Civic duty

Road test: Honda Civic 1.4 i-VTEC SE

At the SMMT test day, Honda proudly showed an early Civic alongside the latest (ninth) version, highlighting the longevity of both the brand and model in the UK. So, with a familiar name and a now well recognised shape, the latest UK-built Civic treads the evolutionary path. The Civic’s main challenges come from the Golf, Focus and Astra – all extremely good cars. Not to be ignored are the i30 from Hyundai and the Kia’s Cee’d, tramping as they are over established C-segment hatchback territory. So it’s more important now than ever before that Honda offers not only a competent model but one with unique selling points to fight the competition.

The Civic’s controversial, almost pyramidal shape is now easier on the eye thanks to familiarity and some gentle styling changes over the previous model. There are still a couple of awkward angles (notably across the rear corner) but the refreshed Civic manages to remain contemporary in appearance. Obvious changes include the rear light cluster and restyled grill; careful inspection reveals that in fact, just about everything is revised from the more swollen wheel arches to the sculpting on the doors and even the door mirrors. In the current fashion for white (or ‘White Orchid Pearl’) our test car looks smart and refined.

Inside, the funky space-ship dashboard is retained, with its two-depth instruments. I’m not a great fan of purely digital speedometers (it always takes a fraction of a second longer to digest the value and process the need for speed regulation) but it is clear, unobtrusive and it sits deep beneath the windscreen so the eyes don’t have far to re-focus – a sort of half way house to a head-up display. Other controls and instruments are clear and conventional in their operation, a huge plus in terms of ease-of-use.

The simplicity is echoed in the drivability – it’s an astoundingly easy car to pilot. The clutch is light, steering well weighted and the gear lever slick, precise and perfectly positioned. These combine to give the car an agile feeling, helped by its low (1,185 – 1,272 kg) kerb weight. The light weight means the suspension doesn’t have to be too firm and along with some new fluid-filled bushing, this translates into an excellent ride, particularly over bad road surfaces. Cornering is precise, with good turn-in.

This is just the entry trim level and while the engine output from the 1.4 petrol might best be described as adequate, the features are comprehensive. It boasts full climate control, MP3 connectivity, stop-start and 16” alloy wheels. The rear seating arrangement is clever, offering flexible fold-up options for the seat bases to retain the boot and have a second deep storage section behind the front passengers. The boot also maximises storage space with an enormous under-floor bin. Even adding a spare wheel there’s plenty of space.

So, going back to the 1.4 petrol engine in our test car, 13.4 seconds to 62 mph is slow. It’s torque and power profiles are flat, meaning there’s little point in revving hard; exploring anything other than the bottom of the rev range is rewarded by noise rather than performance. It never fails to pick up, but it frequently feels like hard work keeping up with traffic – especially cross-country where there are clear straight sections of road between right-angled corners around fields. The alternative power plants are better bets with negligible emissions/consumption penalties for the 1.8 petrol and improved figures for the 2.2 diesel over the 1.4 petrol. Manual versions of both shave about a quarter off the 1.4′s 0-62mph sprint time. In its favour, the 1.4 is very smooth and quiet at idle – with the radio on, I wasn’t always sure if the stop-start feature was in operation until I checked the display.

So, the Civic looks and feels fresh and spritely. More than that, it’s incredibly easy to live with in terms of driveability, controls and internal flexibility. Only the engine kept this model from 5 stars.

Honda Civic 1.4 i-VTEC SE, £16,495.

Power: 100 PS (6,000 rpm), torque: 127Nm (4,800 rpm), emissions: 129 g/km CO2 (band D), 0-60 mph: 13.4 secs.

Motor Writer rating: ●●●●○

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