The Honda Civic hatchback's first impression has to be its most lasting. It certainly makes a statement, and gets more than its fair number of double takes, but is this trendsetter really any good where it matters most - on the road?

Its in-your-face styling may not necessarily appeal to all, but even those who are repulsed are likely to remain intrigued by those bold wraparound light clusters at the front and rear, and the daring lines etched into the profile. The car's futuristic exterior styling is carried through to the interior where the first thing that confronts the driver is the large, layered instrument cluster detailing important information, fuel gauge and tachometer readings, and a very visible digital speedometer. Most important controls are placed conveniently to the left and right of the steering wheel (with multifunction controls).

On the road, the Civic is as even tempered as would be expected from this Japanese offering. The steering is nicely weighted, with the wheel perfectly sized for easy wielding, to which the car proved very keen, attacking corners and clear stretches with equal gusto (and confidence inspiring handling).

Though only a 1,8-litre, its performance could hardly be scoffed at. Acceleration through the six-speed manual gearbox is smooth, with the novel brushed metal gearshift offering decisive shifts accompanied by a light and predictable clutch action.

And while I expected to experience some distortion from the split rear window, this wasn't the case, though the spoiler jutting out mid-screen did do a good job of concealing some of the cars behind me. But from inside the cabin, the Civic hatchback is very well insulated with virtually no wind or tyre roar - even the engine's responses are somewhat muffled.