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Top Gear (UK) - - DRIVES -

While the ri­val VW Golf’s evo­lu­tion has been per­fectly or­derly since 1974, the Honda Civic – also around since the early Seven­ties – has me­an­dered all over the map. It’s been tall, low, square, blobby, sharp and soggy. You’ve never known what was com­ing next. So lis­ten up…

This one is global: any­one any­where buy­ing a 5dr will be keep­ing the peo­ple of Swin­don oc­cu­pied. Its busy de­sign is – and looks – Ja­panese but the plat­form was en­gi­neered for fast-ped­dling Euro­peans. That means a more so­phis­ti­cated chas­sis with multi-link rear sus­pen­sion. The en­gines are new too, down­sized tur­bos.

That’s not all. You’re struck by how much lower and longer it is this time. The driver used to sit high be­cause the fuel tank was un­derneath, but that’s been moved back to the nor­mal place un­der the rear bench. This means less cargo ver­sa­til­ity but more rear foot­room.

Honda is one of the great en­gine mak­ers, but the 3cyl 1.0-litre isn’t quite its best work. Its 129bhp is healthy for the size and gives the Civic de­cent per­for­mance, but it’s a trife laggy and runs out of revs at just 5,600rpm. The al­ter­na­tive 1.5 four-pot is la­belled VTEC but ac­tu­ally doesn’t have that tech­nol­ogy, or in­deed lag-re­duc­ing twin-scroll in­takes. The ac­coun­tants have been busy. Still, it’s quite re­spon­sive, revs to 6,500rpm, and makes a use­ful 182bhp. For a main­stream hatch, this is lively. The gear­box has that ker-lunk ac­tion beloved of Type R and orig­i­nal NSX driv­ers.

The high-geared steer­ing would feel ner­vous if the car’s ac­tual re­ac­tions weren’t so pro­gres­sive. It rolls lit­tle and gets on with the job of steer­ing round the arc you set. There’s not a lot of steer­ing feel, but the gen­eral chas­sis conf­dence makes up for it. It copes well with mid­corner bumps too. No sur­prise, then, that the ride is rel­a­tively taut, with a quick­ish bounce fre­quency. But it never gets harsh over small bumps, and on big in­tru­sions it usu­ally fnds some­thing in re­serve.

The new cabin is less odd­ball than it was, and that’s good. The in­stru­ments, vir­tual di­als on all mod­els, make sense. The cen­tre screen has clear graph­ics and Garmin-based sat­nav, not the Japlish jum­ble of old. Sit­ting lower con­nects you more in­ti­mately with the act of driv­ing this en­joy­able car.

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