What is it?
The old Honda Civic – that is to say, the current one – was classic Honda. Conceived the other side of the 2008 global crash and then torn up in the aftermath, the five-door model arrived in Europe virtually pre-wrapped in also-ran status thanks to, in no particular order, its oddball looks, mediocre interior and an engine line-up which relegated petrol buyers to a naturally aspirated motor that dated like cottage cheese.
A big state-of-play fix was required, so Honda returned to the drawing board with the kind of relish that has resulted in something wholly new and enhanced. Thus the old regimen of gently reshaping the Civic for the peculiarities of a different region has been wisely swept aside, and instead Honda has pooled its global resources and enacted what it calls the single largest development programme in the firm’s 70-year history.
Many things have happened, then, but at the crux of them lie some takeaway facts. Firstly, that the Civic has a more sophisticated multi-link rear axle where a humble twist beam previously lived. Second, there’s a new range of petrol engines, which are turbocharged for your pleasure and include the kind of cutting-edge, tiny-capacity three-pot that’s about to take the diesel-unfriendly world by storm, and third, there’s a new look and an overhauled cabin.
The reason for the fresh look is because there’s an all-new platform, which is not only wider and significantly longer than that of the last model but also lower. Lower, naturally, is better, for centre of gravity, for your butt cheek-to-road measurement and to look at from afar. There has also been a commensurate toughening of the new-fangled unibody – by 52% in torsional rigidity and, partly thanks also to the new rear axle, a whopping 88% in lateral stiffness.
Those are wantonly large, dynamic-altering numbers, and that’s rather obviously Honda’s plan: to drive better, more comfortably and more engagingly than the immediate opposition. Even more heartening, the opposition is emphatically European: the new Civic may be global, but the benchmark is set by Europe’s premier C-segment, where Honda has correctly judged the world’s finest five-door examples to endure.
Here, we’re driving the 127bhp 1.0 i-VTEC Turbo.
What’s it like?
It’s probably fair to say that impeccable C-segment styling – of the sort that Volkswagen, Vauxhall, Seat and Ford now glibly turn in every lifecycle – remains a nut left high on the tree for Honda still to crack. The Civic’s designer is Japanese, and the design influences of his homeland are the salient ones here. That means the car is busy with lines and features and veneers – and not entirely at ease with any of them.
Nevertheless, it is possibly less troubling in the flesh than on paper, and – I think – modestly better looking than the model that preceded it. Inside, there’s no modesty about it: the new Civic is dramatically superior, even allowing for the laboured Honda Connect infotainment system. Mainly that’s because the old layout was peculiar and the latest one isn’t, but beyond that it’s sturdily good looking, generally well thought out and eminently durable in the predominantly plastic way that Honda long ago made its own.
With the fuel tank now moved aft (it was under the front seats in the old model), the advantage of sitting 34mm lower can hardly be overstated either, and while the rear has hardly swollen to class-leading size, the benefit to back seat passengers of a longer wheelbase is appreciable, too.
The way the Civic now drives is similarly deserving of praise. The virtues of its myriad hardware changes are manifested in an enduring sense of real composure, and it’s; a characteristic that assimilates everything from the ride quality to the unflappable handling. The passive suspension is no less impressive than the adaptive set-up we tried in prototype format last year, with bump absorption is of a consistently high standard, and – on Spanish roads – the car doesn’t want for wheel control, even when upset under cornering loads.
This helps to make the Civic’s basic poise a tangible asset. Better managing the transition between yaw moment, lateral g and body roll was a specific Honda target, and it has duly rendered a car confidently in control of its faculties. Granted, the longer, wider footprint has certainly not upgraded any lingering sense of verve – this is innocuously balanced front-drive handling, with a slightly syrupy steering feel to match – but the Civic’s precision and overriding sense of assurance make for easy bedfellows.
Likewise the new 1.0-litre motor, which dependably fulfills the now familiar tiny three-pot brief. Honda, as its long heritage stipulates, takes the production of no new engine lightly. With no alternative to forced induction now available, the firm has responded by making its mono scroll turbocharger small and light enough not to overtly strangle the VTEC function toiling away elsewhere, and the result keeps any idea of variance in the delivery well distant from the driver. This is a blown triple in its most modern vogue: usable, quick enough, quiet enough and parsimonious by design.
Should I buy one?So long in the tooth and down in the mouth was the outgoing petrol-powered Civic that its replacement could hardly fail to improve on its appeal, yet that doesn’t detract from the commendable job done here. Honda reportedly spent a third of its total R&D budget on turning the model around, and it shows in the standard of the product already emerging from the Swindon plant (the exclusive manufacturer of the five-door variant). True enough, in its comfort, carefulness and congruity, this is a thoroughly mature, middle-of-the-road prospect. But among such options, the Civic ranks very highly indeed.
Honda Civic 1.0 i-VTEC Turbo SR
Location Spain; On sale March; Price £20,180; Engine 3 cyls, 988cc, turbo, petrol; Power 127bhp at 5500rpm; Torque 148lb ft at 2250rpm; Gearbox 6-spd manual; Kerb weight 1348kg; 0-62mph 10.9sec; Top speed 126mph; Economy 55.4mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 117g/km, 20%; Rivals Seat Leon, Ford Focus, Vauxhall Astra
What is it?