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