Re­turn to top grade

In the com­pact class, the Civic sedan earns se­lec­tors’ at­ten­tion with edgy styling, am­ple safety kit and quiet ride

Herald Sun - Motoring - - THE TICK - WITH PAUL GOVER

THE Honda Civic, to­tally new and the tenth model to wear the badge, is the best Ja­panese car I’ve driven for a long time.

It’s quiet and re­fined, well built and rea­son­ably priced — the start­ing sticker of $22,390 is $100 less than the equiv­a­lent Mazda3

Some con­ser­va­tive buy­ers will find the sedan’s edgy and creased body­work a chal­lenge (the hatch­back ar­rives next year) but it sig­ni­fies the Civic is back from the dead, or the neardead, af­ter far too much time in the shadow of the Mazda3.

As ba­sic equip­ment, every model gets a rear cam­era (un­like the Mazda), a big dig­i­tal speedome­ter and new-look switchgear and in­fo­tain­ment, adding Ap­ple CarPlay. Its light and airy cabin has sur­pris­ingly good rear legroom and Honda has even come up with a good thing in the con­stantly vari­able trans­mis­sion.

The ba­sic Civic comes with a 1.8-litre four-cylin­der, as does the VTi-S at $24,990. The rest of the range has a new 1.5-litre turbo (127kW/220Nm). There are no of­fi­cial fig­ures for the 1.5 but Honda in the US claims 6.7 sec­onds to 100km/h. Both engines run on 91 unleaded.

Honda also trum­pets its new Smart Key with a tricky fea­ture — if you look like ac­ci­den­tally lock­ing the keys in the boot, the lid will open again.

ON THE ROAD

My Civic test car is the full-fat deal, a VTi-LX fit­ted with Honda Sens­ing fully au­to­matic emer­gency brak­ing. Hope­fully it’s safety kit that will trickle down through the whole Civic range in com­ing years.

The LX pack­age also means leather trim, a sun­roof and 17-inch al­loy wheels but it’s not cheap. The start­ing sticker of $33,590 means about $36,000 on the road.

That’s a lot of cash or credit for a com­pact car when most of the ac­tion is at about $20,000. Honda Aus­tralia re­ports solid sup­port, par­tic­u­larly from older buy­ers, de­spite the price.

I’m not a huge fan of the Civic sedan’s styling. For me, it’s over­done. But it stands out in traf­fic and makes it easy to find the car at the su­per­mar­ket.

The driv­ing po­si­tion is good with great out­ward vi­sion, there is more gen­uine legroom than I ex­pect in the rear and the seats are well shaped and com­fort­able. The boot is pos­i­tively huge, too, although I re­sist the temp­ta­tion to test the key-in-boot fea­ture.

One of the sur­prises is that the Civic rides so well. It’s not Benz-style plush but it’s much bet­ter than I ex­pect for the class and it’s def­i­nitely qui­eter in the cabin than the Mazda3 — even af­ter the lat­ter’s re­cent sus­pen­sion and nois­ere­duc­tion work. It also cor­ners well, although it’s no sports car.

The 1.5-litre turbo is solid and un­ob­tru­sive, a good com­bi­na­tion, and I’m sur­prised by how well the CVT works. These things of­ten are in­clined to surg­ing, stum­bling and un­wel­come en­gine dron­ing but this one is well sorted and keeps the car go­ing smoothly.

I’m not en­tirely happy with the auto safety brak­ing, which is trig­gered a cou­ple of times by parked cars on cor­ners.

I keep com­ing back to the price tag. The ba­sics are right, which means the $22,390 car — which Honda Aus­tralia now also says is cheaper to ser­vice — will make life tough for the Mazda3.

THE TICK

This one is easy. The Civic qual­i­fies for The Tick in­side the first 10 min­utes of driv­ing and things only get bet­ter.

Now to the big­ger ques­tion. Will it make the Top 10 shootout for this year’s Cars­guide Car of the Year judg­ing?

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