Honda adds fifth el­e­ment to RS turbo

Kapiti Observer - - WHAT’S ON -

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.

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