The improved Honda Civic is a car that should stand out for discerning buyers in the family hatchback sector. June Neary discovers the personality beneath the bonnet.
Will It Suit Me?
The ninth generation Honda Civic is certainly one of the more interesting shapes in the Focus-sized family hatchback sector - in contrast to some of the conservative Civic shapes of the past. Which in my book, makes it a welcome contender in this segment, especially in the revised, more affordable form we're going to look at here. Honda aim to reduce the average ownership age of Civic buyers with this model and I certainly think they'll do that. The more I looked at this car, the more the sweeping lines grew on me.
It's adventurously styled inside as well as out. There isn't a cockpit I can think of this side of a motorshow concept car that looks more wilfully futuristic with its dual-plane architecture and mixture of analogue and digital instrumentation. In principle, it sounds like a mixed-up mess. In practice, it all works brilliantly. For mainstream models, it's a 5-door-only bodyshape this time round, but you do get the choice of either a five-door hatch or an estate. Thanks to a recent facelift, gone is the weirdly modern yet somewhat bland face and in comes revised headlight units with integrated daytime running lights and a more rakish front bumper assembly. The hatch I tried had the usual Civic coupe-style look to its shape but despite this, there's still reasonable room in the back. Though the seats here recline, they don't slide back and forth, but that's only because they can do something cleverer still. If you've a tall load to carry - say a plant from the garden centre - you can flip the base up, cinema seat-style. Safety's pretty important to me - as to many Family Hatchback buyers. Previous Civic models were recognised amongst the safest cars in their class and this version has continued the theme. With a tough body structure and subframes, recessed pedals, double pretensioners on the front seatbelts and side curtain airbags, this Civic has achieved a Euro NCAP five star result for front and side impact safety.
Behind the Wheel
The interior is spacious and comfortable and the driving position exemplary, the sweet-shifting gearbox and careful dashboard design distinctly favourable. And the car is comfortable, even if it were fully loaded with three adults, two children and half my local toyshop. I tried the 1.8-litre i-VTEC petrol engine. This 142PS powerplant isn't especially efficient but it is quite quick, claiming the performance of a 2.0-litre unit with the efficiency of a 1.6. That's pretty much the way it pans out, rest to sixty occupying 9.1s on the way to 134mph, more than four seconds and 18mph faster than the entry-level petrol 1.4. The 120PS 1.6-litre i-DTEC diesel's much better refined though, slightly ironic given that with competitors, refinement is one reason you're tempted not to consider the diesel option. Here, it's the other way round. As perhaps you might expect given that the diesel has nearly double the petrol model's resources of pulling power, so you don't have to rev the thing so much.
Value For Money
Fuel costs apart, where Honda has really set out to make the latest Civic differ noticeably from the competition is in specification. To charm out the chequebooks, included as standard on every model are luxury features you won't expect to find at prices that start at just under £16,000. Across the line-up, expect to find gear like a Bluetooth hands-free connectivity, plus the 7" touchscreen, giving you control over the MP3-compatible CD player, MirrorLink for your 'phone and in-built Garmin-Navigation. You'll also find two USB jacks and a HDMI input to sync with your music player of choice. Honda has introduced a few small changes that improve comfort and convenience when you're on the move. Things like a lumbar adjustment on the driver's seat and a rear view camera to help you nudge into the tightest of spaces and just bump up the value proposition a bit. And glory be, you even get a rear wiper! I wouldn't normally bother to mention this feature but unbelievably, the previous generation Civic hatch never had one, the designers talking of droplet-dispersing aerodynamics and forgetting how useless that is in slow traffic.
Could I Live With One?
This improved ninth generation Honda Civic is a great car for taking on a picnic, dashing round town or powering down the motorway for a business appointment. Yes, I would happily make room in my drive for one.