Fresh five-door formula
Modernised interior and up-to-date tech make the Civic a solid challenger in the small-car class
HATCHES outsell sedans by a big margin in the small car class. Little wonder then that Honda is happy — it has already defied the trend by consistently selling almost 900 Civic sedans a month since the launch last year. Now it has a hatch to play with. Honda Australia head Stephen Collins predicts combined sales of up to 1600 a month. The last time Civic sales were that high was a decade ago. Even those numbers won’t challenge for overall class supremacy but Collins doesn’t see the volume as a criteria for success. “We focus on where we sit with private buyers because we don’t do much in the fleet and rental segments,” he says.
“Right now the Civic is accounting for about 20 per cent of small sedan sales, just behind the Mazda3.
“If the hatch follows that formula, we’ll be rapt.”
The hatch should do well. It ticks the convenience boxes with a modern-looking interior and Android/Apple mirroring through the seven-inch touchscreen available on all versions.
Disappointingly, though, driving aids available on its rivals are reserved for the most expensive variant, the VTi-LX at $33,590.
Prices start considerably lower at $22,390 for the VTi entry car. Its continuously variable transmission is matched to a naturally aspirated 1.8-litre engine.
A turbocharged 1.5-litre is reserved for the higher grades. The 1.8 will do the job around town but the 1.5 is the one enthusiasts will want.
Collins says the company is still considering localised suspension tuning. He cites Holden, Kia and Hyundai as brands that have capitalised on being able to tout “local tuning” but says there would have to be obvious advantages.
“If you look at Civic, for instance, the global R& D team has already set the hatch up to have a sportier ride than the sedan, so we’re catering for that,” Collins says, conceding that few countries have road conditions as varied and challenging as Australia.
He’s less concerned by the absence of a conventional automatic transmission.
“The CVT is inexpensive and fuel efficient … most people don’t notice any difference over an auto,” Collins says, noting there isn’t a conventional auto in the Honda inventory to do the job.
That means even the bodykitted RS doesn’t get a transmission to match its sporty pretensions.
ON THE ROAD
The Civic hatch faces ferocious competition. Think Mazda3, Hyundai i30, Toyota Corolla … you get the picture.
All have unique selling points — the Mazda has active driving aids on all versions, the i30 has a five-year warranty and the Corolla is the longestselling nameplate in the game with a reputation for being allbut indestructible.
This is the tenth generation of the Civic and Honda has thankfully rediscovered the joy of driving after losing its way with the previous versions. So a multi-link rear suspension is standard and there’s a renewed emphasis on driver engagement.
You feel it the second you sit in the car, because Honda has made a concerted effort to lower the driving position in the Civic for a more connected feel.
The only issue now is noise. The CVT sounds louder in the hatch than the sedan and isn’t the sportiest noise ever emitted from a drivetrain.
This in part contradicts the hatch’s overall approach: the sedan is the rational buy; the hatch is the emotive one. Honda understands this, which explains the sportier steering and suspension tune in the fivedoor, with a focus on cornering over compliance.
The result is a more planted car than its stablemate without losing too much composure over pockmarked urban roads … but it never sounds particularly engaging.
There is also the lack of engine braking with a CVT — it just doesn’t contribute to
slowing the car the way an automatic does. Drivers will quickly adapt to the noise and the reduced retardation.
Sporty though the RS is, it needs more than a body kit to stand out from the other variants with the 1.5-litre turbo.
It has the boy racer looks but Honda could create a genuine warm hatch by upping the performance midway between a regular Civic hatch and the Civic Type R that just set a front-drive Nurburgring record.
Steering feel isn’t the best in class but the Civic responds quickly to changes in steering angle and is fun to flick through a series of bends.
Forward vision is fantastic but there’s not much to see out the back window. Thankfully a reversing camera is standard across the range and all but the VTi pick up parking sensors too.
Cabin build quality and presentation is good without being exceptional: Honda has a long history of being conservative in its interior design
Honda has hatched a solid, economical challenger to the established small car leaders.
It’s a shame the company now has to claw back territory it once owned when the Civic was the small car to buy if you didn’t want a Corolla.
This model will help its return to that status.