Neat, Sweet and Petite: Honda’s Nifty New Civic Hatch Gets Under Your Skin

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The New Honda Civic Hatch: By George I think They’ve Got It. Civic Returns To Its Roots.

Likes:

Magic seats, gearbox/clutch, visibility, comfort, quietness, steering, handling

Not so much:

Rear tail lights, no bluetooth or cruise control

OUTSIDE:-

I have fond memories of early Civic hatches. They ran forever, never broke down, and looked a million bucks. But something happened and Civic started looking as plain as unprinted pyrex. The last model overcame the looks issue but the cost  30K, Buyers were not prepared to pay so much just for fabulous looks, an excellent drive and brilliant build quality. The sedan is built in Japan and Thailand but the hatch is designed and built in England. This means the indicators are on the continental side for those to whom that sort of things matter, and may I say it confused me no end.

The previous model attracted some criticism because of its price despite being a fabulous car. The coupe-like wedge shape was unusual even in the 21stcentury with the 2 door being reserved for the fabulous Type-R. The 4 door has highset rear door handles concealed in the rear pillar so it isn’t unusual for passengers to try to enter the back seats via the front doors.

Like Honda’s Accord Euro, the new Civic hatch is more evolution than revolution. It car has a more aggressive front and rear treatments with the rear light projecting from the bodywork.  The basic shape remains the tear-drop shaped wedge. The front gets a smart set of LED daytime running lights and a larger grille. The aggressive effect is emphasised with a blacked out section making the front look almost all grille rather than a mix of lights, grille and bumper bar. I was unsure if I liked the bulbous rear and angry front but in a short while I’ve grown used to them. The front seems just a bit too severe especially around the centre section below the “H” badge. The mass of black  seems has a heavy look in an awkward way. I feel sure the midlife upgrade will redesign that section to look less like a wall. The rear built-in spoiler runs across the back hatch joining the tail light clusters at either side. It obscures the driver’s view from inside as did the old model. The rear window is quite high despite the lower glass section so parking is easier in the VTiL which gains the rear camera. I still find it hard to fathom why all cars don’t come standard with a full set of sensors and a rear view camera. You do get used to a large part of your rear view being obscured.

The side view is more successful with manly, muscular bulges over each wheel giving the wedge shape a bit of interest even in the base model. She’s a cheeky little thing which I can imagine newly licensed kids feeling right at home in. The overall look is fresh and young. I know a few older gents who bought themselves a Jazz upon retirement who said they wished the new Civic had available then. So, it got the universal thumbs up from the mature, experienced crowd too. That is no mean feat as the older queen can be ever so dismissive of pretty young things.

I’m pleased to report the build quality appears to be a Honda-ly high standard as expected. Elements such as the side mirrors, doors handles and wheels continues the same solid look and feel as the metalwork. The paintjob is excellent with no blemishes and a smooth finish. the quality was particularly when I emerged fully laden from my local Coles. Parked next to me was one of those new Chinese utes. It looked like a piece of orange peel had been painted with a toothbrush and in the 21stcentury is simply not good enough.

There was none of that low-end steel wheel nonsense either. Even our base model had a very smart set of alloy wheels. There is nothing nastier than a scratched up plakky wheel cover.

Inside:-

The hatch has a similar look to the sedan but has individual dials instead of one large binnacle. The top section has a digital speedo with driver info LCD screen. The LCD is where the rear-view camera picture would appear if fitted. Sadly our VTi is sans camera so we had only the trip metre. The finish is good quality with decent materials and good panel fit. Honda seems quite thoughtful in finishing off their cars with no nasty metal edges and flimsy plastic fittings. There is the feel that you’d be still driving it in 15 years’ time if you wanted to keep it that long. The brochure says there are magic seats in the back. We’ve fiddled with these in previous cars and report them to be brilliant. You can configure the rear to stow your bits and bobs flat on the floor. With the seat cushion missing you can fit a bike standing up so Honda tells me. The base model doesn’t get leather but doesn’t feel like the poverty-stricken cars of old. There is USB input but no bluetooth, so there is no audio streaming. The clever design of the dash continues with the vents which can be twisted to direct the air exactly where you want it.  Although the climate control is fully automatic, there is only one zone. The temperature control is very good so should you desire sub-zero on a hot day you won’t be disappointed.

The dash and all controls can be easily accessed from the driver’s seat but for me the driving position is a little high. With the height adjustment set to low I just still couldn’t wriggle down low enough. The other thing is the seats in our pov pack could have used a few more layers of padding. Although not uncomfortable I tend to prefer a well padded seat unless I’m in a high performance vehicle. As bones get older, rear ends tend to need greater consideration and welcome deep, soft lounge-room like driving conditions.

As mentioned, we have a USB and AUX input for the audio system which sounds quite  good. They’ve included a CD player which I’m willing to bet will hardly be used. The sort of people who buy the Civic will plug in their phones or MP3 players and play music from a play list, not a CD. I suppose they have to reserve some nifty gadgets for the top models but I really missed bluetooth.  The reversing camera is a point of contention. The LCD display exists already and the camera costs only a few drachma so it seems balmy not to be standard. The same goes for the cruise control and reverse sensors. If the opposition have it in their base models than all car makers should be including these features as part of their safety suite. We’ve become more sophisticated as buyers especially in the last 10 years and we expect more gizmos to be fitted whenever a new model is released. We now expect ABS, Airbags, DSC, EBFD and other such electronic devices because it makes our lives easier but more importantly, safer. Once upon a time all of these features were options. Now, most are now part of the safety test for which we presume 5 stars is standard. Cars scoring under 5 stars such as the newer Chinese brands are frowned upon sending most savvy buyers screaming from the room.

One last comment on the inside before we move on is that I don’t care much for the fabric used, but it’s not the end of the world.

The Drive:-

Honda has returned Civic to its roots. It’s a brilliant little car ideal and as an economical and reasonably priced runabout as it was when it was first released 40 odd years ago. There are a few little niggles but who of us is perfect?

Firstly, no bluetooth on the base model is a huge mistake as most drivers have bluetooth phones. It becomes a safety issue when people instinctively fumble about like drunken sailors the nano-second a phone rings. There isn’t any cruise control. It is many moons since I drove a car without cruise control. I’m tsk tsk-ing as we speak.

The 1.8L 104kw petrol engine is smooth and economical and the 6 speed manual is probably the easiest gearbox/clutch combo I’ve used in recent times. The clutch is very light and requires no complex shuffling and the shift is precise and both are a delight. It helps that the Hill Hold, even in reverse, holds the Civic while you do the peddle thing. This is something that should be in every manual. It makes even an average driver look good with changes almost as seamless as an auto. I can’t praise it enough.

Honda has done a lot of work on the soundproofing too. The cabin is spookily quiet especially on the highway so you can have a chat at normal level and hear every word. Around the city there is plenty of zip by virtue of low gears but you do have to plan overtaking. Dropping a cog or two results in lots of noise from under the bonnet but the engine hasn’t got a vast amount of torque so it takes a little while wind up. Having overtaken you can sit at the speed limit all day changing down only for hills. We expect so much from a car and you realise how far we have come in the 21stcentury and when you consider the power at 103KW is 40KW more than a 70’s Kingswood with around 66kw.

We loaded the boot with “stuff” to test whether the handling and performance were adversely affected. Only filling the poor thing full of bodies makes any noticeable difference and that is something you can say about most cars.

Speaking of handling you might ask yourself if the new hatch lives up to expectation, and it does. The ride is soft which makes for good ride in the Civic’s normal stomping grounds of narrow city streets. It means your teeth aren’t jarred from their fixings when you inevitably encounter a pothole. Happily, the handling hasn’t been sacrificed for soft ride. I was once a critic of electric steering with its slightly vague and remote feeling, but am now a convert. A man’s man might whine about not being able to feel the road through the steering column but re-education seems to be the key. In fact electric steering is more precise in most cases and has the added benefit of only using power when actually being used. There is no belt driving a pump which is one less burden to be asked of an engine.

Only the most enthusiastic cornering brings on a bout of understeer. The standard Civic isn’t going to be asked to be a sports car and that isn’t what she is designed for. The chassis is reasonably tight but we have to remember that we are in fact driving a compact hatch. It is designed to look sharp and handle as well as it possibly can. The sporty models get firmer suspension and bigger wheels and better stuff inside but it all comes at a price. People have complained about the rear torsion beam suspension as being inferior in some way. Perhaps it would be a problem in a high performance sports car but not in a basic hatch. The average driver won’t know or care what a torsion bar is, only that the ride is good.

Civic easily passed the “2 small bags” test and we even fitted 4 beefy lads in for a short trip to lunch. To make loading easier the doors open nice and wide, and once again, the magic seats in the rear can be quickly configured in different ways to allow generous space for carting around oddly shaped bits and bobs.

My only complaint, and it’s a minor one, was the driver’s seat being too high for me. Other than that Civic hatch is a thoroughly enjoyable experience with a 5 star safety rating.

The Conclusion:-

The standard Honda-ness includes freezing air con and nifty storage bins and cubby holes. The stereo isn’t too bad but the lack of bluetooth as standard is a saving too far. The cabin is roomy and thoughtfully laid out contributing to a satisfying driving experience. The sexy daytime LED running lights are all class.

Does the new Civic harken back to the halcyon Hondas of old? Yes it does.

It’s about six grand cheaper than the model it replaces and rejoins a segment of the market it abandoned by its previous price in the same range as the Accord Euro. There are now many reasons to buy the Civic hatch.

To use a phrase I usually hate using, “It is what it is”. By that I mean it is well built, well priced and well designed basic transport. It’s fairly attractive and quite comfy as well as being easy and fun to drive. Price was my only issue with the previous model and that has been turned down a notch or two. It’s a shame the base model has so many of the goodies missing but as the top model only comes in the auto perhaps it’s something you have to live with if you want shift em yourself gears.

I love the Civic hatch and think it is worth every centime.

Engine Inline 4 Cylinder 16 Valve Inline 4 Cylinder 16 Valve
SOHC i-VTEC SOHC i-VTEC
Capacity 1.8 litre – 1798 cc 1.8 litre – 1798 cc
Maximum power 104kW @ 6500rpm 104kW @ 6500rpm
Maximum torque 174Nm @ 4300rpm 174Nm @ 4300rpm
Compression ratio 10.6 : 1 10.6 : 1
Bore x Stroke (mm) 81.0 x 87.3 81.0 x 87.3
Manual transmission with gear shift recommendation indicator 6-Speed
Automatic transmission with paddle shifters 5-Speed with Grade Logic Control 5-Speed with Grade Logic Control
Hill Start Assist (HSA) P P
Emission – Australian standards Euro 4 Euro 4
CO2 emission (g/Km)*
– manual transmission 146
– automatic transmission 155 155
Fuel type (Recommended) Premium unleaded (RON95 or higher) Premium unleaded (RON95 or higher)
Fuel supply system Honda Programmed Fuel Injection(PGM-FI) Honda Programmed Fuel Injection(PGM-FI)
Fuel consumption – combined (litres/100km)*
– manual transmission 6.1
– automatic transmission 6.5 6.5
Fuel consumption – urban (litres/100km)*
– manual transmission 7.9
– automatic transmission 8.9 8.9
Fuel consumption – Extra urban (litres/100km)*
– manual transmission 5.1
– automatic transmission 5.1 5.1
Drive by wire throttle (DBW) P P

 

PRICE :- $24,990 to $32, 990

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