It’s a question that is being pondered by many manufacturers today: do you save some money by churning out just another five-door hatch that families will be happy with, or do you try and keep a sense of identity with your customers and make a decent-handling car?
Thankfully there are companies that remain in the latter camp. Ford have resolutely stuck with the principle of making excellent cars to drive since the original Focus, and Honda also decided a few decades ago that good driving is the right way to go.
Demonstrating this ethos is the new Civic, now available as a sort-of saloon with four doors and a 1.6-litre diesel under the bonnet.
The car we tested is fitted with either a six-speed manual, or a nine-cog auto’, and that 1.6-litre i-DTEC motor produces 120PS (118bhp) and 300Nm (221lb ft) of torque. That means a top speed of 124mph and a sprint to 60mph in 10 seconds for the manual or 10.7 seconds for the auto. Efficiency figures vary between manual and auto, but the official NEDC test bring a combined 83.1mpg with the manual (68.9 in the auto) and 91g/km (108 in the auto).
We drove the saloon in SR trim, which means the standard climate control, heated mirrors, handling assist, DAB radio and auto headlights are joined by Bluetooth, Honda CONNECT system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration, 17”alloy wheels and a rear parking camera for a price of £22,590 (a £1,845 premium over the standard SE car). An extra £2,860 to upgrade to EX trim would add heated front and rear seats, blindspot monitoring, wireless charger, keyless entry and start, full leather interior, headlight washers, two extra speakers and an auto-dimming rear mirror. Our car came in pearlescent Brilliant Sporty Blue, which added an extra £525.
Inside the cabin is well thought out, Honda having slimmed down their 7in infotainment system’s screen and placed it so it looks rather pleasingly like it’s been slotted into the dashboard just that morning. Most plastics are tactile and the silver brushed metal-like touches add an extra lift to the otherwise dark interior. The excellent seats and rather lovely alloy pedals (available on SR and EX) are satisfying, and the fabric seats on the SR make you wonder if you really need to upgrade to leather. Slightly annoyingly the soft-touch fabrics seem to have vanished the moment Honda installed the glovebox and the centre of the steering wheel – both are rather obvious in the otherwise well-appointed cabin and feel like a bit of an afterthought. Thankfully even for those of us over six-foot the cabin is roomy with plenty of legroom in the rear and a 519-litre boot (478 in the hatch, or 828 with the seats down).
Outside the current Civic will always divide opinion: we land more on the positive side, pleased that in a world of almost-identikit hatchback designs the Civic stands out, and the addition of an extra 130mm on the saloon (on sale in the US already for some time) helps to balance the overall shape of the Civic much better. While you may find the styling challenging, it’s undeniable that the Civic catches the eye when positioned near its competitors.
Behind the wheel the steering is crisp and the ride damped extremely well on some less than positive Midlands tarmac. More impressively is the amount the excellent ride of the Type R has been replicated in its lesser siblings. Roll feels at a minimum even when the Civic is being driven on the more spirited side and the saloon’s set up (this car being built in Turkey rather than Swindon) has been tuned slightly differently to the hatch – suiting its slightly longer and lower frame. The 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine pulls well enough with the manual ‘box, but the nine-speed auto can be a little sluggish when you put your foot down, often holding onto a ratio longer than it should both on the way down and up. That said the changes are undeniably smooth, and most will barely notice it cruising through the cogs. Plumping for the manual brings a satisfying shift, more reminiscent of something a little more pokey, snicking from slot to slot with ease and across a surprisingly short throw.
Through town the Civic is the definition of calm, with the smooth nature of that auto ‘box being replicated in the motor it’s connected to. Honda have stuck with their principle of quiet diesels – once so famous for the wonderful adverts of the early 2000s. It’s only when you really try to work it away from the line that it becomes a bit more diesel-ey, clattering its way up the rev range before calming back down to near silence in the cabin when you’re back at a cruise.
Is the world of technology going to make every-day motoring a more boring place? There’s a possibility that some cars may be taken over by an extreme wish to help you along, but thankfully we know there are plenty of car companies out there that know that some people appreciate being engaged behind the wheel. The Civic, especially in the saloon form, is a pleasant drive when driven as it will be by most buyers, but a genuinely enjoyable one if you push it a little harder. While most won’t, it does mean you don’t have to sacrifice enjoyment just because you need to fit a family of four into the car every now and then.
Engine: 1.6-litre, four-cylinder diesel
Transmission: Six-speed manual or nine-speed auto, front-wheeled-drive