Bigger but pricier: can the new Civic win ground for Honda?
On the South African market for 34 years now, the 10th generation of that poster-child for sensible motoring, the Honda Civic sedan, has arrived. It was not a market that was particularly enthused with the ninth generation, however, with the highly regarded hatch and sedan combined selling in the low 20s each month. Can this new-generation sedan increase those numbers? It’s a big ask in the current economic climate, but Honda SA will be buoyed by this new car’s huge success in the USA, where its introduction saw sales jump an impressive 28 %.
In theory, its chances look good. For one thing, its bigger brother, the Accord, has been discontinued in SA and Honda sees this new Civic as, in part, taking some of its former sibling’s sales by dipping its toes in D-segment waters. How so? Well, along with various specification and engine offerings, the new Civic is noticeably larger. With a wheelbase that’s 30 mm longer and total length up by 109 mm, it has more passenger leg- and shoulder-room, as well as a boot that, at 320 dm3, offers 10 % more space. And then there’s the price … that also puts it into D-segment territory, but we’ll talk more about that later.
As ever, styling remains subjective and the CAR team was divided in it opinion of what’s clearly a more purposeful-looking vehicle than its rather vanilla predecessor. Lower overall by some 20 mm, the sloping roof gives it a fastback-like silhouette that’s filled with a dynamic mix of sharp creases and curves that afford this Civic a far more aggressive appearance. The nose sports Honda’s new “wing face” grille (piano black on the Sport) that has LED daytime-running lights as standard, and the large C-shaped rear light design – together with the pinched boot – further emphasises the fastback shape.
As one of two derivatives offered with Honda’s new 1 498 cm3 turbopetrol, this Sport model also gets a long, plastic, colour-coded wing, an element that received a united thumbs-down from the CAR team. Given this sedan’s abilities and the fact that the 1,5T Executive derivative with exactly the same drivetrain doesn’t require this added “downforce”, this aero addendum is no more than an odd styling exercise.
The interior styling reflects the Civic’s new design aesthetic. There’s certainly a premium, if rather sombre feel, with full leather seats and a combination of soft-touch plastics, matte chrome and piano-black accents. A new dash replaces the oft-criticised two-tier instrument panel of its predecessor, with a digital binnacle that, on start-up, comes to life with a Disney Fantasia-like flourish. Once settled, though, the information it displays is both clear and bright.
The Sport is well specced and those standard leather seats are heated for the driver and passenger, you get cruise control with adjustable speed limiter, keyless entry with remote-starting ability, park sensors and a rear camera, a seven-inch touchscreen infotainment system with eight speakers, aux/USB/HDMI ports and Bluetooth connectivity, as well as a leather-covered multi-function steering wheel. One of these steering wheel functions is a touch-capacitive volume control that allows you to slide your thumb over the ribbed surface for decibel changes. It’s a little finicky and odd to use at first, but with some practise becomes useful to make fine volume changes.
The infotainment system, on the other hand, is less effective. Although it has an IPS (in-plane switching) screen that allows optimum viewing angles for both passenger and driver, the screen reflects sunlight, making it difficult to read at certain times. There’s a welcome airiness to the Civic’s cabin, with plenty of legroom and, even with that sloping roof, your average-height adult will have both enough shoulder- and headroom when sitting on the rear pew.
In terms of safety, ABS, EBD, vehicle-stability assist and hill-start are standard active safety features, along with front/side/curtain airbags, seatbelt pre-tensioners and rear Isofix child-seat anchors as passive ones. While it’s yet to undergo EuroNCAP testing, the new Civic sedan has received five stars under ASEAN NCAP tests.
There are two engines in the range – mated solely with a CVT transmission – with a mildly reworked version of the previous generation’s 104 kW 1,8-litre petrol and this new 127 kW 1,5-litre turbopetrol. The cheaper derivatives get the 1,8-litre and are priced similarly to the outgoing Civic, while the far pricier and better-specced 1,5-litre turbopetrols are aimed at that previous Accord market.
The new turbo engine is one of the Civic’s highlights; there isn’t much turbo-lag and it’s impressively torquey with a large dose of that 220 N.m pulling power delivered over a wide rev range (between 1 700 and 5 500 r/min). Just as well, because it’s the only way a CVT is going to feel even vaguely responsive. On our test strip, despite this transmission, the 1,5T Sport recorded a best 0-100 km/h time of rather brisk 7,93 seconds – surprisingly, better than the 8,2 seconds that Honda claims.
Meant to match optimum engine speed with its infinite ratios, CVTs get a bad rap, and rightly so. While some are better than others – and this is one of the better ones – they remain a frustration in daily use, appearing to throttle the engine rather than encourage it. This Honda unit has seven artificial “gears”, or steps, that the unit kicks down to under-enthusiastic driving, but that entirely defeats the point of a seamless transmission and a normal torque-converter auto must be a better option.
The best option with this excellent new engine would’ve been a manual, especially given Honda’s expertise. According to it, however, the majority of Civic buyers opt for an auto, which is why this will be CVT only.
Perhaps the most impressive feature of the new Civic is the ride. Built on Honda’s new platform that will also underpin the next CR-V, the Civic is both lighter and stronger than the vehicle it replaces. The suspension setup is right on the money for a car of this size and application – its damping, and resultant bump absorption, is excellent at low speed and the car is smooth and comfortable when asking a little more, exhibiting little body roll. It is certainly a sharper handling vehicle than before, too, thanks in part to Honda’s Agile Handling Assist tech that subtly brakes the inside front wheel to promote quicker turn-in during enthusiastic driving.