Honda isn’t the kind of car maker to measure success exclusively in terms of units sold and overall market share captured.
This engineering-led innovator has been making Civics for four decades and more than 20 million examples have been sold worldwide.
But despite having been built in the UK or more than a quarter of its life now, the Civic has never featured among Britain’s top 10 annual best-selling new cars.
Into that context of unexploited potential, and borne out of Honda’s will to compete more closely with the established local powers across as many of Europe’s new car market segments as possible, comes the ninth-generation Civic five-door – the third to be assembled at Swindon.
With carbon dioxide emissions, running costs, prices and kit levels that position it shoulder to shoulder with the likes of the Volkswagen Golf, Vauxhall Astra and Ford Focus, this Civic at last looks as if it has the platform from which to deliver sales results.
Even the car we are looking at here has been described as ‘too conservative for younger buyers’ by the Civic’s project boss, Mitsuru Kiraya. That is why Honda is readying its tenth generation Civic for launch in early 2017 to carry on its fight againsts its European contemporaries. Like the current generation the new Civic will also be built at the Swindon plant, with Honda earmarking £200 million of investment in new production technologies and processes.
Honda was always likely to struggle to reproduce the sense of amazement that it created with the design of the 2006 Civic, so it hasn’t tried. Although the wider, more prominent ten generation Civic comes bearing an more aggressive look.
The company describes this new version as “a thoughtful evolution”, saying the exterior styling is more athletic and elegant than that of the last car and its profile lower, wider and more aerodynamic. As much as it can be, at any rate, while retaining the old car’s basic mechanical platform and fixed references, or ‘hard points’.
The shortage of design freedom that implies might explain some of the less visually successful parts of the Civic’s styling, such as its front wings, bodyside surfaces and rear bumper treatment.
This, as most testers agreed, is not an attractive-looking car. From a functional perspective, however, design improvements have been made.
The drag coefficient is a close-to-class-leading 0.27 and rearward visibility has been improved by a more intelligently designed tailgate with a standard wiper.
Heeding feedback from dealers and customers, the Civic hatchback underwent a mild dynamic and styling refresh for the 2014 model year, aimed at giving the car a slightly more upmarket feel.
The key exterior styling changes are at the rear, which gets privacy glass on the lower rear window, and piano black finishes to the tailgate, licence plate surround and lower bumper.
The front bumper finish is made piano black, instead of anthracite grey, and there are darker wheelarch garnishes. The changes are extremely subtle, but a side-by-side comparison with older versions indicates a more cohesive appearance for those who look closely enough.
Upfront there are three engine choices, which include a 1.4-litre and 1.8-litre petrol engines and a 1.6-litre diesel engine to choose from, while the Civic Type-R comes with a turbocharged 2.0-litre VTEC engine producing 306bhp.
Honda has set out to make the cabin of the new Civic more luxurious and upmarket than its predecessor’s and it has achieved this up to a point.
The interior of our test car looked and felt very pleasant, fitted out in soft, tactile plastics and leathers with all the integrity and finished with all the attention to detail that you expect of a true premium product.
All it really lacks is the material variety and richness, as well as the more imaginative and contemporary styling, of the plushest luxury hatches of the moment.
There are three trim levels to choose from when speccing your Civic – Sport, SE Plus Navi and SR. Opt for the entry-level model and you will find DAB radio, climate control, front and rear parking sensors, and Honda’s Connect infotainment system. Upgrade to the SE Navi Plus and Garmin sat nav is included, along with auto wipers and lights, and 17in alloy wheels.
The range-topping SR models get heated leather seats and a panoramic sunroof on top, while the Type-R trim sees the addition of an aggressive bodykit, adaptive dampers, low profile tyres, a reversing camera and LED headlights.
The dashboard architecture is very much driver-orientated, made up of two arcing swathes of plastic that wrap around the right-hand seat, encompassing the binnacle below and the speedometer and new intelligent multi-information display above.
The logic of having an analogue rev counter underneath a digital speedo may seem flawed, but the car’s instruments are clear and work well.
However, we can’t say the same about the rest of the car’s secondary controls. Although the steering wheel-mounted shortcut buttons are easy to get on with, controlling the audio system and sat-nav is made needlessly difficult by fiddly switchgear. The labels are small and tricky to read, too.
Elsewhere, the cabin is designed more thoughtfully, but it’s far from the class’s most accommodating car. In the front, a high-mounted driver’s seat conspires with shallow A-pillars and a low roof line to make headroom tight; there’s over 100mm less of it than some hatchbacks offer.
In the rear, there’s about 60mm less headroom than you’ll find in a Golf, making it an uncomfortable place to travel for anyone taller than 6ft.
The boot is quite generous, though. The absence of a spare wheel makes for a split-level load bay that’s almost a metre tall. And the ‘magic’ rear seats not only fold down totally flat but also have squabs that flip upright to allow you to accommodate more ungainly things such as bicycles.
All told, there’s 477 litres of boot space with the rear seats in place and a healthy 1210 litres when the bench is folded. Naturally, to keep pace with its nearest rivals Honda also offers the Civic Tourer which gives ample space and access for most carrying needs.
The new Honda Civic’s petrol engines range from 1.4 to 1.8 litres in capacity and 98bhp to 140bhp in power output.
Fresher to the range is a sub-100g/km 1.6-litre oil-burner, the poster child for Honda’s latest, frugal engine range. It has replaced the larger capacity all-aluminium 2.2 i-DTEC unit.
The smaller 1.6-litre turbodiesel’s 118bhp of peak power and 221lb ft of torque, combined with CO2 emissions of 94g/km, make it an outstanding on-paper prospect among its peers.
As is the class norm, the engine sits transversely under the bonnet and drives the front wheels through a standard six-speed manual gearbox. As with the outgoing Civic, suspension is via MacPherson struts at the front and a torsion beam at the rear.
The smaller diesel is pleasingly unaffected by the usual rattle and clatter of diesel engines at low and middling crank speeds, and pulls as hard as many 2.0-litre units at times.
It doesn’t like revving beyond 3500rpm too much, and isn’t as refined at high revs as it is lower down. But throttle response is good, and there’s no sense at all that what you’re driving might be in any way austerity-minded.
The 1.6-litre diesel engine is very effectively isolated from the cabin, too. Honda makes a big deal of the noise and vibration reduction regime that the Civic has been through. This has resulted in extra insulation in the rear wheel arches, roof and engine bay, better door seals all round and thicker front side windows.
You can certainly perceive the improvement. Although the noise levels we recorded look quite average, they mask a car that filters out the harshest frequencies of mechanical noise and road roar very well, and it suffers with little wind rustle.
Both the naturally aspirated 1.4-litre and 1.8-litre petrol engines are a little outclassed in terms of their figures and overall usability by the more refined turbocharged petrols available in rival cars.
The 1.8-litre petrol engine is a mixed bag. Around town and at a cruise it’s a model of smooth, hushed refinement, but it isn’t particularly satisfying to work hard.
Peak torque – and it is a peak, not a broad spread – of just 128lb ft appears up at 4300rpm, and consequently the 140bhp peak power figure appears high up, too, at a lofty 6500rpm.
Add long, widely spaced upper gear ratios, presumably to help lower the CO2 figure, and the perverse consequence is that you have to rev the high heavens out of it on wide throttle openings to make the car feel reasonable sprightly, which results in anything but low CO2 figures.
It also results in quite a bit of noise in the cabin and the need to shuffle up and down the gearbox to maintain speed – and in the 1.4-litre petrol, even more so.
A six-speed manual gearbox is the default option across all the variants, although the 1.8-litre petrol can be specified with a five-speed automatic transmission. In that form the Civic returns a claimed 44.8mpg and emits 148g/km of CO2.
At the ninth time of asking, Honda has produced a compact five-door hatchback that seems well suited to European tastes.
The Civic measures up to relevant European market standards, represents a strong value proposition and seems sufficiently well rounded and mature in its performance, ride and handling to make it a convincing alternative to the Golf, Focus, and Astra.
Now, in most of the ways that matter, the Civic can be considered a real contender.
Slightly poor passenger accommodation and some poorly chosen cabin equipment are all that separate the new Civic from a four-star rating.
In most other respects, it is every bit as good as the cars that dominate Europe’s family hatchback class.
In its refinement, intelligent packaging and material quality, in fact, it’s little short of outstanding. However, the tenth generation Civic hopes its radical, if slightly more conventional look and bigger size will close the gap even more to its closest rivals and address some of the failings outlined in this road test.
|Year||2012 MODEL, 2013 REGISTRATION|
|Exterior Color||Pearl White|