Honda is nothing if not attentive to its customers. This, allied to bullet-proof build quality, metronomic reliability and ironclad residuals, explains why so many of them keep coming back for more. So it’s hardly surprising that it was to its customers that Honda turned first when hatching this new, ninth generation Civic.
Five areas were identified for attention: the ‘polarising’ design, the compromised rear visibility, interior quality, noise insulation and ride comfort. So, in the context of the range-topping 1.8 iVTEC EX-GT specimen I drove, let’s tackle them in that order…
So how does the new Honda Civic look in the metal?
I need to declare my hand at the outset and admit that, hatched in 2006, the current Civic is, to my eye, the most cohesive piece of automotive couture to come out of Japan since the NSX. Indeed, a measure of just how hard an act to follow it is being that it still turns heads today with all the vim it did on day one.
Honda makes much of ‘harmonious design’ in the blurb appended to this, ninth generation Civic, but I can’t help feeling this 20mm lower and 10mm wider specimen lacks the clean, uncluttered homogeny of its predecessor.
The simple, full width band of glister that hallmarked the bows of the earlier car has now flowed south like sloppy cake icing to reveal areas of less than wholesome plastic, and the new airdam may be aerodynamically sound, but is a tad too chunky in the execution to look properly rakish.
In profile, pronounced wheel arch over-sculpting a la Nissan Juke gratuitously clutters what were once smooth flanks, and proves to be all too colour-sensitive –the blended Kermit Frankfurt showcar looking much more enthusiastic about life than the sombre dark metallic green affair I drove.
Astern, Honda has dug its toes in and stuck with the ‘compromised rear visibility’ provided by that irritating mid-screen bar, merely reinforcing its presence on the new model by hoisting the rear lamp clusters aloft to join it. They have, however, finally acceded to customer wishes and added a wiper to the upper screen. The bottom lip of the lower screen is now lower, but the mid rail appears to loom even larger in the rear view mirror now, and performs the neat trick of perfectly masking the indicators of tailing cars.
And inside the new Civic?
I don’t, frankly, recall there being much amiss with the interior quality of the current car, and what we have here smacks more of makeover than genuine improvement. The split level dashboard is a case in point; the only prominent addition being an upper level multi-information display screen which will tell you most of what’s happening on the centre console screen immediately adjacent to it, but won’t, irritatingly, tell you the remaining fuel range.
There’s bags of room in the back, and the Civic continues its dominance of the C-segment spaciousness stakes. All is beautifully screwed together, and fit and finish does seem to have taken yet another modest hike upwards.
The driving position’s fine, and the new steering wheel in smoother leather is a joy to hold. However, seat bottomed out, I sit higher than I’d like. This, I suspect, is to ensure the rim of the wheel falls neatly between upper and lower dashboard instruments.
So, to the driving experience...
Noise and ride quality are two of the big issues that Honda has attempted to address in the new Civic. In the case of the former, the car is undoubtedly more quiet overall, yet remains vaguely plagued by rather more road noise from the front tyres than is seemly. A pity.
The ride, meanwhile, is entirely schizophrenic; one minute supple, the next unsubtle, it baffles with a consistently inconsistent approach to each new road surface…
In most cases, the secondary ride delivers, with the worst of the nuggety stuff ironed out, despite that persistence of tyre noise. Yet the primary ride is not so clever... The car often lacks body control on anything but very even surfaces, floating too much over crests and generally shrugging and squirming in the manner of a gorilla forced to wear evening dress for the first time.
Overall, attendant to a perception of mildly over-tough springing and slightly sloppy damping, the new Civic delivers mere glimpses of a ride refinement promise that remains gently elusive.
And this is a shame, because the rest of the mechanicals deliver sublime consistency. The 1.8 litre engine, still a little tight on the sub-1000 miler I drove, promises everything we know a Honda VTEC can deliver, whilst the gear change is pretty much mechanical perfection and an utter joy to use.
Developing 140bhp at an amusing 6500rpm, yet maximum torque of just 128lb ft, the 1.8 litre engine must be prodded vigorously at all times to extract the oopmh, in best, rorty VTEC tradition. Bizarrely for a model branded GT, however, this top of the range specimen is a full half second slower to 62mph than lesser spec’ed 1.8 variants; a peculiarity that Honda puts down to extra weight of standard equipment.
The steering, with a quicker rack than previously, is slightly over-light at all times for my tastes, yet a paragon of utterly slack-free, linear accuracy. It is also almost entirely lacking in feel and feedback, and I’m reminded of David Blunkett’s guide dog; it’ll get you where you want to go every time, but never actually communicate anything whatsoever about the journey itself.
Much like its ride, the Civic’s handling leaves me in two minds. On the one hand, a glimpse at the speedometer invariably flags a good 15mph more than guesstimated, suggesting somewhat more effortless cross-country progress than initially assumed. On the other, many’s the time I craved extra power coming out of a bend, because attempts to carry too much speed through a corner reward with nothing save the onset of entirely predictable understeer. Roll on the Type-R…
Priced from £16,495 to £26,595 and with a choice of 1.4 and 1.8 litre VTECs and 2.2 litre turbodiesel, there’s not a great deal not to like about the new Civic range. Trouble is, it has a particularly hard act to follow…