Honda has introduced the ninth-generation Civic four-door to the local market. Does the newcomer represent a leap forward or is it a case of more of the same?
In terms of the new four-door’s styling, we’re talking more of a gentle evolution than a radical restyle. The profile is still fairly dynamic, aided by a steeply raked windshield and a moderate upward kick at the tail. The frontal aspect draws cues from some of the company’s more contemporary offerings (think Ballade and Insight) with a more angular nose punctuated by a louvered grill flanked by upswept headlamps. The Executive-spec model we tested rolls on a set of 16-inch alloys and looks suitably upmarket, but not especially eye-catching. The new Civic bucks the recent trend of vehicles growing larger in each passing generation and externally is more compact than its predecessor – an upshot of which becomes apparent when you climb inside.
Although the new car is 15 mm shorter overall, the same width and 30 mm trimmer in its wheelbase than the outgoing car, the engineers at Honda have somehow managed to free up an additional 75 mm of shoulderroom, 40 mm of extra legroom in the front and another 10 mm of legroom for those in the rear. These may not sound like much, but they do translate into a spacious and airy cabin. The boot isn’t the most capacious in its class, measuring 288 dm3 with the seats in place but expanding to 952 dm3 with the seatbacks folded.
The previous car came in for some criticism regarding its quirky facia treatment and, while the new car retains the tiered display first showcased in the previous model, it has been toned down. The rev counter still sits above the small steering wheel, with a large digital speedo and primary information display conveniently falling just below the driver’s line of sight. To the left of the speedo sits a colour multi-information display through which the car’s media and secondary information can be displayed – it can even show user-downloaded wallpapers and album sleeves when an iPod is hooked up to the sound system. The ancillary controls are logically laid out and clearly labelled, but the perceived quality of some of the cabin plastics is not class-leading, although the general fit and finish are good. Thankfully, the seats are supportive and easily adjustable, and sound insulation is high.
As a brand, Honda endeavours to inject a bit more fun into its cars. Consequently, the new Civic four-door has received a number of upgrades to certain dynamic elements. The electric power steering now features a motion-adaptive assistance module that varies the amount of assistance given under certain driving scenarios by working with the stability control to counter oversteer by applying guiding torque to the steering mechanism. It’s a mixed bag; although the steering does feel a touch more accurate than before, it still errs on the overly light side.
The suspension setup (Mac-Pherson front, double-wishbone rear) has also been upgraded to offer improved damping.
The ride is supple but the handling, although pretty nimble for the size of the Civic, is not quite as involving as the likes of the Ford Focus. It does, however, strike a neat balance between comfort and a bit of fun, being sufficiently damped to make everyday use a pleasure.
The 1,8-litre i-VTEC powerplant at the heart of this model has undergone subtle changes to eke out better fuel economy but is otherwise very similar to the previous car’s unit. It’s quite a gruff engine that, in typical VTEC fashion, needs to be revved to get the best out of it. With outputs of 104 kW at 6 500 r/min and 174 N.m of torque at 4 300 r/min, the powertrain is no ball of fire, as evidenced by a leisurely 0-100 km/h time of 10,7 seconds.
Several testers commented that, while the transmission is smooth in its operation, it does have a tendency to hunt when pressing on and the shift sensation has a slippy CVT feel to it, which is an acquired taste. Even so, it doesn’t turn the Civic into a fuel-chugger – our fuel route run saw the car return 6,8 litres/100 km.
All models in the new Civic line-up feature a modified version of the eco module that provides the driver with visual cues to aid more fuel-efficient driving.
Those expecting to be bowled over by the new Civic may be somewhat disappointed by what Honda has done here. Basically, the firm has taken a capable car and subtly improved upon certain traits. It’s by no means a bad vehicle – it’s spacious, comfy, light on fuel, more involving to drive and should prove mech-anically bombproof. It just doesn’t represent a vast leap forward and, in a market where exceptional progress is the expected norm and rivals are increasingly offering more kit for less money, the new Civic four-door will have its work cut out.