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