Honda has persevered with the petrol engine longer than most manufacturers, only introducing its first diesel engine in 2009. That 2.2-litre unit was an exceptionally good start, but it was always just a bit too big, a bit too heavy, to sit well in the Civic.
Fortunately the Japanese firm has resolved that issue now by downsizing the engine to a miserly 1.6-litres, shedding some 50kg in the process.
Fiddling with the engine isn’t the only change made by Honda. The not-quite-a-facelift new Civic gets modifications made to the suspension and steering which, combined with that drop in weight, means that the car both handles and rides better than ever.
It’s no hot-hatch though, with the Ford Focus and Volkswagen Golf both offering a more engaging drive. However, initial turn-in is greatly improved and there’s a good level of chassis balance on higher speed bends.
The ride quality is far better than the previous models too, with a level of compliance that was missing previously. Again, some rivals may do things better, but there’s very little to complain about when cruising along in the Civic.
That theme continues inside, where superbly supportive seats and excellent positioning leaves a driver feeling fresh and relaxed after even the longest drive. A quick sojourn to St Omer in France proved the point nicely, especially after more than an hour crawling along the M11 at no more than walking pace.
There is real feeling to the steering, but at low speeds (such as on the M11) it remains incredibly light and easy to work with, firming up nicely as speeds increase. A light clutch pedal and slick gearbox also helps.
The digital dashboard might be a little overwhelming initially, but it all comes together very well. The upper instruments (yes, there are two sets) display the speed and an eco-meter, while there’s a small screen to the left with extra information from radio stations to fuel economy.
Below sits three dials, with the rev counter taking centre stage. That’s slightly odd with the diesel, as it’s not a unit that enjoys revving, but the whole thing has a slight dashboard-from-Mars feel to it.
None of this would matter if the diesel engine failed at its one task – that of being economical. There’s a lot to say about it, but I’ll skip it all and simply state that the Civic 1.6 i-DTEC is the most economical conventionally powered car tested here so far, ahead of even the Toyota Prius and Honda’s own Insight hybrids.
Out on the FrontSeatDriver test route, the Civic returned 62.5mpg. The Honda Insight, powered by a combination of 1.3 litre petrol engine and an electric motor, managed just 51.1mpg, which puts in to perspective just how frugal the Civic diesel is.
It’s not just pure fuel use that counts though, with CO2 emissions being key to many a private and company buyer. Putting out 94 g/km of CO2, the i-DTEC isn’t quite class leading, but it does enough to avoid attracting any kind of vehicle duty bill, while company car drivers will appreciate the 13% benefit in kind rate.
Given the above, it all seems fairly positive. Here’s a car that’s good enough to drive that’s also cheap to run, but there has to be a down side.
There is, although there’s nothing too overwhelming. Stylistically, I feel the Civic is lacking a little bit of either class or distinctiveness. The last generation Civic stood out a mile from the run of the mill cars of the era, but the current Civic has reverted to something a little more anonymous, a little more boring.
Despite cutting 50kg from the weight of that engine, the car still comes in at close to 1.5 tonnes in total. It leaves you wondering just what could be achieved if the entire car went on a weight loss plan. The good but not great handling could be improved, economy would get even better and emissions would drop.
Finally, that dramatic dashboard works very well during the day but can be a bit of an eyesore at night. Dimming down the LCD displays helps prevent any burning of the retina, but it would be nice to be able to switch off unnecessary dials and displays at night.
All of those are pretty small niggles though on what is a capable car that sips at fuel like nothing else I’ve tried this side of an electric vehicle. If that’s what you want from a car, the ability to travel long distances at the lowest possible cost, then the Civic diesel makes an extremely strong case for itself.
|Honda Civic ES 1.6 i-DTEC Diesel|
|Price: £20,780 (£21,280 as tested).
The Honda Civic range starts at £16,995 for the 1.4 i-VTEC SE, rising to £27,090 for the 2.2 i-DTEC EX GT.
|Good and Bad|
|Good Stuff: Good ride quality, reasonable handling, distinctive interior, exceptional economy.
Bad Stuff: A little bland on the outside, bright lights from dashboard at night.
|Maximum Speed: 111 mph
0-62 mph: 11.9 seconds
Economy and Costs
Official combined fuel economy: 78.5 mpg
|Engine: 1.6 litre four cylinder direct injection turbocharged diesel
Power: 118 bhp (120 PS)
Torque: 221 lb-ft (300 Nm)
Length: 4,300 mm