Honda adds fifth element to RS turbo
Hatch completes Kiwi Civic range. We test the new RS Sport model. By David Linklater.
In these days of genre-bending design, the lines between tradition body shapes like sedan and hatchback can become quite blurred.
So what does a carmaker do when it’s created a sedan (an essential configuration for the big-volume American and Asian markets, by the way) with a fastback profile that could easily wear a fifth door with very little modification? If it’s Honda, it goes ahead and makes a different hatchback model anyway.
So in some respects the justlaunched Civic hatch is a bit of a head-scratcher, especially as it has 100 litres less bootspace than the four-door (414 litres versus 517). Why buy the five-door when there’s already a sleeker-looking, more cargo-capacious sedan in the showroom?
Two answers really. The first is that despite the shortfall in ‘‘boot’’ capacity, you still have the vastly superior overall loadspace of a hatch to draw upon when needed. The fifth door offers a large aperture and with the 60/40 split rear seats stowed there’s up to 1280 litres cargo-space in the Civic hatch. You can still load long items through into the rear of the sedan, but in terms of overall practicality it doesn’t compare.
That’s the rational answer. The less rational but possibly more relevant one is that there’s a strong perceived connection between the mainstream Civic hatch and Honda’s new hero-car, the Type R. All hatch models have the huge rear-bumper cutouts of the Type R, but the RS Sport hatch as tested here also gets centrally mounted twin-exhaust pipes that are a clear visual reference to the Type R. The RS Sport also wears a piano-black lower body kit and darkened door handles.
Presumably the hatch is supposed to be the sportier option – especially given it actually wears a Sport badge, unlike the sedan equivalent. However, it’s in image only, because the mechanical makeup is exactly the same as the four-door model.
That’s not a bad thing in the big picture. The RS Sport’s 1.5-litre turbo engine is Honda’s great hope for the future and it impresses in a small-capacity, big output (127kW/220Nm) kind of way. Ultimately it’s still more about power than torque, as Honda engines have so often seemed to be through the decades, but peak pulling power is still delivered at just 1700rpm; combine that with the Civic’s continuously variable transmission (CVT) and you have a very smooth machine for urban driving.
The turbo-engine is also full of spirit for sportier driving, and the chassis is up to the task. There’s not a great deal of steering feel, but the car is composed on winding backroads. There’s something called Agile Handling Assist (AHA, basically torque vectoring by braking) that keeps the car tracking well through corners and the rear remains settled through changes of direction over the bumpy stuff.
It’s not all sporting smiles though, because the engine gets pretty vocal past 3000rpm – a place you need not venture in town driving, but essential if you want to be entertained on the open road. The CVT is responsive but the ‘‘gearless’’ nature of the technology exacerbates the unpleasant noise. The RS does offer a seven-step shift programme through its steering wheel-mounted paddles and they’re great for flicking down into some extra engine braking, but so convincing for controlling the upshifts, which are still subject to wavering revs.
There’s verve here, but wouldn’t it be great with a conventional automatic transmission? Or even a manual, which was always a Honda strength in years gone by (still is with the Jazz, actually).
Such a thing does exist: in Europe and the United States, this car is available with a three-pedal, six-speed gearbox. It would be of marginal volume potential in New Zealand. But it’d also be the making of this model from an enthusiast point of view. Remember that bit about the hatch wanting to be the sporty model?
The hatch might be 129mm shorter than the sedan, but it rides on the same long wheelbase and remains a genuinely family sized machine.
The cabin serves up impressive quality and distinctive design, including heavy reliance on digital displays. But between the virtual speedometer and centre-console touch screen, there seems to be an insistence that being hi-tech means things have to be complicated.
It’s all here, including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, but the menus on the touch-screen are pretty murky and simple things like tuning the radio might require a contemplative moment until you’re really familiar with the layout.
The RS hatch comes with safety equipment like Straight Driving Assist and the clever LaneWatch system, which shows a camera-view of the left-hand side of the car when you indicate that way.
But there’s no equivalent in the five-door range to the flagship NT sedan, which means you can’t have a hatch with adaptive cruise, lane-keep assist, collision warning/mitigation braking and lane-departure warning.
New hatch is shorter and taller than sedan. Same black ‘‘mask’’ on RS model, but more comprehensive body kit.