► Smallest Civic engine tested
► Priced from £18,475, undercutting rivals
► Less power, but promise of better economy
Honda’s current-generation Civic has an unusually small choice of engines: just a 1.5-litre turbo petrol four making 180bhp, the 316bhp 2.0-litre Type R and this, the 127bhp turbo petrol three.
Most of our attention with this generation of Civic has been on the Type R and 1.5-litre. In both cases the engine is very good – and, crucially, very well suited to the overall Civic package. The harmonious interplay of steering, suspension, brakes, transmission, driving position and engine results in a whole that’s better than the sum of its parts.
But here we’re trying a Civic with a different engine, one significantly less powerful and sophisticated than we’ve become used to. Will the Civic retain its appeal with this different engine? Or perhaps the lower cost will give it a different appeal. Or not...
What exactly is this engine?
It’s a new 988cc turbo petrol triple. There are two things of note here. One: it’s a very small capacity engine for a small but not tiny car; 127bhp and 148lb ft to shift 1275kg of car, plus whatever the luggage and occupants weigh.
Two: it’s a triple. Nothing wrong with three-cylinder engines as such but take the irregular thrum of a triple, make it work hard and put it in a car with inadequate soundproofing and you get a lot of rough-sounding noise without the diesely grunt that would make it all worthwhile.
The official combined fuel consumption figure is 58.9mpg, compared to 48.7mpg for the 1.5. But we found that on the road we got similar high-30s/low-40s economy in both.
Is there a choice of spec?
Your basic Civic 1.0 is the SE, priced from £18,475. It comes on 16in alloys and is fitted with front and rear parking sensors. Add £1865 for SR spec and you’re now on 17in alloys, with dual-zone climate control, a rear parking camera, rain-sensing wipers, power folding door mirrors, foglights, tinted rear-passenger glass, and a seven-inch touchscreen with sat-nav and Apple CarPlay/Andoid Auto.
Add a further £2860 for EX spec, which brings heated front seats, an opening sunroof, blindspot warning, cross-traffic monitoring, adaptive dampers, an upgraded audio system and leather upholstery. Finally, an extra £600 – putting the total at £23,800 – gets you a 1.0 EX Tech Pack, which has wireless phone charging (subject to a lot of small print about your choice of phone), LED foglights, LED headlights with washers, and heated rear seats.
All Civics come with Honda Sensing, which is Honda’s name for a bundle of safety features that help prevent and avoid collisions, including Lane Departure Warning and Intelligent Adaptive Cruise Control.
The Civic is front-wheel drive, and the 1.0 comes with a choice of six-speed manual or fractionally cleaner CVT (as does the 1.5, while the Type R is manual only). A diesel version will arrive in the UK is the spring of 2018.
What about the rest of the car?
It’s one of the better non-premium five-door hatchbacks. If that sounds like damning with faint praise, it’s not meant to. Rather, it’s a reflection of the breadth and quality of the competition.
From the Astra to the A-class, and from the i30 to the 1-series, you’re looking at a very solid bunch of versatile, good-value cars – and any weaknesses will get no mercy. Touchscreen not good enough? There are six better alternatives. Iffy engine? A dozen better options can be easily yours for similar money. SUVs may be getting the headlines, but the traditional hatch still has a lot of life left in it.
The Civic gives you five doors, five seats (or four and a central rear armrest if there are adults in the back), a very good boot and a look that’s half shrunken muscle car, half manga.
You sit lower than in most rival hatches, but the cabin is also noticeably roomier than some, in keeping with the Civic tradition of being cleverly packaged to combine a small footprint and a lot of useful interior space.
When it’s fitted with one of Honda’s better engines, the current Civic punches well above its weight. It feels good to drive, it’s well equipped, it makes great use of space and it’s built to last. But this version shifts your perspective, making the Civic feel suddenly second rate. It’s simply down to the engine, which may make sense elsewhere but here feels not just slow but also crude.
This version doesn’t really add up. The only reason for buying a Civic with less power and lowlier performance than the 1.5 would be to save money. And yet when you compare the two models, the savings just aren’t that great. True, there’s a significant gap of about £4000 between the entry-level 1.0 and the cheapest 1.5, but the base 1.5 is better equipped than the base 1.0, so it’s not a like-for-like comparison.
Plus if you’re not buying but leasing, the difference in monthly payments can be very small. Road tax on a new 1.0 is less than the 1.5, and insurance should be cheaper. But on the crucial matter of fuel costs, you’re unlikely to save a bean. During our one-week test we averaged just under 40mpg, which is no better than the sort of economy you can get with the 1.5, which also offers considerably more driving pleasure.
The 1.0 isn’t at all bad. It still has most of the virtues that make other Civics so good – the packaging, the ease of use, the responsive steering, the snickety gearshift – and the same disadvantages – terrible touchscreen, excessive road noise. And let’s not start on the styling…
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