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