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Honda Civic long-term test: a happy medium

Published: 18 April 2018

► CAR's Honda Civic long-term test
► It's the all-new Civic Mk10 hatch
► Ours is a 1.5 petrol in Sport Plus trim

I've spent much of the last few months comparing our Civic 1.5 VTEC Turbo Sport Plus with the Civic Type R. It's a comparison that tends to highlight the good in both models: lovely all-rounder that's quietly rewarding to drive vs fine driver's car that's also a good all-rounder.

But the Type R isn't the only other Civic available, and for many potential buyers it's not the comparison they'll be making. If they're on a tighter budget, and put the priority on transport, they might be looking at the 1.0 turbo triple.

I spent a week in one, and while I managed to see some positives, they were all negated by the puny 127bhp engine. Disappointing, but it helped further my understanding of what makes our Civic so enjoyable. I think it's about the harmony of engine, transmission, chassis and driving position. Mess with one of those and you lose the harmony.

Even though there's much about the 1.5 that's fiddly (the touchscreen) or annoying (the noise from some road surfaces), and even though it's up against some very fine alternatives, it just works.

Honda Civic interior

Over our 8133 miles with the Civic it suffered only minor injuries at our hands. A colleague reversed it into a hedge, minutely damaging the lower rear bodywork. I scraped a wheel on a car park kerb. A golf ball dented a door frame, barely perceptibly. And I reversed into a grassy bank, doing a bit more rear-bodywork damage. The tyres were still good. The service was painless, if earlier than expected. Nothing dropped off.

Some of the safety aids and warnings got experimentally turned off, and never turned on again. It transpires that I can stay in lane just fine without the car's help, and maintaining a steady speed is something I can manage unaided if I want to. Much better to engage fully with the car, mind switched on and lane-keeping aids switched off.

Towards the end of our time with the car I bunked off for a few hours on a largely bogus mission to Bury St Edmunds. Rather than obey the sat-nav and use the A14, I did my best to stick to single-carriageway roads.

It was fun. Not crazy fun. Not the best drive I've ever had. But engaging and involving, turning a journey into a pleasure. For a £25k car with a big boot and a decent amount of passenger space, this was a healthy degree of fun.

Arriving at my destination mildly invigorated, pausing only to weigh myself down with a disappointing burger that took forever to arrive, I found myself with a different mission for the return journey: floor it. This turned out to be slightly more invigorating, and only marginally more expensive. This burst of relative recklessness over a couple of hours cost me something close to 56p compared to driving more steadily, if my arithmetic is to be believed. That's 56p well spent.

By Colin Overland

Logbook: Honda Civic 1.5 VTEC Sport Plus

Engine 1498cc 16v turbo 4-cyl, 180bhp @ 5500rpm, 177lb ft @ 1900-5000rpm
Transmission 6-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Stats 8.3sec 0-62mph, 137mph, 133g/km CO2
Price £25,405 
As tested £25,930
Miles this month 177
Total 9631
Our mpg 37.7
Official mpg 48.7 
Fuel this month £25.90
Extra costs None

Count the cost

Cost new £25,930 (including £525 of options)
Dealer sale price £20,236
Private sale price £19,156
Part-exchange price £17,901 
Cost per mile 12.9p
Cost per mile including depreciation £1.14


Month 7 living with a Honda Civic: a brush with Type R royalty

The words ‘Civic’ and ‘Type R’ go together very naturally, but of course there are Type Rs that aren’t Civics and Civics that aren’t Type Rs. Mine, for a start. But it was at a day devoted to all things Type R at Rockingham racetrack that I truly got our Civic, even though it was sat in the car park throughout.

It was a day spent driving Civic Type Rs on track, and driving various old Type Rs on the road, and making a mess of controlling skids on a skid pan. And then driving our non-Type R away from the circuit with a new appreciation of what a fine car the Civic is.

In the past, the Type R has often been the most interesting Civic and the best. I’m thinking particularly of the EP3 version, the ‘bread van’ shape from 2001. The regular car was very sensible and practical, and exceptionally roomy, and had its gearlever in a funny place. The Type R was significantly quicker and more fun without being significantly less practical, if a bit less comfy.

The CAR Top 10: best Honda Type R cars

The other generations have pulled off the same trick, with different degrees of success. But the current one flips the emphasis around. The Type R is very quick, a heap of fun and hardly compromised as daily transport. The 1.5 turbo – our car – feels remarkably similar. Yes it’s slower and it’s softer, and it doesn’t have three exhaust pipes. But it does seem to be very closely related. The weighting of the pedals and the steering wheel. The driving position. The way it holds the road. The gearchange action. These are the same thing – turned up to 9 in one case and down to 6 in the other, but the same thing.

Honda Civic Type R Colin selfie

Why would you go for the 1.5? It’s less expensive to buy (and cheaper to run) and it’s a little more passenger friendly. Why would you go for the Type R? It’s faster – in the sense of usable speed, speed that can enliven a commute as well as make a country road into a little bit of paradise. It’s firmer. It’s flashier.

Not much flashier, mark you. Even after the Type R hit UK streets, several months after the 1.5, I’m still getting raised eyebrows and tentative thumbs-ups from drivers of various hot hatches, either asking if my car’s a Type R, or letting me know they like my Type R, or wanting to race my Type R. (It’s OK, I’m fluent in hot hatch eyebrow raising.) I soon stopped trying to mime back at them that no, this isn’t a Type R, you’ll notice that the exhausts are different and the wing much smaller… Way too complicated, and in any case there’s no harm in letting them think they’ve out-dragged a Type R (not that they always do).

Everything’s in the same place, the curves are the same, the driving position identical. You can tell the two were developed at the same time by essentially the same people. But I mustn’t exaggerate the resemblance between the two cars. Drive the 1.5 hard and the suspension soon starts to feel too soft, while the engine runs out of puff before you run out of enthusiasm. The seats seem a bit unstructured. There’s not much red inside.

By contrast, the Type R is a fully fledged hot hatch. A very comfortable and easygoing hot hatch, but a hot hatch nonetheless, like the Ford Focus ST, Peugeot 308 GTi or VW Golf GTI. Engaging, Grippy. Responsive. Agile. And OK with child seats and shopping and speed bumps, and not loud enough to trouble the neighbours or the PTA.

Honda Civic Type R rear cornering

But when you see the Team Dynamics BTCC duo of Matt Neal and Gordon Shedden dancing around Rockingham in Civic Type Rs, you see how much more potential the car has in the right hands (and bear in mind that their 2017 race car was based on the previous-generation Civic, so it wasn’t as if they’d been practising this masterclass in car control all season). 

Meanwhile, back in the real world… someone else has had my Civic for most of the month, and they did very few miles but spent enough time in the car to re-adjust everything that could be adjusted, from the steering wheel to the audio preferences. Mustn’t grumble, but the process of re-
setting everything served to emphasise just how third-rate the DAB radio is, at least compared to most of the cars that pass through CAR. Incredibly fiddly, and often reluctant to acknowledge the existence of pretty mainstream stuff that it’s found in the past. And the phone pairing, which used to be a doddle, is now more trouble than it’s worth. 

Just as well the important stuff – what it’s like to drive – is so easy to access.

By Colin Overland

Logbook: Honda Civic 1.5 VTEC Sport Plus

Engine 1498cc 16v turbo 4-cyl, 180bhp @ 5500rpm, 177lb ft @ 1900-5000rpm
Transmission 6-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Stats 8.3sec 0-62mph, 137mph, 133g/km CO2
Price £25,405 
As tested £25,930
Miles this month 263
Total 9454
Our mpg 38.7
Official mpg 48.7 
Fuel this month £36.36
Extra costs None


Month 6 of our Honda Civic long-term test review: time for its first service!

Exemplary customer service from local Honda dealer Marshall in Peterborough. Should go without saying, but in reality good service is something you can’t take for granted.

I got in touch with them via the Honda website to book it in after the dash started telling me that a service was due in about 2000 miles – a couple of thousand earlier than the usual 12,500 oil change, but the intervals aren’t rigid, and hard use can make the oil lose some of its longevity.

Despite my incompetence when it comes to answering my phone, the service manager was cheerily relentless in his ultimately successful pursuit of me, through answerphone and email. We discussed the car and the logistics of the service, and without any prompting they offered to come and get it and return it for me. Never, in decades of dealing with dealers, have I felt so confident that they knew what they were doing and were going to make it easy for me.

And that’s how it turned it. The car was whisked away and returned without me doing anything beyond ensuring the keys were on our office reception. They kept me informed throughout, and charged £132.29. The Civic came back cleaner than it’s ever been.

And the very next day, I reversed it into a grassy bank, breaking one of the fasteners holding the rear under-bonnet bodywork together. I know that I’d be wasting my time trying to arguing that I was suffering from some form of warning-beep fatigue, which made me ignore the increasingly cross beeping of the reversing sensors, but the Civic is a car that likes to boss you around – being reluctant to let you release the parking brake if you’re not wearing your seatbelt, for instance. But no, it was my stupid fault.

By Colin Overland

Browse used Honda Civics for sale


Honda Civic long-term test review: struck by a golf ball!

Month 5 living with a Honda Civic: struck by a golf ball! 

Is the universe trying to tell me something? I was slinging some camping chairs into the ample boot of the Civic on a Saturday afternoon when an extremely wayward golf ball from a not-very-nearby golf course hit first the roof of the car, then the roof of the house, then my head. The damage was minimal. 

If you stand at just the right angle you can see there’s a tiny dent (in the car, not my head), but you have to be looking. This speaks volumes about the quality of the paint, which continues to look showroom-fresh in all its shiny grey glory.

By Colin Overland

Honda Civic: the CAR magazine long-term test review

Logbook: Honda Civic 1.5 VTEC Sport Plus

Engine 1498cc 16v turbo 4-cyl, 180bhp @ 5500rpm, 177lb ft @ 1900-5000rpm
Transmission 6-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Stats 8.3sec 0-62mph, 137mph, 133g/km CO2
Price £25,405
As tested £25,930
Miles this month 591
Total 8352
Our mpg 38.9
Official mpg 48.7
Fuel this month £84.15
Extra costs None (yet)


Month 4 living with a Honda Civic: just a very good car

Off-roading in the Civic. It wasn't exactly the plan, but when a country lane changes into a forest track and then just a rutted field, and when you've got to deliver a festival-hungry teenager to the other side of the field, you just keep on going.

And it turns out the Civic is perfectly happy to join in the fun. Nothing wild and crazy, but brisk enough, and perfectly safe and comfortable, and with no damage to the car (or nothing that's come to light yet, anyway).

In some parts of the world, this is what most roads are like, and most cars are able to deal with them happily enough without all-wheel drive or stiffened suspension; I sometimes wonder at the first-world whinging that accompanies any sighting of a pothole or cracked tarmac.

Honda Civic prices and specs: ours costs £25,930

Anyway, this field was the mid-point of an illuminating journey from the Midlands to Sussex and back again, 250-ish miles on a hot summer day, mostly on motorways. Illuminating because the fuel consumption varied a lot with the conditions: about 37mpg in the stop-start clog of the journey down, via Heathrow, but a more typical 42mpg on the freer-flowing journey back, using an unusually quiet Dartford Crossing and up the eastern side of the M25.

With its light and easily modulated controls, that sweet 1.5-litre turbo engine, and its decent visibility, the Civic's an easy car to drive in heavy traffic – but it can develop a bit more of a thirst, just like any other car.

The trip was also illuminating because we found ourselves surprised how hot it was outside when we got out of the car, destination reached. The climate control had done a very good job of keeping us at the required 18ºC, when outside it was in the high twenties.

Honda Civic LTT front quarter

And it was illuminating because the Civic was entirely comfortable throughout the whole journey. It's not plush or clever, but it works. It's on dull motorway journeys like this that I tend to become conscious of any deficiencies in support or adjustment, but the Civic's turned out to be really very good, and not just for me. My only complaint is that on some surfaces, notably concrete, tyre noise is intrusive.

Meanwhile, I seem to have dialled out most of the many electronic driver aids that have intrigued me so much since I started driving the Civic four months ago.

It's not been a conscious decision, but I suspect it's down to a combination of factors: a) the active cruise control is a bit jerky when it decides you need to slow down; ditto the lane-keeping tech; b) the novelty's worn off; and c) the car is so easy to drive that you don't really need any help to feel completely in control of it.

By Colin Overland

Browse hundreds of Hondas for sale

Logbook: Honda Civic 1.5 VTEC Sport Plus manual

Engine 1498cc 16v 4-cyl turbo, 180bhp @ 5500rpm, 177lb ft @ 1900-5000rpm 
 
Transmission 6-speed manual, front-wheel drive  
Stats 8.3sec 0-62mph, 137mph, 133g/km CO2  
Price £25,405
As tested £25,930 
Miles this month 1357
Total 7761
Our mpg 41.1
Official mpg 48.7 
 
Fuel this month £175.25
Extra costs None


Month 3 of our Honda Civic long-term test review: who fancies a chat about safety systems?

In what might look like a slightly demented manner, I’ve become obsessive about figuring out the subtleties of the Civic’s active safety technology. I’ve almost cracked the big one: distinguishing between Lane Departure Warning, Road Departure Mitigation and Lane Keeping Assist.  

But then someone else will nab it for a couple of days and when they return it they have NO interest in talking about Lane Departure Warning, Road Departure Mitigation or Lane Keeping Assist. 

Instead, they say stuff like this: Steers really nicely, doesn’t it? Neat little gearchange action. Love the way it rides. Engine’s got a good spread of power for a turbo four cylinder, hasn’t it? 

Or in James Taylor’s case, the boot. Most unusually for a car of this modest size, its boot is big enough, and its opening wide enough, to allow his bicycle to slot in without any wheel removal.

Huge boot on our Honda Civic hatchback

The parcel shelf – which rolls away into the side of the boot – makes a real difference here. Its lack of rigidity is only an issue if you want to actually keep anything heavier than a box of tissues or a panama hat on the parcel shelf. If you regard it as simply a way of shielding your shopping from peeping pedestrians, it’s great.

By Colin Overland


Month 2 living with a Honda Civic Sport Plus: the tech is creeping in...

I’ve spent a lot of time in heavy traffic lately. It’s given me a chance to understand Brake Hold, which had previously seemed pointless. But it works really well in stop-start traffic, where a firm dab on the brake pedal keeps you stopped on a slope until you apply a bit of power.

It works harmoniously with engine stop-start, and with the tickover-cruise facility: from a standstill, without you needing to touch the throttle, the car will proceed smoothly at walking pace.

By Colin Overland

Logbook: Honda Civic 1.5 VTEC Sport Plus manual

Engine 1498cc 16v 4-cyl turbo, 180bhp @ 5500rpm, 177lb ft @ 1900-5000rpm 
 
Transmission 6-speed manual, front-wheel drive  
Stats 8.3sec 0-62mph, 137mph, 133g/km CO2  
Price £25,405
As tested £25,930 
Miles this month 1961
Total 3459 
 
Our mpg 40.4
Official mpg 48.7 
 
Fuel this month 274.23
Extra costs None


Month 1 living with a Honda Civic Sport Plus: stealth mode permanently on

Without ever particularly meaning to, I’ve driven or at least been driven in every generation of Honda Civic. I’ve nearly bought a couple, come to think of it. From the tiny Mk1 of 1973 owned by a primary school classmate’s mum to a mid-noughties Type R I inexpertly blatted around Silverstone for a couple of laps, they’ve all been somewhere between good and very good.

But what is it that makes them all Civics? Driving the British-built Mk10 for the first time, I was struck by two things: 1) this is one of the best Civics; 2) it has no obvious connection with any other Civic. That was soon followed by a mental asterix from point 2): none of them have had that much to do with the others. By contrast, every Golf I’ve ever driven has had a familiar feel, as well as a lot of visual continuity; ditto the 3-series. But the Civic? They’re different shapes, different sizes, with gearlevers in all sort of places, and if you exclude the Type R there’s no discernible character traits they have in common.

This new one seems to be hedging its bets, by having an external design that uses so many lines, shapes and crevices that there could be nods to every previous-generation Civic somewhere in there, but then again maybe it’s all fresh. Inside, too, there’s a disorientating proliferation of curves and panels and textures and fabrics with no obvious rationale.

But it all works a treat. It’s practical. It’s very good to drive. And they’ve at least tried to do something with the styling, albeit they’ve then cloaked our car in gaze-deflecting shiny primer (they don’t call it that).

Honda Civic 2017 interior

The 2017 five-door line-up spans six spec levels, starting from £18,475. Your non-Type R engine choice is, currently, two turbo petrols, a 1.0-litre with 127bhp or a 1.5 with 180bhp, and seven-speed stepped CVT or six-speed manual transmission. A 1.6 diesel will join the range in 2018.

This is the 1.5 VTEC Sport Plus Manual. Ours arrived with 1498 miles on the clock. We have only one extra, £525 worth of pearlescent paint, taking the on-the-road price up to £25,930. So everything else here is standard for a Sport Plus: keyless entry, sunroof, adaptive dampers, blind sport warning, cross traffic monitoring, heated front seats, wireless charging and an 11-speaker audio system. That’s on top of all the gear that the one-lower Sport spec brings: 17in alloys, privacy glass, LED headlights, hands-free phone, brake hold etc. 

First impressions are of a well-built car that has a modest footprint – no car park too tight – but a relaxingly roomy interior. And it’s sweet to drive: a free-revving engine that’s powerful enough to feel quick, a light, precise gearshift and an agreeable way with corners. It sits low, but isn’t sportily suspended.

Letting the Civic stretch its legs on some longer trips should get a bit closer to identifying that Civic-ness. Or at least I’ll have a good time trying.

By Colin Overland

CAR magazine's Colin Overland and our new 2017 Honda Civic hatchback

Logbook: Honda Civic 1.5 VTEC Sport Plus manual

Engine 1498cc 16v 4-cyl turbo, 180bhp @ 5500rpm, 177lb ft @ 1900-5000rpm 

Transmission 6-speed manual, front-wheel drive 
Stats 8.3sec 0-62mph, 137mph, 133g/km CO2 
Price £25,405
As tested £25,930
Miles this month 1961
Total 3459 

Our mpg 40.4
Official mpg 48.7 

Fuel this month 274.23
Extra costs None

By Colin Overland

CAR's managing editor: wordsmith, critic, purveyor of fine captions

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