Honda’s Euro Built Diesel Civic Hatch: About Time!

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For those of you who simply have to burn oil, Honda’s finally joined the diesel brigade with their DTi-S Hatch. They have excluded much of the market by only bringing it to us with “shift-em-yourself” gears which is a huge mistake. Remember, 85% of the cars sold in OZ are automatic. The trim level inside lacks lashings of leather too. My question is simply this: Why not just offer a choice of diesel at all trim levels and with all transmissions? Why complicate the market but restricting a model to certain choices? After all, auto makers are in the business to sell as many cars as possible.

Ambiance aside, the i-Dtec engine delivers a decent 88kw with a beefy 300Nm of torque which makes the hatch feel nippy, even spritely. Of importance to all buyers would be the noise outside. Nobody likes to feel like they are driving a clattery old Mac truck into the local Maccers, unless of course you’re a truck driver. It is then, with certain amount of glee, that you would receive the news that from the outside the Honda does not sound like an oil drum full of nails being shaken furiously. There is no doubt of course that you are in fact in a car that requires a special bowser, but that is all tempered by the fact that your next road trip will have a fuel bill a mere fraction of the one its petrol cousin would command. Honda claim 4L/100k but we got higher than that at around 7.5 (comb). I suspect a longer trip would be needed and perhaps Honda will tempt us into the Civic for an econ-o-run some time.

With on-road costs, the diesel hatch is going to set you back about 30 grand. 30 Grand I hear you scream. Yes it is rather a lot, but is it worth it? Honda make the best engines, of that there is no doubt, and it’s ironic that the turbo I so want them to glue to their fab 2.4 has instead been manacled teensy diesel. Honda persist in naturally aspirated petrol engines when the rest of the market is downsizing and adding blowers.

By way of comparison, I once owned a 1.8 BMW 318i (when the nomenclatures from Bavaria actually meant something), with a piddling 84kw which hardly pulled the skin of a week old custard. Why? Because it also had a piddling 163nm of torque. It wasn’t even good for the time, but it was a Beemer so it was marketed as good. However our plucky little Honda has a slightly more robust 300nm. What does this mean? Despite the E36 weighing a smidge over 1200kgs, and the Honda weighing a pudgier 1370 kgs, it does 0-100 in 10.5 secs as opposed to the lighter BMW doing 13 secs. Yes yes yes I know what you’re saying. “but that’s a 21 year old car compared to a new car” and you’re right. But what I’m saying is that diesels have come far and advanced much. I thought the little BMW was quick, and the best thing since sliced bread but compared to the Civic diesel it was slower and far, far, thirstier. The Civic would easily do 1200 k’s on its little 50L fuel tank and my 318 barely managed 800 on 65L. The Civic would go almost twice as far on the same amount of fuel.

Stop/start Stops the engine when the clutch is depressed and shifted out of gear. It works well but is the kerfuffle worth it? The Magic Seats are a different matter. They are hugely useful. The rear seat squabs fold backwards leaving the full height of the cabin for tall things. That’s hugely useful.

Ignoring the manual for a moment, it has to be said the hatch has much to recommend it and I like it very much. But I couldn’t find the Goldilocks position for the driver’s seat, try though I might. When I returned the Civic to Honda’s secret western Sydney bunker, I took the opportunity to test my bum on the top-draw leather strewn petrol hatch parked next to me. There was no doubt that the leather was far more comfortable. The diesel’s seating was far too high for a bloke of almost 6’. I pushed and pushed and pushed but when the lever stopped, I still felt as though my hair-do was going to touch the hood. It was un-nerving and uncomfortable to have my eyes so far up the windscreen.

Now, the manual: Some people go into conniptions when they see a 3rd pedal. However if you can bear the thought of changing gears yourself, without requiring hugs and counseling after every one, you’ll be rewarded with a silky smooth, feather light shifts. With practice, your passengers will think they are being conveyed in the latest automatic innovation from Europe. Honda don’t make much of it but this transmission has been made especially by them, as indeed all their transmissions are. I could go into spruiking at length but I won’t. It is a delight.

As for the rest of the experience, there isn’t much in it between the diesel and petrol versions. I still dislike the rear lights. I’ve always thought if you cut off the top section of the rear and placed it on the bonnet, it would look like a green tree frog smiling back at you. The previous model is still my personal favourite, but I wouldn’t knock the current model back if it was a gift.

The most important thing is the drive. It takes only a jiff to get the feel for the clutch after which the changes become silky. There is no doubt that you’re in a turbo of some kind but the dreaded lag isn’t horrid. Even now, there are some cars that do nothing until after dinner where upon they stab you through the heart then slam you into a wall. Their acceleration comes in a single surprising burst often chirping the tyres most raucously. It’s unpleasant and unnecessary. Instead, the Honda feels refined and well mannered, yet reasonably powerful. Compare it to the Holden Cruze, which is a similar size, and you are talking about chalk and cheese. The Cruze feels nowhere near as well resolved. It’s the same deal for the gear shifting, interior ambiance, and exterior look. For similar money, the drive is as different as it’s possible to be. It doesn’t feel like they were both manufactured in the same century.

Although the Civic hatch wasn’t perfect, it was still pretty good. Would I buy one? No, I just can’t envisage a time when I would ever buy a diesel, but I know many out there would, and all the power to you!

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