WHILE the focus is understandably on Honda’s red hot Civic Type R, there are two other choices in the Japanese manufacturer’s small car Civic line-up: the fuel efficient e-HEV and VTi-LX that kicks off the range priced from $47,200 drive-away and is subject of this review.
Though well-endowed with standard equipment, the (premium) starting price for Civic VTi-LX may be problematic for many potential buyers with lower priced hatch back alternatives like the Hyundai i30 from $24,000, Kia Cerato from $26,590, Mazda 3 from $30,320, Peugeot 308GT from $43,990, Toyota Corolla from $29,610, Subaru Impreza from $31,490 and VW Golf from $39,190 all excluding on-road costs.
The point is that some of these models, if specified to the same or similar level as the Civic VTi-LX and drive away priced, would be closer to Civic money… Then there is a brace of small, coveted European models close to the money from Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz.
This is generation 11 Civic and not a rehash of the previous model though they are proportionally similar meaning large for a small segment car. The new model is a much more convincing argument in styling terms than its rather ungainly looking predecessor especially around the rear bumper and tail-light area.
It has a wider stance, is lower, longer in the wheelbase (+35mm) and runs larger wheels and tyres. The windows are bigger, belt-line lower and the front styling cleaned up for an overall better looking, coupe-style hatchback.
And Honda didn’t stop at the sheet metal as the new chassis is significantly stronger than the previous model for dynamic gains, improved drive feel, and safety and lower noise levels.
Inside is a continuation of the exterior’s evolution with Honda opting for a low set, simplified dash design featuring a clever honeycomb fascia spanning the car and hiding vent outlets. New seats grace the interior which is quieter than before from the application of more sound deadening material.
Motive power comes from a conventional 1.5-litre turbocharged petrol four cylinder that is rated at 131kW and 240Nm using regular unleaded at a claimed combined 6.3 litres per 100km.
But it’s more than merely “conventional” boasting race spec’ forged internals including the crankshaft, con-rods and pistons, chain driven lightweight hollow camshafts complete with VTEC variable cam timing and lift and a host of other clever tech that Honda is renowned for.
The turbo for example is cast integral with the exhaust manifold and angled for optimum spool that gives quicker response and minimises turbo lag. Drive is to the front wheels solely through a stepped CVT calibrated to feel like a fluid automatic.
Standard features in the 1369kg Civic VTi-LX include three drive modes: Econ, Normal and Sport, premium 12-speaker Bose audio, wireless Bluetooth connectivity (Apple CarPlay), native sat nav, internet connect with paired device, 9.0-inch central touch screen, dual-zone climate control, automatic cruise control with brake function, electrically adjustable, heated front seats, voice recognition, button start and multi-function ‘wheel.
Additional to that, the “base” model Civic scores leather-look upholstery, paddle shifters, LED head- and tail-lights with auto high beam and an extensive suite of the latest HondaSensing Advanced Driver Assist Systems.
This is an impressive car to drive by anyone’s measure offering responsive dynamics with a comfortable ride, excellent grip and braking and plenty of zip from the small capacity turbo engine.
It has around the same peak kilowatt output as the $55k hybrid 2.0-litre Civic e-HEV but not as much torque. However, the engine is calibrated for maximum torque at 1700rpm, right where it’s needed for everyday driving.
After preparing everything to drive the Civic: push the start button, deactivate some of the more interventionist driver assist stuff, adjust the mirrors and seat, release the electric hand brake, select a gear, push the OK button to activate the touchscreen functions, hook up Bluetooth, select a guidance system, turn on the audio and then (finally) push the accelerator, it turns out the Civic VTi-LX is a bit of a pocket rocket that delivers a sporty drive feel unexpected in such a vehicle that we would notionally classify as a small family runabout.
The Civic VTi-LX is more than that as it is entirely capable of being taken on the Sunday morning, head clearing mountain run or just out for an enjoyable and engaging drive.
Mind you, the CVT is counter to this notion unless utilising the paddle shift which works well rarely refusing to change and flicking gears through as quickly as you could expect from a CVT “slush box”.
Where’s that manual transmission when you need one?
Other dynamic aspects of the Civic are top notch, in particular the direct steering, flat cornering stance and neutral attitude with minimal front push. All this is complemented by decent rubber and strong brakes. But it’s not sports car firm as Honda has been able to deliver a high level of comfort from the sporty suspension even on rough potholed bitumen.
It’s quiet enough too despite the sporty setup and turbo ICE engine whizzing under the bonnet.
We achieved 6.8 litres per 100km on test, close to the claimed 6.3L/100km on 91 RON unleaded which gives the Civic a range of perhaps 650km plus on the 47-litre tank.
The lowish ride height might be an issue for some people getting in but the seats are super comfy and hold you in place snugly.
All controls are easy to find and operate with the usual touchscreen operated menu system dominant for just about everything and a spray of hard buttons on the dash and wheel for critical functions.
Only a couple of complaints in this area like having to push the touchscreen “OK” button every time you start the car and deactivating the annoying (potentially dangerous) active lane keeping system and idle-stop system, again, every time you drive the car.
The emergency front brake assist is seriously pessimistic in its calibration panicking and flashing a warning at the merest hint of crossing another vehicle’s path. Minor irritations in the greater scheme of things and nowhere near as intrusive as some…
There’s plenty of room inside for four, five at a pinch and a decent size luggage space at the rear together with numerous storage options in the cabin and a really handy, large Qi charging pad at the front of the centre console. Love the Bose premium audio but the air-conditioning struggled from start-up on some of the recent very hot days.
We like the looks of the new Civic from all angles and give Honda a big tick for relegating to history the awful crab claw taillights and bumper from the previous model. About the only stumbling block is the price which would stop more than a few punters especially given the level of competition and what it has to offer.
Still, this is a Honda with a 50-year timespan of making Civics, so they know how to do it right… and it shows.