Fresh five-door for­mula

Mod­ernised in­te­rior and up-to-date tech make the Civic a solid chal­lenger in the small-car class

The Advertiser - Motoring - - COVER STORY - CRAIG DUFF

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

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