Civic loses its lus­tre

The at­trac­tion of the once class-lead­ing Honda Civic is start­ing to weaken, writes Neil McDon­ald

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Road Test -

YOU know time is run­ning out for a model when a car com­pany hy­pes up the new­est choice of colours. And so it is that Honda’s re­vised Civic line-up gets new colours — dyno blue and ha­banero red — among the other mod­est equip­ment up­dates for 2010.

The cur­rent, eighth-gen­er­a­tion, Civic has been on sale since 2006 largely un­changed, hav­ing won a swag of awards for its class and ce­mented a rep­u­ta­tion as a ca­pa­ble per­former.

Even to­day, the de­sign re­mains rea­son­ably fresh with a long, sweep­ing roofline and dis­tinc­tive, large wind­screen and small inset win­dows in the A-pil­lar.

The cabin is spa­cious with in­ter­est­ing space-sav­ing ideas, such as a repo­si­tioned Z-shaped hand­brake lever and the flat rear floor for in­creased pas­sen­ger com­fort. There is plenty of room up front and in the back.

The boot has 376 litres of lug­gage space and a full-size spare, a com­mend­able ad­di­tion con­sider- ing many of its ri­vals have a space-saver spare. Apart from the new paint, per­haps the most im­por­tant ad­di­tion to the range con­cerns safety. All Civics now come with cur­tain airbags that de­ploy be­low the win­dow line to sup­ple­ment the dual front and side airbags.

There’s also a very strong safety body Honda calls G-Force con­trol and elec­tronic sta­bil­ity con­trol, which was in­tro­duced 12 months ago.

When it was tested by the Aus­tralian New Car As­sess­ment Pro­gram in 2006 — with­out side, cur­tain airbags or sta­bil­ity con­trol — it re­ceived a four-star crash rat­ing.

Apart from some equip­ment up­grades, the range con­tin­ues with the VTi, VTi-L and range-top­ping Sport and Hy­brid.

The starter and L get a smooth 103kW/174Nm 1.8-litre i-VTEC four cylin­der, while the Sport, as the name sug­gests goes up in ca­pac­ity and power to 2.0-litres and 114kW/188Nm.

The Hy­brid uses a 1.3-litre four-cylin­der with Honda’s In­te­grated Mo­tor As­sist Sys­tem.

Driv­ing

THE Civic’s rep­u­ta­tion was forged on out­stand­ing en­gines, strong equip­ment lev­els and that the brand iden­tity that de­liv­ered ro­bust cars and re­li­a­bil­ity. Driv­ing the Civic VTi only serves to re­mind you how far some of its key ri­vals have come in a few short years. Un­for­tu­nately, the Civic is now start­ing to show its age.

A new-gen­er­a­tion ver­sion is not likely un­til next year and the Civic’s sales ad­van­tage is be­ing eroded.

There’s no ques­tion the 1.8-litre i-VTEC four

cylin­der re­mains a strong per­former and good han­dler. It’s also smooth, quiet and rea­son­ably eco­nom­i­cal.

But in ar­eas such as equip­ment, in­te­rior qual­ity lev­els and re­fine­ment, the Honda is start­ing to lag be­hind the Mazda3, Mit­subishi Lancer and even the en­try-level Golf.

Even Hyundai’s 2.0-litre petrol i30 SLX — with a choice of a turbo-diesel — makes an in­ter­est­ing and cheaper com­par­i­son.

As the en­try car, the VTi misses the L’s 16-inch al­loys, 60/40 split-fold rear seat, cli­mate con­trol air and steer­ing wheel con­trols for the stereo.

These are prob­a­bly the key things that should be in the base car but to get them you must move to the L — an ex­tra $3700 in au­to­matic guise.

The Civic rides and han­dles well. Road noise is per­haps a lit­tle too in­tru­sive over coarse roads but the cabin is rea­son­ably quiet.

Sec­ond Opin­ion (with Paul Gover)

THE things I now like best about the Civic are the bright blue body­work on the test car and the funky fu­tur­is­tic dash­board. Oth­er­wise, the car has fallen into the ‘‘just trans­port’’ trap and that’s a sur­prise and a dis­ap­point­ment for Honda.

It once led the way in small cars, trump­ing the Toy­ota Corolla in most ar­eas ex­cept value, but has fallen well be­hind the class-lead­ing Volk­swa­gen Golf and Mazda3.

And that’s how you must mea­sure the Civic, even if it is quiet and comfy and well built.

It does not have the over­all re­fine­ment of the Golf or the sporty driv­ing feel of the Mazda, and it can­not match the value of the Hyundai i30. That puts it into an un­com­fort­able slot where it also gets beaten by the Mit­subishi Lancer for size, value and war­ranty cov­er­age.

OK, the Civic is still a nice car and there is no rea­son not to buy it. But when you put it up against the op­po­si­tion and con­sider the bot­tom line it has fallen into the pack — just like the lat­est Corolla, which costs too much and shows se­ri­ous qual­ity short­com­ings in 2010.

The bot­tom line

THE in­tegrity of the de­sign and en­gi­neer­ing is still there but the Civic’s value-for-money equa­tion is slip­ping.

VTi aura: the Civic’s rep­u­ta­tion was forged on fine en­gines and strong equip­ment lev­els.

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