New Civic: Honda raids the compact class

 

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There is a bit of a buzz around at Honda because they have just released the cheeky trio of civic sedans. They are purt and perky and intentionally playful. For me, this was a chance for Honda to go all out and dazzle us with as much razzmatazz as they could muster. The say it’s modelled after the fabulously successful Accord Euro and it certainly rives like one. Civic could use a few more gadgets and the auto lights and wipers should be standard across the range but other than that it’s really rather good. The leather interior of the Sport is the pic of the crop and is much nicer than the cloth used the VTiL and Hybrid. The compact segment is positively stuff with worthy competition wanting you to spend your money on their products. That means there are lots and lots of gorgeous things car makers can chuck into a car to give is a spot of polish.

Likes: great motor with smooth auto, hybrid option, neat well designed interior, decent value for money, great ride with good handling

Dislikes: rear lights, boot only opens from key fob or a lever in cabin, plastic surrounding infotainment module feels a bit cheap, NO satnav on Japanese built models (Thai models here soon will have satnav option), no diesel engine, cloth interiors not as nice as the leather.

Outside:

All 3 models look much the same but for alloys and trim, and in the case of the hybrid a smart blue stripe in the grill. Also on the Hybrid, it’s alloys are not very pretty. They are far too chunky for my liking but I have a feeling this is to cover the fact that the rear brakes have drums.

The look is distinctly Honda with that Japanese compact neatness about it. The wedge shape leaves a large scalloped rear end with enormous taillights that swoop around and up onto the side of the car. To me, there is something not quite right about the wraparound effect. From straight on the back end is very C Class Merc but as you move around to the side the look is a trifle awkward. Perhaps, like many other examples of design, we get used to it and it becomes the new “black”.

The front of the wedge has a large friendly grill smiling back at you. In case you forgot who made it, there is an “H” the size of Tasmania right in the centre.

As for the appeal of the looks, that’s a matter for the individual to decide. It’s conservative unlike its shiny new hatchback sibling which is sharp and sporty. It still has the feel and look of quality. It’s up against Ford’s Focus and VW’s Golf so there is much stiff competition and much at stake in a crowded marketplace.

Over all, it’s smart, neat and compact and does everything it says on the box.

Inside:-

The Sports has posh leather seats and a smattering of metal trim here and there. The fabric on the hybrid and VTIL I wasn’t so fussed on. It looked a little old fashioned to me. In this case I’d choose the leather option which gives the whole cabin and air of refinement and luxury. It’s not quite the same story for the hyrbrid and VTIL whose cloth interiors don’t have the same air about it. The fabric selection doesn’t make the cabin feel special and that’s a shame considering the hybrid is around the same price as Toyota’s Prius, against which all hybrids are judged. For that price I expect things to be tickettyboo.

The infotainment system is nice and simple. The audio decent sound and thankfully is very easy to operate. The straightforward controls have been clearly laid out which drivers in this segment are looking for. You don’t want to take a million years to come to terms with how to tune a radio station or pair your Ipod. The only function I had strife with was pairing my mobile. If other mobiles are paired, the system only gives you the option to connect and existing phone. When the system asks you if you want to connect a phone YES/NO you have to select rather bizarrely select NO. You’re then asked if you want to pair a new phone. Most cars give you a simple menu with PAIR/CONNECT/DISCONNECT/AUDIO as options. For the first time in many moons I had to refer to the manual and, would you believe, there instruction was for the first phone only, where you are asked to pair in the first instance. The book doesn’t explain that if a phone is already paired and you wish to add a phone, you must press no when asked to connect. The man at Honda couldn’t pair a second phone either. An easy fix would be an amendment to the user guide or a software update for the car. Over all, lovely to use.

The instruments have the same 2 layer effect we saw in the Civic type R which looks sharp and works well too. OK, it is still a bit “boy racer meets PSP console” and the lights are oh-so-bright, but you can always ignore the bling if it annoys you too much. The 2 LCDs and central gauges supply all driver info which you’re able to select as you desire. The steering wheel buttons control some basic functions including phone, radio, cruise control and driver’s info. It keeps things in easy reach. It’s all pretty standard these day but I was glad to see the top model gets auto lights and wipers because the opposition crams loads of goodies in the compact models. It takes more than just decent looks and handling to attract buyers, you need to have state of the art sound and vision and lots of things that go BING. I’ve known some people to have decided on which car to buy based solely on the CD player. They, like me, haven’t used a CD of any kind for a very long time but it didn’t stop them from buying the car which had one. There is no rhyme or reason to what motivates some folk and it’s much easier simply to report rather than analyse.

The Drive:-

The Steering is a little heavier than the Euro but other than that it feels very much like a Euro. The ride is superb for a small car with handling like its bigger sister. Although it’s fairly quiet, a bit of extra sound proofing would kill them.

The Auto is particularly smooth but like most modern cars needs to be driven in “sports” mode to get the most out of your driving experience. Normal driving mode will use less fuel by getting to as high a gear as possible in as short a time as possible. It might well be fab for the environment but dumbs down the performance no end. It drives me utterly balmy that we have all become so obsessed with fuel consumption. This brings me neatly to the fuel consumption figures which are impressive. A spot of normal city driving in the larger engine Civic Sport got around 11ish with 7 ish for the combined cycle. On the highway we got a fairly impressive 5 L/100 because the 114KW petrol engine gets along and feels quite nippy. You know we never ever get the claimed figures which are assessed in a lab by men in white coats. It’s done like that to accurately compare one car with another but most of us incorrectly assume we’ll get those figures ourselves. You won’t so don’t try.

After all it’s how the car feels that really counts so the ability to react quickly whether it’s the steering, acceleration or braking is what makes a good car feel great. Civic does tick these boxes. It’s a step up from the previous model and the gap between Civic and Accord Euro has narrowed. A driver who can’t quite stretch to buying a Euro won’t feel like they are buying a compromise. Just on that note, you might wonder why I often compare cars to a Euro and the answer is a simple one. Euro has been a mark of style, handling, class which makes a good yardstick. Civic feels like a slightly smaller, paired down, junior version of Euro which can only be a good thing.

We did the usual country run in each model including the hybrid and can report not a whole lot of difference between them. Of course Civic isn’t as razor-sharp as the fabulous CR-Z which is much smaller, much sportier and much more expensive. It’s about compromise between decent handling and decent comfort so to a degree some of the corning firmness is given over to the ability to ride over bumps without slipping a disc or chipping a tooth. The drive is one of the most engaging drives in the compact segment showing where the Accord Euro DNA to be found. It isn’t something you can out your finger on, but there is feistiness about her that you only really enjoy when you give her some beans. In sport mode, the auto really comes to life and you almost feel like you’ve gained an extra dozen KW. The electric steering noted for a lack of feel, has been given a bit of life which allows the driver to get a sense of where the road  is. There is less of a sense of isolation which most of us find particularly unsettling. There is also enough poke in all but the hybrids to give the steering a pull to the left when you stick the boot in at the lights. Be prepared for it a goodly bit of torque steer.

Parking was easy but reverse sensors are an option that I believe should be included as standard in this price range across all models. In my view, they should be mandatory on all cars front and back unless there is a camera. The last thing you want in a car with a high rear end is to back over your something you can’t see. How many children are run down in driveways? It wouldn’t cost a lot and makes life so much easier. If the opposition has it you must include it too, or risk being left behind and even the uber-cheap Koreans shove parking sensors in the package at no cost to add perceived value.

The stability system, ABS, EBD and a full compliment of airbags are all present but the bottom model misses out on auto wipers and auto headlights with only the hybrid getting hillstart assist. I was a little shocked that once again the Hybrid gets drum brakes round back. No one can tell me why this is and Insight has the same setup. You’ll remember I commented that in a 21st century car by a premium maker, drum brakes are unforgivable. One quick witted observer thought it might be something to do with the IMA hybrid system but if this is so why does CR-Z use the same IMA hybrid system but has solid disc brakes on the rear. No, I’m afraid it sounds like Messrs Honda Honda and Honda might be trying to save a little money in a place that doesn’t deserve it. Like renovating a house, spend most of your money where people can see it and with a smart set of alloys you’ll see the brakes. Mind you the alloys on the Civic hybrid have a large solid central section with only smallish holes around the perimeter. It was the first thing I noticed, and it’s clearly designed so you can’t see through them. If you could you’d see a rear brake direct from the 1930’s.

To Sum Up:-

Civic is a well-mannered, well designed and well put together car. Apart from a couple awkward bits, it’s also a very attractive car. Although the diesel option is missing, one can get a hybrid so the eco angle is also covered. It’s a nice balance between class, price and performance. I’d recommend Civic to friends and you can’t say fairer than that.

Price from $23,490 (VTiL manual) to $39135 (hybrid CVT)

FULL SPECS CAN BE FOUND HERE AT THE HONDA AUSTRALIA WEBSITE

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