Swindon’s most famous export (aside from Billie Piper) has had a re-boot. The all-new, ninth-generation Honda Civic will go on sale in January 2012, and gently evolves the space-age Civic of 2006 – itself a radical departure from the safe, blue-rinse optimised Civics of old.
First impressions count, and oddly some of the most memorable design flourishes which gave the last iteration its futuristic flavour, have been dropped. The triangular tailpipes are gone, as are the ‘50s fridge door handles. You couldn’t accuse the new Civic of being bland, it’s wilfully leftfield – but the overall ensemble doesn’t hang together as well as its predecessor.
Is the mad dashboard still there?
Yes, the split-level dash lives on, and whether you buy into that is probably a sound barometer of whether or not you ‘get’ the new Civic – there’s no obvious advantage to the layout, which can be confusing at a glance – but the execution is distinctly premium in feel. Fit and finish are ostensibly tighter; it’s a quality product, the new Civic.
Ergonomically, the layout is something of a curate’s egg. Where an Astra’s switchgear is aesthetic yet busy, the new Civic manages better separation between core functions – the climate control buttons aren’t bunched closely together with the stereo for instance. The dashboard’s top-tier features a digital display which summarises what’s going on elsewhere on the dash – with audio, navigation and trip information.
Whilst it feels roomy enough up front, the angled sweep of the lower dash makes it a touch snug around the driver’s left knee. The seat also doesn’t adjust low enough for taller drivers to get properly comfortable, leaving you a bit ‘perched’ behind the Civic's wheel. Other ergonomic lowlights include the brake-light bar across the back window, which hampers rearward visibility.
Fresh thinking comes in the form of ‘magic’ seats in the rear – an innovative feature, which allows the back seats to fold totally flat, or flip vertically backwards so that the rear passenger compartment can carry awkward upright loads easily. Honda is clearly wise to the fact that neat details like that shift cars from showroom floors.
So how does the new Honda Civic drive?
The new Civic acquits itself pretty well on the road, although it doesn’t sparkle. The 148bhp 2.2-litre i-DTEC diesel unit in our test car elicited a pleasingly offbeat thrum, with only a muted clatter at idle. Honda’s latest diesel motor endears itself by feeling smooth and refined, with effortless progress on tap thanks to the diesel unit’s 248lb ft of torque – meaning you don’t need to swap ratios too often. You’ll pass 62mph in a claimed 8.5 seconds, which is punchy enough against most of its rivals, and it rarely feels laboured.
Although the gearchange deserves special mention, being crisply mechanical and slick in operation, the Civic doesn’t rise to the top of the class in any one area. It steers precisely and is easy to place on an apex, but there’s little granularity transmitted through the helm into your hands. Presumably the refinement brief took precedence over ultimate seat-of-the-pants thrills in the planning meetings at Honda HQ.
And the handling?
The new Civic rides compliantly – thanks to fluid-filled suspension bushes. It’s also planted through tighter corners thanks to a stiffer torsion beam at the rear, and rarely feels unruffled. Yet the ride can get slightly busy over high frequency undulations and broken tarmac. The overall feeling is smooth and refined, but drivers are insulated from the action and ultimately the experience lacks engagement.
The new Civic makes a strong case for itself if you value something different from the obvious Euro-boxes. Ubiquity has dulled the impact of its predecessor, but there’s still an appealing package to be had in the new Civic. And the premium-feel shines through in this new model, particularly the upmarket cabin. Some of the innovations, including the magic rear seats are genuinely useful, too.
Detractors might bemoan a lack of fizz and slightly awkward styling, but in 2.2 diesel form, this Anglo-Jap concoction appeals in its own offbeat way. The oil-burner is priced at a heady £26,495 in the top-line EX GT guise tested though, which nudges BMW 318d territory. Being a bit more parsimonious on spec would certainly lessen the shock at trade-in time.
However, square a more mildly-specced oil-burning Civic up to a Golf 2.0 TDI and it makes a better case for itself – it’s a touch gruntier and there’s a more generous 90,000-mile warranty on offer. Ultimately though, fans of the current Civic expecting another exponential leap forward in design, might feel short-changed by this latest iteration.