by Brad Leach - 15/11/12
‘The more things change, the more they say the same’ is not often a saying used in the new car industry but Honda begs to differ. In the 40th anniversary year of the Honda Civic the all-new ninth generation model returns to what made the Civic great – advanced engineering, build quality, nice driving dynamics and handy prices.
Some previous generation model Civics departed from that theme and clearly Honda has realized its error.
When we first drove the latest Honda Civic, Honda Australia was sourcing the sedan model from Japan as its Thailand plant was still being repaired after the devastating 2011 floods. Honda has now restored Thailand production and this has brought some minor running changes to the Civic – but only very minor for the VTi-L grade tested this time by Car Showroom.
Honda’s all-new Civic sedan is available in four model grades – VTi, VTi-L (the volume-seller as tested here), VTi-LN (adds satellite navigation and reversing camera) and Sport. With a new look but unchanged mechanicals, the ninth-generation Honda Civic goes into battle against an armada of credentialed small cars.
Apart from its new looks, the Honda Civic scores points in key areas of interior space, luggage capacity and value-for-money. Entry-level Honda Civic VTi is priced at $20,990 while our VTi-L automatic test car carried a sticker of $23,990.
For the Honda Civic VTi-L model tested, Honda has stuck with its proven 1.8-litre fuel-injected four-cylinder petrol engine. This was a bit of a surprise as there was some expectation for a double overhead camshaft design.
Notwithstanding, there’s no doubt Honda’s 1.8-litre engine matches most rivals in key stats – maximum power is 104kW at 6500rpm, peak torque is 174Nm at 4300rpm and combined cycle fuel consumption rates at 6.7l/100kms for the five-speed manual VTi-L as tested.
And that’s the other thing – most expected the five-speeder to be replaced by a more modern six-speed automatic transmission.
You would feel good if every time you climbed into your car and started the engine, an image of your partner, children, dog or even your last holiday appeared on the five-inch colour centre screen. The latest Honda Civic affords that level of customization for the ‘wallpaper’ in the new ‘i-MID’ screen.
‘i-MID’ stands for ‘Intelligent Multi Information Display’ and when not showing your customized wallpaper (our test car displayed an image of a Civic…boring!) presents handy information on items like fuel consumption, Bluetooth, outside temperature and warning messages. Honda Civic’s ‘i-MID’ screen is centrally located in the improved two-tier dashboard layout.
Pleasingly carried-over from the previous model is the colour-based dashboard driver ‘coaching’ system. ‘D’oh!’ – It’s green when you’re driving for maximum fuel economy and changes colour from there…get it?
There are nice new trim materials everywhere in the all-new Honda Civic and they combine with the larger glasshouse to provide a pleasant, airy ambience. Audio in our VTi-L model Honda Civic test car was a four-speaker CD system compatible for Bluetooth, MP3 and WMA.
Interior space is one area where Honda Civic outpoints many rivals. And in the rear seat, the new Civic leaves some big-name opposition looking seriously underdone – a big plus for family buyers.
Luggage space in the all-new Honda Civic is 440-litres – a winner in the golf bag test.
As a clean-sheet design, Car Showroom – like our colleagues – expected a ground-breaking all-new look for the latest Honda Civic. Honda had other ideas, delivering a design which is without doubt sophisticated, clean and contemporary, but also obviously an evolution of the previous generation Civic – in fact the all-new model has an identical footprint as its predecessor (length 4540mm, wheelbase 2670mm, front track 1500mm, rear track 1520mm).
Honda categorizes the all-new Civic’s looks as ‘monoform’ – clean and flowing and affording strong character with prominent sculpturing of doors and fenders. And in the case of our VTi-L model Honda Civic, those fenders were filled with nicely-styled 16-inch alloy wheels.
The Honda Civic’s front-end is certainly more athletic with sporty bumper, spoiler and lower air intake plus the latest Honda ‘corporate’ grille which sharply angles into the modern headlights. Different too is the windscreen which adopts a more angled rake and is larger to match the all-round larger glasshouse of the new Honda Civic.
Also new is the rear which, apart from its new design, jettisons Civic’s previous flat tail-lights and replaces them with new aerodynamic shapes (Honda’s designers like some of their rivals having discovered channeling air from the rear makes an important contribution to enhanced aerodynamics crucial to saving fuel).
For driving dynamics in this league, Mazda3 set the bar at its current height and has been matched by the Ford Focus. So Honda’s engineers had some tough acts to aspire to.
Tipping the scales at 1230kgs (VTi-L auto as tested) and riding on a conventional MacPherson strut front/ multi-lick rear suspension set-up, the Honda Civic exudes Honda’s hallmark high standard engineering as soon as you pitch it down a windy road. It’s more than precision and balance, the total picture when evaluating ride and handling includes refinement in detailed areas like steering rack NVH when pushed and cabin isolation from hard-working struts and springs…and it’s in those sort of detail areas where Honda’s engineering quality steps-up.
Measured against a stopwatch on a race circuit the Honda Civic VTi-L would probably be no faster than Mazda3 or Ford Focus but it certainly matches them for quietness and refinement.
In fact over our high-speed mountain roads test loop it was the five-speed auto which lost some points for the Honda Civic VTi-L. Kick-downs to a lower gear under hard acceleration were a tad intrusive compared to the modern six-speeders in some rivals.
That aside, over rural twists and curves or in the city commute, the latest Honda Civic is generally a smooth operator with commendable isolation from outside noise and annoyances like wet tram tracks when accelerating.
In our CBD carpark, good all-round visibility and the reasonable 10.84-mtre turning circle enabled easy parking in the Honda Civic VTi-L.
We remain astonished the all-new Civic, as a clean-sheet design from Honda, doesn’t have a six-speed automatic transmission to match say the Ford Focus and Holden Cruze in this league. In Honda’s defense, Australia’s best-selling small car the Mazda3 is equipped with a five-speed automatic in all but the sporty but low-volume SP20 variants.
We have to disagree with some of our colleagues who aren’t keen on the exterior style of the latest Honda Civic. Yes, we too expected a revolutionary all-new look and Honda delivered ‘evolutionary’ but there’s no denying the all-new Honda Civic VTi-L we tested looked sophisticated and had on-road presence.
And there’s also no denying Honda’s pricing of the all-new Civic (starting price $20,990, or $23,990 for the VTi-L auto we tested) reflects its determination to re-capture ground lost in the sales race as stock ran out after the Thailand floods.
Initially sourced from Japan and now back on-track from Thailand, the Honda Civic VTi-L sedan delivers the total package we’ve historically associated with Civics – nice drive, obvious quality and sharp price. And they’re qualities which some now thankfully bygone Civic models departed from.
Australia’s favourite small car is the Mazda3 and the mid-grade ‘3’ sedan is the $26,490 Maxx Sport model with a 108kW/182Nm 2.0-litre engine driving through a five-speed automatic transmission. We thought the Mazda3 was good value, so for Honda to undercut the Maxx Sport by $2500 with the Civic VTi-L shows how serious the competition is getting.
In fact, at $23,990 the well-equipped Honda Civic VTi-L in many ways takes-on Ford’s segment-best Focus in mid-range Trend specification ($26,790 for the six-speed automatic Ford). Recently updated with extra technology, the 1.6-litre Focus Ambiente (six-speed automatic) is priced at $24,290 and the step up to Trend grade brings Ford’s excellent 2.0-litre direct injection petrol engine with 125kW/202Nm on-tap.
Holden joins the party with its local-built Cruze sedan in CDX grade priced at $26,740. Cruze employs Holden’s 1.8-litre powerplant - which is almost identical to Honda’s 1.8 with 104kW/176Nm, but the auto is a six-speeder – however the local star doesn’t match the Civic for interior style/quality.
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