTEC SR version.
Our early drives of the Civic indicated that this new 127bhp 1.0-litre turbocharged triple had the edge on the more powerful 1.5-litre four when it came to driver appeal.
On paper, performance seems respectable, if not exactly thrilling, for something with such a small engine capacity, with 0-62mph listed at 10.9secs and a top speed of 127mph. More impressive, perhaps, are its official 55.4mpg and its respectable CO2 emissions of 117g/km.
My new long-term car has very cool door mirrors... pic.twitter.com/ZMB4HhLrCz
— Mark Pearson (@MarkRJPearson) April 29, 2017
Any doubts about the Civic’s more dynamic intent are soon dispelled by a quick glance at its meaty tyres. Lurking under those curious arches are 235/45 R17 gumballs, wider than a Type R would have worn a few years back and now biting the tarmac beneath what is essentially a family hatchback with an engine the size of a handkerchief. I like its sense of purpose, especially on those black alloys.
We like the look of our SR trim, too. All Honda Civics are well equipped, it has to be said, with standard features including advanced active safety technology that includes automatic city emergency braking, but our trim adds auto wipers, dual-zone climate control and a rear-view camera to what is already a long list of goodies.
Hop in and first impressions are good. The car itself is delightfully low, noticeably lower than a Volkswagen Golf or a Ford Focus. The new interior is more conventional than before, and all the better for it.
Gone is the confusing dual-level dash, replaced by an instrument cluster that’s easier on the eye and more logically laid out. The driving position is lower, too, and it’s easy to find the right set-up, even if it’s a lever, rather than a more precise rotary knob, that adjusts the seat-back angle.
It’s roomy, at least up front, though whether that sloping roofline robs it of some rear head room is something I’ll have to report back on once it’s been occupied. The boot looks positively cavernous.
If the Jazz left me indifferent, first impressions of this Civic are, by contrast, favourable.
The thrummy triple, with its linear power delivery, flat torque curve and a redline set at a surprisingly modest (for Honda) 5500rpm, pushes the Civic around with languid ease, and the steering’s precise and the gearchange is exquisite. My colleagues’ bewilderment be damned; I’m looking forward to the next six months in the Civic.
Specs: Price New £20,340; Price as tested £20,340; Options None
Test Data: Engine 3 cyls, 988cc, turbocharged petrol; Power 127bhp at 5500rpm; Torque 147lb ft at 2250rpm; Top speed 126mph; 0-62mph 10.9sec; Claimed fuel economy 55.4mpg; Test fuel economy 38.6mpg; CO2 117g/km; Faults None; Expenses None