► Honda's Civic facelifted for 2015
► This one's a new trim, the Civic Sport
► Incremental improvements throughout
These days the Honda Civic is a slightly esoteric, leftfield choice in the largely uniform landscape of family hatchbacks.
Can a modest mid-life facelift help broaden its appeal? Now three years into the current-generation Civic’s lifespan, Honda has done a little light scalpel work on the styling, boosted equipment levels slightly and busied itself with some detail chassis tweaks. It’s also added a new model to the range, the one we’re testing here: the Honda Civic Sport.
So, Honda Civic 2015: what’s new?
Starting with the visual stuff, new headlights with artfully wispy daytime running light signatures and some really quite crisp and intricate new surfacing for the front bumper. According to Honda, all the bodywork changes have been made for a reason – they’re not just cosmetic fripperies, but help tidy up aerodynamic drag and lift slightly. Look closely and you’ll see a bit of plastic cowling under the bonnet’s leading edge for the same reason.
New arc-shaped LED tail-lights cap the most obvious external changes. It’s a mild but not unsuccessful facelift, adding a touch of sharpness to the Civic’s pleasant oddness.
Under the skin there’s been a surprisingly extensive roster of chassis tweaks: different damper rates, an altered steering rack and new anti-roll bars and bushes, all with the aim of improved stability and steering feel. Software tweaks to the stability control system ensure it’s less keen to dampen the engine’s power during fast cornering, and the brakes on individual wheels can be feathered in a more sophisticated way than before to keep the car on its projected path.
Making the City-Brake low-speed automatic emergency braking system standard across the range has had the useful bonus of dropping the insurance grouping a tad, too.
Pricing's a little more competitive than before, with the facelifted model costing slightly less spec-for-spec than the pre-2015 range. Prices kick off from £15,975 for the base 1.4 petrol hatch, climbing to £25,740 for the plushest diesel model.
Any interior changes in the 2015 Honda Civic?
Main news is a shiny new Android phone-compatible touchscreen on higher-spec trims, which looks less of an aftermarket afterthought than the previous touchscreen in pre-facelift models.
Spot the Difference fans might also like to know the door handles are now finished in chrome, rather than matt silver.
Otherwise, the driver’s seat is still a bit high, there are still lots of square buttons labelled with white capital letters, and when you try and adjust the driver seat’s backrest you still need to tense your stomach muscles to avoid immediately dropping into a fully reclined nap position.
What’s the Honda Civic Sport all about? Is it a hot hatch?
Not a hot hatch, no. This is a Sport car in name and cosmetics only, and not a warm Civic to sit below the upcoming hardcore Type R. It comes with the same suspension settings as the rest of the range, and there’s no power hike for its two available engines: either the 118bhp 1.6 diesel or 140bhp 1.8-litre petrol, both already familiar from the pre-facelift Civic range. We drove the diesel.
The Sport name comes from a model-specific bodykit, with an actually quite tasty looking set of gloss-black alloy wheels, jagged side skirt extensions and liberal application of mesh across the grille and air intakes. I quite like it; it looks the Type R-lite part, even if it doesn't drive it.
What’s it like to drive?
Handily, Honda supplied a pre-facelift 2014 Civic to compare the updated model with. Tested back to back, in all honesty there’s not a night-and-day difference in their driving manners. There’s perhaps a touch less bounciness to the new car’s ride, and there’s a little more weight in the steering just past the straight ahead.
Sadly, the steering's still largely devoid of feel, despite the altered rack and suspension bushes. Numb helm aside, the Civic’s handling is very predictable and it never does anything untoward, just as you’d hope of a family hatchback.
Noticeably less wind noise makes its way into the new car’s cabin – those pointy bodywork tweaks seem to be doing their job, although there’s more road noise than you might expect.
The Civic’s manual gearshift is still as precise and generally lovely as that of any sports car, and the 1.6-litre i-DTEC engine feels no more flat and not a great deal more noisy than most diesel engines, and is smoother than most.
The Honda Civic remains a wilfully different kind of hatchback, and that’s a good thing. Its strengths – cleverly packaged rear seats, an enormous boot, styling that’s at least interesting if not conventionally attractive – remain.
In the cold light of day, the incremental improvements for 2015 can’t quite lift it eye-to-eye with the class best. While subjectively the Civic’s approach could well win the right kind of buyer over, in terms of driver involvement, refinement and overall desirability there are more conventional mid-sized hatchbacks that stand that little bit taller.