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Honda Civic 1.8 i-VTEC (2013) long-term test review

By the CAR road test team

Long Term Tests

29 July 2013 07:00

Month 7 running a Honda Civic i-VTEC - goodbye to our Civic, and the final verdict

So farewell, then, Honda Civic 1.8 VTEC ES. It’s been a slice. We must however, identify just the odd gripe nut in the ambrosia of what has largely been an amnesia-smooth experience…
Firstly, I haven’t met anyone during my tenure who thinks this is a better looking car than its edgy predecessor, from any angle. The rump is still dogged by the bar through the back window which, because it perfectly obscures the indicators of tailing vehicles, must be the only actively dangerous design trademark on the road. As to the front, now bereft of the trophy cabinet; I truly hope I may be forgiven for confessing that I still can’t look at it without recalling those heartbreaking advertisements soliciting help for babies born with cleft palates…

Because she’s in charge of cleaning, the missus has noticed that the paintwork doesn’t seem hugely robust, succumbing all too readily to stone chipping, heavily armoured insects and the endless assault of adjacent doors made inevitable by the South Col-envy sloping of every car park in our Mudfordshire market town.
On board, there’s a dearth of storage space, but all else is almost entirely satisfactory. Despite the somewhat dictatorial ergonomic constraints imposed on helm positioning by the layered instrument panel, I find the driving position almost perfect, and the seat superbly supportive and comfortable.

There’s not a shed-load of legroom in the back but, judging by the fact that they wait until we’re at least, oh… a whole 15 minutes into any four-hour journey before asking how much longer it’ll be, I assume the children have been largely comfortable, abetted by respectable views out and mercifully non vomit-soliciting ride characteristics.

Both switchgear and instrumentation would prove faultless if the former would allow me to set up the latter as I would wish. But you may not display average mpg and range simultaneously because (as if an Eco button allied to ‘pavements’ in the display which turn green when you’re driving politely isn’t enough) the odometer panel remains dominated at all times by a huge, pointless, wildly vacillating instant mpg display which won’t go away even if you grudgingly give it a ciggie and change for a nice cup of tea.

Oh, and, sat-nav would have been handy: The missus is equipped with all the directional savvy of a blindfolded rhino and – having finally learned the route to one or two key locations from our old London home (mum, Tesco, borstal) – is still prone to returning there as a starting point to any journey of length, with fairly disastrous fuel-bill ramifications.

Then again, I have not, in truth, helped the fuel bill situation overmuch myself. The missus has been known to use the Eco button; I have not. Honda has invested a vast amount of money and time in perfecting its entirely wholesome VTEC technology, and I for one am not prepared to potter amiably around all day without opening all the windows as wide, and frequently, as possible.
It is intrinsic to the very nature of VTEC that nothing much happens in the engine room unless you administer regular and sound throttle thrashings, so the quoted 47.1 average mpg was never going to clear the horizon. It does make me wonder, though, just how many Civic owners live with a car the performance potential of which they simply never realise.

Though somewhat aerodynamically shackled by the dirigible these days, the Civic’s actually an entirely decent drive. It’s not an especially quick example of the genre, but it’s gundog-eager to get on with it. The precision of its controls rewards a light touch with accuracy and verve, and, once at speed, it displays a gratifying composure and tenacity.

I now hand it back via Ben Pulman, who will doubtless prove me wrong by flinging it straight into a hedge.

By Anthony ffrench-Constant


Month 6 running a Honda Civic i-VTEC - an Aston Martin and an engine warning light

Three questions strike me as, stooging prettily into Gaydon late the other evening, I reluctantly substitute 470bhp and the whiff of warm leather for 140bhp and the stench of damp dog. Firstly, is there any humdrum family hatchback out there about which I could feel remotely happy forfeiting an Aston Martin Rapide in favour of? Secondly, who the hell buys a gold Cygnet? And thirdly, why?
Truth be told, if you are suddenly forced to part company with two thirds of the 12 cylinders to which you have become rapidly accustomed, and by which you have been somewhat bewitched, you could do a lot worse than pile aboard a Civic.

Uniquely engineered on a gently inadequate budget, one of the voluptuous Rapide’s pre-eminent strengths is the level of detail in the information communicated to the driver via the helm and seat of the pants. Though inevitably delivering it at a rather more gentle tempo, the Honda aspires to a similar party trick, largely through the remarkable precision of its controls.
So it isn’t long before I find myself rather enjoying snicker-snacking the top box homeward through a dark, largely deserted Mudfordshire, that gold Cygnet conundrum still at the forefront of my mi… Hello! What’s this? Someone’s just stolen the multi-information screen and replaced it with a giant orange etching of a dripping oil can.

My instant reaction is that of any responsible, mechanically sympathetic motorist – I furiously stab buttons until the message disappears. But it’s back the next morning. A quick mither with the dipstick (even the under-bonnet release catch is beautifully engineered) suggests there’s still enough oil to go around but, after a scant 5500 miles, computer still says ‘No’.

By Anthony ffrench-Constant


Month 5 running a Honda Civic i-VTEC - storage issues in the CAR fleet Civic

Finally more or less inured to the endless litany of ‘crashed dirigible on the roof’ jokes, I’d thought it sensible to leave the top box in place for our remaining Civic tenure. Not, however, sensible at all it transpires… ‘How,’ demanded the missus the other day ‘can we clean the car properly with it sat there?’

'Plus…’ she added, ‘it’s noisy.’ I myself have not found it all that noisy, but perhaps she drives around with all the windows wide open to assuage the all-pervading stench of damp dog…
Box in situ or no, the Honda is in desperate need of a thorough Hoovering. Despite the vile weather restricting us to just a few hours of beach-bumming on holiday, the poor thing has still managed to import enough sand to build a respectably-scaled model of Windsor Castle.

On a more positive note, the annual village fete-worse-than-death exposed the Civic as a commendably flexible workhorse, total loadspace length just long enough to accommodate the framework of a mini-marquee, providing the front seat is crushed into the glovebox. Plus, after just one tank of Upmarket Petrol, that curious, scarcely-perceptible stuttering under stout, low-revs throttle application has, happily, vanished. Coincidence?

By Anthony ffrench-Constant


Month 4 running a Honda Civic i-VTEC - the Civic's working holiday

Resembling a cross between a diminutive inflatable dingy with a slow puncture and an elephant suppository, the new top box certainly earned its keep on our annual, incendiary grump and damp dog-laden excursion to the sodden coastline of Galesanddrivingrainfordshire.

Fitting it does not, however, appear to be the work of but an instant. Where many cars are already equipped with demountable cover sections built into the roof trim, the Civic requires significant surgery. The trim must actually be cut to accommodate the crossbars, and the resultant hungry gaps re-filled upon their removal. So we are, as yet, unsure as to whether we’ll live with the box for the rest of our tenure, or ask long-suffering Honda for assistance in reversing the process.

Despite an ostensibly flimsy, weight-saving-expedient construction, the box has proved tough enough and, belying that somewhat weird shape, positively capacious. It comes with more keys than a medieval jailer, and nightmare images of a mile-long motorway smear of ff-C family detritus (ever noticed how many dead shoes there are on the central reservation?) are assuaged by the fact that you can’t actually remove the key unless the box is properly locked.

Though, fully laden, it does add a degree of supplementary, tea-clipper teeter to the Civic’s cornering characteristics (especially if you pelt off momentarily forgetting it’s there…), the carapace is clearly no stranger to the wind tunnel; there’s no perceptible increase in wind noise until the speed limit is a distant frown, and our fuel efficiency has been knocked back just 1mpg since it settled upstairs.

If we are to keep the top box, I’m tempted to drill a few ventilation holes hither and thither, since it seems ideally sized for the transportation of gustatorially-challenged dogs and, indeed, errant children. The demountable tow hook, however, has done its job for the year and, with the aid of light swearing and Swarfega, may now be wrested free and bunged back into the boot’s underfloor tray. I’m grateful to it not only because it facilitated the launching of a small boat (or, as it is know in the West Country in August, a floating rainwater butt) but also because it actually put a rare holiday smile on the missus’s face. ‘Now that,’ she said, eyeing it appreciatively, ‘would brighten up an otherwise rainy afternoon…’

Even without a boat in tow, the fully-laden Civic struggles to maintain momentum on the long inclines offered by the M5. Sixth gear is rapidly relegated to the role of mere overdrive and, on occasion, even fourth must be called into play to prevent those so recently overhauled simply sweeping by once more.

And perhaps it’s just the unexpected need for such drastic measures that makes the quite substantial attendant engine noise seem not so much engaging as intrusive…
Less encumbered by beach-bound bulk, this VTEC engine continues to please. Though both the missus and I have noticed the odd occasion wherein a perceptible stutter from the engine bay accompanies a demand for more power, particularly in the lower rev band. Clearly, the VTEC needs revs to produce urgency of any magnitude, but surely it should still pull smoothly before the gloves come off.

Interestingly, I was trapped by a combination of motorway service station queues and mithering offspring into affording the Civic a tank-full of posh petrol on our return journey, and a couple of extra RON in the tank seems to have assuaged the problem. I wasn’t aware that Honda’s engines were in any way fuel sensitive, but will check with them and report back. This could get expensive.

By Anthony ffrench-Constant


Month 3 running a Honda Civic i-VTEC - is a VTEC engine a sensible choice for a family hatchback?

Text from the Missus: ‘Honda grubby but great (finally!). Did you get the dog?’ By which she means that, now understanding the need to lay about the engine bay with the Big Stick to elicit proper performance, she’s finally started to enjoy driving it.

There’s very little torque on offer from this engine –128lb ft – at the best of times, and absolutely none at all at anything below 4000rpm, at which point in the rev band, my missus – driving with the ECON button on so the hooligans can enjoy watching the ‘pavement’ either side of the digital speedo turn from blue to green – usually changes up anyway.

I’ve explained the mysteries of VTEC to her, with inevitably prompt glazing over. But the message is simple; nothing much happens until after 4000rpm, when someone opens all the windows in the engine and it really starts to sing. Mercifully, endless cog swapping to stay on song is no hardship. This car has one of the sweetest gearchanges I’ve ever come across. Sadly, looks that have yet to win us over are now hampered by the recent addition of a holiday-essential towbar and roof, um, hamper. Oh, and I forgot to pick up the dog, so its house is a tad overcrowded this evening.

By Anthony ffrench-Constant


Month 2 running a Honda Civic i-VTEC - lessons in how to spec your Civic carefully

With the elder hooligan’s coming of age drawing near, I was bemused to find one particularly baffling item snagged amongst ‘Birthday List’ flotsam of absurdly grandiose aspiration: ‘Two large tins of brigte blue paynt,’ it read.

‘Er, what do you want bright blue paint for?’ I asked. ‘To paint the Honda a nice colour of course, dad,’ he replied. ‘It’s SOOOOO BORING.’

So, never mind the fact that the VTEC end of the engine’s now loosening nicely into proper enthusiasm. Never mind the fabulous engineering. Never mind that we’re already consistently 10mpg better off than we were in the Audi RS3 (sob)…

As far as the rest of the family is concerned, what consistently grates is the Civic’s colour, and it is a deeply colour-sensitive car. I’ve seen it in white and Kermit green, and it looks striking. In Urban Titanium Metallic, it merely looks drab. Especially since the oxymoronic Thames Water has been conserving the relentless rain with all the efficiency of a colander, so the hosepipe ban’s still in place and I’m not allowed to wash it.

So, I might just stump up two tins of brigte blue paynt and a 2.5-inch Harris brush after all, and see what hand-finished, Shouty Playschool Primary does for the poor thing.

By Anthony ffrench-Constant


Month 1 running a Honda Civic 1.8 i-VTEC - introducing the new CAR long-termer

I ought to explain that existing customer inquisition must cop the laurels, or, indeed, carry the can, for much of that which differentiates this new, ninth-generation Civic from its predecessor.
Holding old people down and slapping them gently about the face with assorted flatfish identified five areas for attention: the ‘polarising’ design, the compromised rear visibility, interior quality, noise insulation and ride comfort. So, in the context of this £19,380 (plus a pricey £685 tow hook and a cheeky £500 for ‘Urban Titanium Metallic’ – as opposed to ‘Suburban Gravel Pebbledash’? – paint) 1.8 i-VTEC ES example, let’s tackle them in that order…

Part pyramid, part jet fighter (as a pal perfectly encapsulated it), the current Civic must be the most cohesive piece of automotive couture to come out of Japan since the NSX. A hard act to follow, then. And I can’t help feeling that, 20mm lower and 10mm wider, this fresh specimen lacks the clean, uncluttered homogeny of its predecessor.

For instance, someone’s clearly tried to toast marshmallows a little close to the front, and that glittering, trademark trophy cabinet has melted in the middle, oozing charred contents south in a gently unseemly fashion. Pronounced, surprisingly colour-sensitive wheelarch treatment hallmarks the flanks, again highlighting a whiff of gratuity absent from the current car.

Astern, Honda has not only dug its toes in and stuck with the rear visibility-compromising mid-screen bar, but also reinforced its presence by hoisting the tail lamp clusters aloft to join it. Accession to customer wishes has finally added a wiper to the upper screen, but that mid rail appears to loom even larger in the rear-view mirror now, and performs the Tommy Cooper-clumsy trick of perfectly masking the indicator intentions of tailing cars.

Honda build quality rarely brooks admonition, so it doesn’t surprise me that the new interior smacks more of makeover than genuine improvement. The driving position’s fine, and a new steering wheel in smoother leather is a joy to hold. However, seat bottomed out, I still sit higher than I’d like. This, I suspect, is a sightline contrivance to ensure the rim of the wheel falls neatly between upper and lower dashboard instruments.

There’s bags of room in the back and the boot, and the Civic continues its dominance of the C-segment spaciousness stakes. I do, however, already foresee some offspring mithering; the belt-line’s higher than that of my old Audi RS3, curtailing seven year-old I Spy options, and there’s precious little room for even little feet under the front seats. Odd, given they’re not electrically motivated.

Noise and ride quality are the final two of the five hottest customer potatoes that Honda has attempted to address, but I’d like more time behind the wheel before adjudication. Likewise, destined to deliver some 140bhp at an amusing 6500rpm, the 1.8-litre VTEC engine has a mere 1000 miles under its belt and is still tighter than a duck’s arse. Hmmm… Might leave the dog behind during shakedown work.

By Anthony ffrench-Constant