Honda has well and truly nailed its colours to the mast with the ninth-generation Civic saloon. Whereas Hyundai’s Elantra used to be embodiment of safe but staid styling with a conservative clientele squarely in its sights, the Korean brand’s latest family saloon now sports an eye-catching design with a soupçon of sex appeal. By contrast, the Civic looks to camp out in Corolla corner and ply its trade by offering solid, economical and well-engineered models that are happy to submit to the will of the fun police.
I once owned an entry-level Ballade (as the Civic was known in South Africa a decade and a half ago) and as a piece of engineering and a finished product, the 1,6 Comfort reminds me very much of my 1,5-litre Encore of yesteryear, all of which is great. I just wish that the new Civic had retained that hint of sporty pizazz that used to lurk somewhere under its predecessors’ sheetmetal… That always used to bring a smile to my face. Now the Civic gets a satisfied nod, but perhaps that’s the exact response that Honda’s looking for.
After all, I am getting on a bit.
Our test unit arrived at CAR’s offices finished in attractive metallic paint and shod with (standard) 15-inch alloy wheels, but the Civic’s styling is best described as classy, elegant and altogether safe. The frontal treatment is certainly more progressive than that of the previous Civic, but the lack of fog lamps is obvious. Inside the cabin feels spacious but the light grey upholstery, which is complemented by swathes of grey plastic trim, not to mention hard black plastic on the two-tiered dashboard, exudes quality – and an imagination quotient of zero. The air-conditioning and temperature/ventilation controls come courtesy of rudimentary black plastic buttons and metal-look knobs on the lower facia and they jar with the digital screen above them, not to mention the banks of LED bars next to the speed readout that change according to one’s driving style.
To the Civic’s credit, the cabin is very comfortable and appreciably spacious fore and aft, even though some of my colleagues failed to find a driving position that would allow equal visibility for both tiers of the dashboard. The standard armrest was a plus, the lack of USB input for the WMA/MP3 sound system a minus, electric windows and mirrors are great, but lack of automatically-activated headlights and Bluetooth phone connectivity isn’t. The boot may not be particularly capacious, but does come equipped with rear seatback release levers and a full-sized spare under the board. When everything’s been considered however, it’s blatantly apparent that Korean carmakers now outshine the rest of the market in terms of offering cabins with a notable smattering of “surprise and delight” features; the Honda’s specification is very average.
It’s not all ho and hum from a driver’s point of view, I’m happy to report. The test unit’s 1,6-litre 16-valve engine is free-revving and mated with a positive-feeling, if long-throw, five-speed manual transmission. The braking ability is fair and steering direct and quick, if completely devoid of feel, and in terms of the ride quality, the Civic delivers pliant transport that is anything but wallowy. Should you drive the Civic as measuredly as the Honda engineers hope you will, a CAR fuel index of 8,04 litres per 100 km should be attainable.
Ultimately, the 1,6 Comfort is good – as virtually all new Hondas are. At R209 990, the decision to purchase this Honda can only be made rationally however, and I fear the product underlines the Civic’s reputation for being popular with empty nesters and retirees. Then again, if you want “funky”, get a CR-Z.
Model: Honda Civic 1,6 Comfort 4-dr
Engine: 1 598 cm3 four-cylinder naturally aspirated
Power: 92 kW at 6 500 r/min
Torque: 151 N.m at 4 300 r/min
Fuel consumption: 8,04 litres/100 km
CO2: 160 g/km
Top speed: 200 km/h
0-100 km/h: 9,6 secs
Price: R209 900
Service plan: 5 years/90 000 km