CIVIC DUTY

HONDA’S FRESH, FIVEDOOR FOR­MULA

Geelong Advertiser - Motoring - - FRONT PAGE - CRAIG DUFF craig.duff@news.com.au

HATCHES out­sell sedans by a big mar­gin in the small car class. Lit­tle won­der then that Honda is happy — it has al­ready de­fied trend by con­sis­tently sell­ing al­most 900 Civic month since the launch last year. Now a hatch to play with. Honda Aus­tralia head Stephen Collins pre­dicts com­bined sales of up 1600 a month. The time Civic were that high was a decade ago. Even those num­bers won’t chal­lenge for over­all class supremacy but Collins doesn’t see the vol­ume as a cri­te­ria for suc­cess. “We fo­cus on where we sit with pri­vate buy­ers be­cause we don’t do much in the fleet and rental seg­ments,” he says.

“Right now Civic is ac­count­ing for about 20 per cent of small sedan sales, just be­hind Mazda3.

“If the hatch fol­lows that for­mula, we’ll be rapt.”

The should do well. It ticks con­ve­nience boxes with a mod­ern-look­ing in­te­rior and An­droid/Ap­ple mir­ror­ing through the seven-inch touch­screen avail­able on all ver­sions.

Dis­ap­point­ingly, though, driv­ing aids its ri­vals are re­served for the most ex­pen­sive vari­ant, VTi-LX at $33,590.

Prices start con­sid­er­ably lower $22,390 VTi en­try car. Its con­tin­u­ously vari­able trans­mis­sion is matched to a nat­u­rally as­pi­rated 1.8-litre en­gine.

A tur­bocharged 1.5-litre re­served for the higher grades. The 1.8 will do the job around town but 1.5 is one en­thu­si­asts want.

Collins says com­pany is still con­sid­er­ing lo­calised sus­pen­sion tun­ing. He cites Holden, Kia and Hyundai as brands that have cap­i­talised on be­ing able to tout “lo­cal tun­ing” but says there would to be ob­vi­ous ad­van­tages.

“If you look at Civic, for in­stance, the global R& D team has al­ready set hatch up have a sportier ride than the sedan, so we’re cater­ing that,” Collins says, con­ced­ing that few coun­tries have road con­di­tions as var­ied and chal­leng­ing Aus­tralia.

He’s less con­cerned by the ab­sence of a con­ven­tional au­to­matic trans­mis­sion.

“The CVT is in­ex­pen­sive fuel ef­fi­cient … most peo­ple don’t no­tice any dif­fer­ence over an auto,” Collins says, not­ing there isn’t a con­ven­tional auto in the Honda in­ven­tory to do job. That means even the bodykit­ted RS doesn’t get a trans­mis­sion match its sporty pre­ten­sions.

ON THE ROAD

The Civic hatch faces fe­ro­cious com­pe­ti­tion. Think Mazda3, Hyundai i30, Toy­ota Corolla … you get the pic­ture.

All have unique sell­ing points — Mazda has ac­tive driv­ing aids on all ver­sions, the i30 has a five-year war­ranty and the Corolla is longest­selling name­plate in game with rep­u­ta­tion for be­ing all­but in­de­struc­tible.

This tenth gen­er­a­tion of the Civic and Honda has thank­fully re­dis­cov­ered the joy

driv­ing af­ter los­ing its way with pre­vi­ous ver­sions. So a multi-link rear sus­pen­sion is stan­dard there’s re­newed em­pha­sis on driver en­gage­ment.

You feel it the sec­ond you sit in car, be­cause Honda has made a con­certed ef­fort to lower driv­ing po­si­tion in the Civic for more con­nected feel. The only is­sue now is noise.

CVT sounds louder hatch than the sedan and isn’t

sporti­est noise ever emit­ted from a driv­e­train.

This in part con­tra­dicts the hatch’s over­all ap­proach: sedan is the ra­tio­nal buy; hatch emo­tive one. Honda un­der­stands this, which ex­plains sportier steer­ing and sus­pen­sion tune in the fivedoor, with a fo­cus on cor­ner­ing over com­pli­ance.

The re­sult is more planted car than its sta­ble­mate with­out los­ing too much com­po­sure

pock­marked ur­ban roads … but it never sounds par­tic­u­larly en­gag­ing.

There is also the lack of en­gine brak­ing with a CVT — it just doesn’t con­trib­ute to

slow­ing the car the way an au­to­matic does. Driv­ers will quickly adapt to noise and re­duced re­tar­da­tion. Sporty though RS is, it needs more than a body kit stand out from the other vari­ants with 1.5-litre turbo.

It has boy racer looks but Honda could cre­ate gen­uine warm hatch by up­ping per­for­mance mid­way be­tween a reg­u­lar Civic and the

Type R that just set a front-drive Nur­bur­gring record.

Steer­ing feel isn’t best in class but the re­sponds quickly to changes steer­ing an­gle and is fun flick through a se­ries of bends. For­ward vi­sion fan­tas­tic there’s not much see out the back win­dow. Thank­fully a rev­ers­ing cam­era stan­dard across range and all but the VTi pick up park­ing sen­sors too.

Cabin build qual­ity and pre­sen­ta­tion is good with­out be­ing ex­cep­tional: Honda has a long his­tory of be­ing con­ser­va­tive in its in­te­rior de­sign VER­DICT Honda has hatched a solid, eco­nom­i­cal chal­lenger to the es­tab­lished small car lead­ers.

It’s shame com­pany now has to claw back ter­ri­tory it once owned when the Civic was the small car buy if you didn’t want a Corolla.

This model will help its re­turn to that sta­tus.

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