THE apparent contradictions in the world of motoring – not unlike the wider global landscape – are many. A recent noticeable dichotomy is that while family cars are growing steadfastly larger in size, their engines are diminishing in capacity.
Witness the current VW Golf or the Ford Focus, each bigger externally than their predecessors and yet driven by puny 1.0-litre engines.
Another advocate of small is best is Honda, the renown Japanese marque that produces more engines than other company and remains widely respected for its engineering initiatives and prowess.
We’ve been driving the best seller in the current Civic line-up which also gets a diminutive 998cc three cylinder turbo to propel it.
With five seats and a huge boot, the idea of such a tiny power plant up front may not at first appear terribly appealing.
But take a closer a look at the spec and you’ll see it knocks out no fewer than 127bhp, produces a meagre 117g/km of emissions and will sail past the 120mph mark. Impressive stats that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago.
In practice the three-pot power unit is sweet and refined with reasonable pull from high gear, the lack of cubic inches only becoming apparent on a gradient or when fully loaded with passengers.
The slickest of six-speed gearbox helps make life better when you have to change down a cog or two.
The engine itself is fairly quiet when not stretched with a pleasant distant burble.
Floor the accelerator, and there’s a tad more commotion but few will be troubled by this. In terms of acceleration it polishes off 62mph in around 11 seconds, so it’s similar to what you would have expected from a 1.4-litre unit a few years ago.
Drive the Civic the way it encourages you, ie with a touch of verve, and the fuel gauge will take a dip possibly to the mid 30s.
But pedal lightly and 45-plus is a possibility.
Few cars respond so positively to gentle running.
Steering is positive and fairly high geared and offers more feedback than most.
Together with fluid handling and an absence of body roll, the result is quite a sporting drive by family saloon standards. It feels better planted on the road than the obvious rivals.
The Civic’s angular styling with multitudinous mock air intakes may not be to everyone’s taste, but it certainly stands out from crowd, and I found its raffish lines grew on me as time went by.
On the practical side of things, the cabin has a Tardis-like feel to it with ample legroom for all, despite the low seating position, which means headroom is never an issue.
There’s a stack of stowage space and the boot swallows up 550 litres of luggage – there’s even a false floor that allows to hide away valuable.
Alternatively, lift up the lid and use as a stop to prevent shopping rattling around.
The EX version tested which is the best equipped model – apart from the racy Type R – comes with climate control, sat-nav, leather seating and even an electric glass sliding pan-roof. Some of the controls especially for the heating and sat nav are a bit fiddly however.
The looks might be of the Marmite variety, but beneath the surface the Civic is a clever and well-thought family hatch with much to recommend.