Civic rivals should really start to worry...
THE ninth-generation Honda Civic retains the bold styling theme of its predecessor, but beefs up quality, improves efficiency and pays particular attention to ride and refinement, so dramatically improving its appeal in the family hatchback segment.
As a result, an already strong and very practical package is now a whole lot better. Its rivals should worry.
On the move in this car, you're first struck by the near-perfect weighting and smoothness of the brake and clutch pedals and the lovely, snickety precision of the six-speed gearbox. There's a five-speed automatic option on the 1.8 if you really don't like it. Whatever your transmission choice though, it'll quickly become obvious once you try this Honda that this is an easy car to drive. If there is a problem, it's that it isn't quite such an easy one to see out the back of. To be fair, both rear three-quarter vision and your rear view back through the split-tailgate are both better than before (and you do at least now get a wiper on the tailgate) but it's still not ideal. It's something you quickly adjust to though.
A bit like the characteristics of the 1.8-litre i-VTEC petrol engine that I'm testing here. This 142PS powerplant is the one that most customers choose, claiming the performance of a 2.0-litre unit with the efficiency of a 1.6, which is pretty much the way it pans out, rest to sixty occupying 9.1s on the way to 134mph, more than four seconds and 18mph faster than the entry-level petrol 1.4.
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The 150PS 2.2-litre i-DTEC diesel's much better refined though, slightly ironic given that with competitors, refinement is one reason you're tempted not to consider the diesel option. Here, it's the other way round. As perhaps you might expect given that the diesel has nearly double the petrol model's resources of pulling power, so you don't have to rev the thing so much. Perhaps an even better solution is the 120PS 1.6-litre diesel unit your dealer can tell you about, also developed for this car.
If you're tempted to write this ninth generation Civic off as little more than a facelifted version of the old car, then don't be. For a start, most observers, me included, reckon the old car to be the best looking family hatch yet made: changing a winning formula would have been stupid. Instead, Honda's design team has wisely settled for careful evolution, creating a shape that's 20mm lower and 10mm wider than its predecessor, so offering a squatter, more purposeful stance.
It's a 5-door-only bodyshape this time round, so there's a coupe-style look to the shape but despute this, there's still reasonable room in the back. Though the seats here recline, they don't slide back and forth, but that's only because they can do something cleverer still. If you've a tall load to carry – say a plant from the garden centre – you can flip the base up, cinema seat-style.
And behind the wheel? Well, there isn't a cockpit we can think of this side of a motorshow concept car that looks more wilfully futuristic with its dual-plane architecture and mixture of analogue and digital instrumentation. In principle, it sounds like a mixed-up mess. In practice, it all works brilliantly.
Civic pricing sits in the expected bracket for Focus-sized family hatchbacks, so you'll be looking at paying somewhere between £17,000 and £27,000 for mainstream models. Whichever model you choose – 1.4 or 1.8-litre i-VTEC petrol or i-DTEC diesel – you should find your car to be decently equipped.
'Kaizen', the Japanese approach to 'continuous improvement', characterises every aspect of this ninth generation Civic. It may look similar to its predecessor but it's a couple of generations ahead when it comes to dynamics and engineering. And it shows that Honda isn't afraid to go against the grain when designing a car of this kind. You couldn't, after all, imagine any other mainstream maker offering you high-revving but potentially noisy VTEC petrol engines. A space-efficient but potentially ride-compromised torsion beam suspension design. Or a stylish but potentially awkward to use split-rear tailgate. But Honda has.
In the MK8 Civic model, none of this stuff really worked. The difference with this MK9 design is that the designers have sorted things so that it does. So that owners can live with the benefits of their brave and characterful approach. The sporty feel of the engines. The brilliant 'magic Seat' practicality of the cabin. And the concept car looks of distinctive rear styling that'll have the neighbours craning their heads over the fence. Add to all that class-leading running costs, brilliant British build quality and the best gearbox and driving position you'll find and you've a tempting package perfectly suited to those willing to look beyond the Focuses, Astras and Golfs that most will choose in the family hatchback sector. Dynamic functionality was Honda's goal in creating this car. They've achieved it.