Honda’s ever-popular Civic is now into its 10th generation. Does it still have what it takes to compete in a packed marketplace?
The Honda Civic has been with us a long time – 34 years to be precise. In that time it’s proved a hit with buyers looking for a sensible, reliable family car and hot hatch and trackday fans after something fast and agile.
Annual global sales of 620,000 show Honda has been doing something to keep both sides happy but in recent years the Japanese manufacturer has begun to worry that the Civic (lunatic Type R aside) has lost some of its dynamism.
The stated aim, then, with the 10th generation of Civic was to regain a sporty driving experience.
To that end a lot of time was spent on improving everything from the car’s weight to its structural rigidity and suspension. There’s more high-strength steel, new construction processes and multi-link independent rear suspension in place of the old torsion beam.
In all, it makes for an engaging and fun car to drive. Handling is certainly very good, the variable-speed rack operates unobtrusively and is quick and responsive. The car changes direction tidily and even under lively driving holds the road and its line through corners well.
Honda Civic 1.5 Sport
Engine: 1.5-litre, four-cylinder, turbocharged petrol
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Top speed: 137mph
0-62mph: 8.2 seconds
Fuel economy: 48.7mpg
CO2 emissions: 133g/km
What’s more, the ride doesn’t suffer unduly. It’s still pliant around town and on uneven surfaces.
Cars in Sport and Sport Plus trim can be specified with adaptive dampers which switch between comfort-focused and sporting settings but even without these the Civic’s road manners inspire confidence.
The new, improved chassis has been paired with new, improved engines. A diesel Civic will be along eventually but from launch the car is available with a choice of two petrols. They comprise a 1.0-litre three-cylinder unit which is turbocharged to produce 127bhp and a four-cylinder turbo’d 1.5-litre putting out 180bhp.
The 1.0 is another example of how far engine tech has come in recent years. With 127bhp and 147lb/ft it’s more than capable of shifting the 1,300kg Civic along quickly and effectively. Under hard acceleration, there’s quite a bit of noise but around town and at cruise there’s very little noise or vibration intrusion into the cabin. For many buyers this will be the ideal powerplant, offering respectable performance with economy of up to 55.4mpg.
However, for those looking to engage in Honda’s sporty new direction, the 1.5 is the engine to go for. It sounds and feels livelier and will get the Civic to 60mph in 8.2 seconds. Mated to the six-speed manual and in partnership with the engaging chassis it makes for a really enjoyable car to throw around some twisty roads. It’ll even return 46.3mpg.
Both engines are available with either a six-speed manual or a CVT auto transmission that “simulates” seven gears. Unless you’re a masochist, go for the manual.
The different characteristics of the two engines are clearly defined in the different grades of the car. The 1.0-litre comes in familiar S, SE, SR and EX while the 1.5 wears Sport or Sport Plus. The larger engine can also be had in top of the range Prestige trim, which is a more luxury-leaning spec.
Equipment-wise the big news is that the Honda Sensing suite of safety features is standard across the range. The package offers a host of advanced technology including adaptive cruise control, traffic sign recognition with linked speed limiter, lane keep assist, forward collision warning and collision mitigation braking.
As with the previous model, the Civic’s cabin is spacious and drivers of all shapes and sizes should be able to get comfortable easily. Where it really steals a march on many rivals, however, is behind the front seats. The ninth generation’s already impressive rear legroom has been improved further and the Civic is among the roomiest cars in its class. Headroom too is decent, despite the sloping roof.
The boot, likewise, is unmatched in the segment, with 478 litres It lacks some of the fancy storage solutions found in other cars but is a good, wide space that’s easy to access thanks to a wide tailgate. There’s also a useful concealed space beneath the boot floor, although the Sport’s central-exit exhaust eats into this space.
While rivals can’t match the Civic’s cabin for space, it’s the other way round when it comes to quality. Many Far Eastern rivals have made big strides in the standard of materials and layout recently but the Civic hasn’t matched them. The layout is clear and the switchgear is sensibly arranged but the plastics from the dashboard down are a clear step behind most cars in the segment. It’s not the end of the world but when so much time has been spent on the mechanical side of things, it feels like the interior has been a last-minute job.
While we’re being unkind, we need to talk about the looks. Beauty is said to be in the eye of the beholder but I’m afraid I struggle with the new Civic’s appearance. It’s better in the metal than in pictures and certainly exudes the sporty image Honda is going for but the front end in particular with its strange jutting plastic strip across the centre of the grille is challenging. The rear lines of the hatch are also confused and the Civic is one of the rare cars where the four-door saloon (which the UK won’t get) is better looking than the hatchback.
Subjective styling and some below-par plastics aside, there is plenty to like about the latest Civic. It’s spacious and well-equipped and, while many rivals struggle to engage the driver, the Civic is really enjoyable to drive, especially in 1.5 manual guise.