Upheavals over electrification, market sustainability and (whisper it) Brexit, have led us to the point where Honda’s family hatch is staring in the face of a complete change. Honda wants to electrify its whole range in the next few years and, while Civic has been the mainstay of car manufacturing at Honda’s Swindon plant since 1994, that plant is ready to close.
Honda’s overall market share has fallen slightly over the last few years, partly due to changes in buyer’s habits, and partly as Honda begins to withdraw slightly to prepare for electrification. But the introduction of the 10th-generation Civic saw its foothold in the C-segment grow quite significantly. While still not giant it claims a four per cent share, so any new Civic is important. So this time Honda have attempted to add a little of the Type R’s spice to the standard car, with the introduction of the Civic ‘Sport Line’.
This new 2020 Civic receives what could definitely be described as a ‘mild’ set of tweaks to the styling – there’s a new element in the lower grille near the fog lights, which comes with new daylight running lights, a modification for the upper grille, new headlight configuration and a bit of a smoothing of some of the more angular elements.
Then there’s the addition of ‘Sport Line’ to the very top of the spec sheets. Similar to some of its competitors this takes elements of the hottest version of the range (Type R in this case) and distils them into the more reachable car. As a result the Civic Sport Line has a small rear wing, a sort-of diffuser and some bigger side skirts, while there are more touches inside to add that more ‘sporty’ feel.
The interior remains largely the same, albeit with a few improvements here and there. The gearstick has changed (more on that below), but the most noticeable difference is that the Civic has stepped back in time and reintroduced physical buttons around its infotainment screen. This remains a touchscreen model, with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay standard on SR and EX specs, but the old touch-sensitive volume and home buttons have gone the way of the dodo. While a nice touch for the look of the dash, these non-buttons could be tricky to use at times and weren’t particularly popular, so old-fashioned volume and climate control dials are a most welcome return.
The 2020 Civic comes in four trim levels, SE, SR, EX and EX Sport Line with a raft of kit available as standard on the £19,805 SE. This includes climate control, front and rear parking sensors, heated mirrors, automatic lights and an electronic handbrake. Another £1,800 and an upgrade to SR adds automatic windscreen wipers, Sat-Nav, dual zone climate control, rear parking camera, halogen fog lights and privacy glass, among other additions. The top of the range EX spec comes in two versions. The standard EX trim (£24,510 with a manual gearbox) adds heated seats, keyless entry and go, wireless charger, adaptive dampers, blindspot warning, 11-speaker audio and LED headlights. The EX Sport Line (priced from £25,510, which we drove) adds the small rear wing and so on, as well as some nice interior touches, including red stitching, drilled aluminium pedals and some textured panels to the dash.
The Civic now comes with a choice of two petrol engines and a single diesel. The petrols, which come in 1.0-litre turbo (126PS, 200Nm) 1.5-litre turbo (182PS, 240Nm) can be mated to either a six-speed manual transmission or Honda’s CVT system (a £1,400 option across the whole range), while the diesel (a 1.6-litre unit with 120PS and 300Nm) comes only with the manual ‘box. The Sport Line Civic though is only available with the 1.0-litre VTEC unit.
Behind the wheel the Civic is… Exactly what you’d expect from the tenth-generation Honda Civic. The manual gearbox is an improvement over the old unit, if only because the new stick feels a lot better in the hand. The EX Sport Line now comes with a smaller, more sportily-inspired stick (lower specs stick with the older knob). This metal and black leather unit sits only about six inches out of the centre console but has a remarkably short throw.
Around town the Civic is unfussy and easy to live with. The little turbocharged engine never feels like it’s lacking in a family car, delivering torque low down the rev range and power further up, it’ll nip in and around traffic with the greatest of ease. If it were up to us we’d probably stick with the manual transmission, in part because of the new setup, but also because the CVT feels like it starves the engine of some of its torque, with the high-revving nature of a CVT also slightly grating where the manual feels calmer.
The ride is well controlled, with the Sport Line having the optional adjustable dampers fitted. Turn these on and the suspension firms up noticeably, which is good for a spirited drive down some country lanes, but you’ll quickly find yourself turning them off for most of your daily commute. Having them on leaves the ride a little firm through town, and it’s a bit more enjoyable to cruise with them in the softer setting, saving the firmer ride for when it’s really needed. The steering is light and remarkably fast, so quick in fact that it might catch you a little off guard at first. But when you’re out and about it’s a pleasing experience, with the lack of weight not really diminishing the information passed on from the road.
Overall the new Civic does exactly what is expected of it. The Civic has always been a well-engineered family car that’s loaded with tech and probably deserves to be bought by more than actually do. The styling tweaks certainly improve the looks, but Honda itself is happy to admit that this new Civic is more evolution than revolution. The, admittedly minor, complaints that came for the old car have been noted, hence the removal of the touch buttons and the tweaks on the styling and even the base SE spec is well endowed with electronics. While we’re not entirely sold on the rear wing on the EX Sport Line, the extra touches on the interior are welcome, and the 1.0-litre turbo is a very nice motor. All in all, you’d still be hard pushed to recommend anything over a Civic.