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.