Back with the X fac­tor

Tenth-gen­er­a­tion Civic reprises Honda’s orig­i­nal qual­i­ties, pair­ing big-car feel with small-car thirst

Herald Sun - Motoring - - ROAD TEST - BILL McKIN­NON bill.mckin­non@news.com.au

HONDA ap­peared headed for great­ness in the 1980s when it was Ja­pan’s BMW, a maker of pre­mium-qual­ity, de­sir­able, ex­pres­sive cars such as the NSX, Pre­lude, CRX and Civic that re­flected the per­for­mance en­gi­neer­ing spirit of its founder, the leg­endary Soichiro Honda.

Then the ac­coun­tants got hold of the com­pany and de­cided it should make cars that Mid­dle Amer­ica liked. With the ex­cep­tion of the ex­cel­lent Ac­cord Euro, some of the dross that fol­lowed would have made Honda-san turn in his grave.

Even to­day, Honda’s model lineup is patchy in char­ac­ter and com­pe­tence. Medi­oc­ri­ties such as the Ac­cord and CR-V sit along­side good things such as the Jazz and HR-V.

When Honda launches a new car, you’re never quite sure which type you’re go­ing to get.

We’re happy to re­port the 2016 Civic, the 10th gen­er­a­tion since 1973 of Honda’s sig­na­ture model, is a (mostly) good thing.

DE­SIGN

We’re test­ing the 1.8-litre VTi-S, which at $24,490 sits one step above the base 1.8-litre VTi model, priced at $22,390, and be­low the 1.5-litre turbo trio: the $27,790 VTi-L, the sports­flavoured $31,790 RS and the top-spec VTi-LX.

The Civic has al­ways been one of the largest cars in its class and this model al­most qual­i­fies as a medium-sizer.

Four adults can spread out and re­lax in the Civic, which has a twin cock­pit-style front cabin, a driv­ing po­si­tion ad­justable for any physique and lux­u­ri­ous front seats. There’s also plenty of rear seat legroom and rea­son­able head­room de­spite the raked, coupe-style roofline. The wide, deep boot ex­tends with 60-40 split rear seat backs.

Ma­te­ri­als, fit and fin­ish on Thai-built Hon­das — that’s now most of them, in­clud­ing the Civic — has of­ten been sub­stan­dard com­pared with ri­vals from Ja­pan and Korea.

This Civic gets a ma­jor lift in ma­te­ri­als qual­ity, in­te­rior de­sign and pre­sen­ta­tion, now close to the VW Golf and Mazda3 bench­marks.

Ma­te­ri­als qual­ity may have im­proved but there is still a way to go with the Civic’s fit and fin­ish. Our test car had a cou­ple of buzzes and squeaks in the cabin — the kind that drive you nuts be­cause they’re dif­fi­cult to pin­point, only oc­cur ev­ery sec­ond or third drive and never when you take the car back to the dealer. The re­mote boot re­lease didn’t work, ei­ther.

AROUND TOWN

From the driver’s seat the Civic feels like a big unit, so around town you’re look­ing for more space to work with than in some small cars. Thin wind­screen pil­lars help with clear for­ward vi­sion, while a re­vers­ing cam­era with mov­able guide­lines, widean­gle and top down view modes plus park­ing sen­sors at both ends make life easy in the shop­ping cen­tre de­mo­li­tion derby.

A cam­era in the left mirror acts as a blind spot mon­i­tor, giv­ing you an im­age on the in­fo­tain­ment touch­screen of what’s hap­pen­ing be­side and be­hind you when you use the left in­di­ca­tor.

It’s a great idea when chang­ing lanes or par­al­lel park­ing but prompts the ob­vi­ous ques­tion — why not fit a cam­era in the right side mirror too?

A sim­ple, bright, all-dig­i­tal dash has your speed dis­played in huge num­bers, handy in our book-’em-’til-they-bleed speed en­force­ment cul­ture. The in­fo­tain­ment touch­screen’s menu struc­ture is more con­vo­luted than some but it re­sponds to the light­est fin­ger pres­sure, as does the swipe-style vol­ume con­trol on the wheel.

Ap­ple CarPlay and An­droid Auto are stan­dard, as is voice ac­ti­va­tion, only with the phone func­tions.

In the VTi-S, the car­ry­over 1.8-litre four is matched with a stan­dard con­stantly vari­able trans­mis­sion. It flat­ters the en­gine’s hum­ble num­bers by launch­ing the car smartly off the line and al­most com­pen­sat­ing for its lack of low-down pulling power, par­tic­u­larly ap­par­ent in Eco mode.

Still, the 1.8 does the job smoothly and hon­estly enough in town, where the pay­off is fru­gal fuel con­sump­tion. I had no prob­lem record­ing sin­gle fig­ures, on reg­u­lar un­leaded.

The softly sus­pended Civic has so­phis­ti­cated in­de­pen­dent rear sus­pen­sion (ri­vals have a sim­ple, cheap tor­sion beam axle) and VTi-S rolls on sen­si­ble 16-inch al­loys with 215/55 Hankook tyres. Around town, the ride is sup­ple and quiet.

ON THE ROAD

This sus­pen­sion/wheel/tyre setup also trans­lates nicely to the high­way, where the VTi-S sits on the road with the poise, com­fort, re­fine­ment and author­ity of a larger car.

The Civic has no sports pre­ten­sions what­so­ever yet its tight body, lack of fat (1261kg), ac­cu­rate steer­ing and long travel, well-con­trolled sus­pen­sion give it greater agility and com­po­sure than some pseudo sports pre­tenders, es­pe­cially on messy bi­tu­men. Only the most man­gled sur­faces cause it to be­come a lit­tle loose and flus­tered at speed.

The driv­e­train takes a while to hook up prop­erly and de­liver rapid go-for­ward when you need it. There are no pad­dleshifters or faux fixed shift points on VTi-S, so you in­stead shift the gear lever into more re­spon­sive S mode in ad­vance of any (hope­ful) per­for­mance ma­noeu­vre.

In cruise mode, though, it does the job qui­etly and ef­fi­ciently, re­turn­ing a diesel­like 5-6L/100km at a steady 100km/h.

VER­DICT

The Civic now moves from don’t-bother to must-con­sider sta­tus in this ul­tra-com­pet­i­tive class. The VTi-S com­bines value, space, com­fort, re­fine­ment and big-car con­fi­dence with small-car fuel ef­fi­ciency and — most im­por­tantly — stylish de­sign and qual­ity en­gi­neer­ing. Honda-san would ap­prove.

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