Back with the X factor
Tenth-generation Civic reprises Honda’s original qualities, pairing big-car feel with small-car thirst
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.
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.
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.
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.