David Linklater.

South Canterbury Herald - - MOTORING -

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

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