First Drive: Honda Civic

Always the bridesmaid, never the bride? Honda wants to change that…

This tenth generation Civic looks every bit as radical as the two previous generations, but where revolution was the key to the most recent incarnations, under the skin the latest model is very much about calculated evolution. Longer, wider, lower and lighter than the car it replaces, the British-built Honda starts with a clean sheet design, eschewing everything that has gone before in a bid to compete with the very best in class.

One third of Honda’s research and development budget has gone into this new car, so anything other than success would be devastating. Fortunately, first impressions are good. Memories of the rather dull Civic of old are banished almost immediately thanks to impressive ride and handling qualities. Fully independent rear suspension makes the car feel more stable, while also being more agile, and body control is generally very good. This is a car that can be driven with enthusiasm, without fear of the chassis letting the side down. It’s not at the expense of comfort though, as the dampers leave the Civic feeling planted and unworried by rough road surfaces. On the motorway it’s uncannily smooth and quiet, bar a bit of intrusive tyre roar.

Taking full advantage of the budget available, Honda has introduced two new engines to the Civic. This test car has the 1.5-litre turbocharged petrol, and it’s a wonderful unit. With 182hp on tap, it’s surprisingly brisk, with a short-throw six-speed gearbox encouraging the driver to keep that turbo spinning. However, most buyers are expected to opt for the smaller 1.0-litre engine, and that’s something of a revelation; it’s one of the most powerful three-cylinder engines available, offering impressive acceleration and class-leading refinement. From launch there’s no diesel option, but Honda’s excellent 1.6-litre i-DTEC engine will be slotted under the bonnet later in the year.

While the engines and driving performance have been looked after, the practicalities of family motoring haven’t been forgotten about. As you might expect from a car that’s grown in size, the interior space is improved and offers plenty of room for all, at least up front. Adults in the back might find the swooping roof line robs them of some headroom, but kids will be fine and the unusually large amount of legroom should allow all to get comfortable. The boot will hold a class-leading 478-litres of pushchairs, coolboxes and first-aid kits, although it’s not quite so generous compared to its rivals when the rear seats have been folded down.

The rear seats used to be spectacular, but the innovative Magic Seats that folded into the floor to leave a cavernous and flat load area have been sacrificed in the name of driving dynamics. However, Honda has added a number of clever touches to keep buyers happy, such as a parcel shelf that rolls away to the side – that saves space and, when not in use, means an area to store the shelf isn’t required. Up front there’s a deep centre storage unit, made larger thanks to Honda switching from a traditional handbrake to a compact electronic one, while a wireless charging pad means some mobile phone users won’t even need to leave cables trailing around.

Standard kit is generous, with this mid-range Sport model getting dual-zone climate control, auto lights and wipers, and a touchscreen infotainment system that includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Externally, the Sport models also get funky 17-inch wheels and twin centre exhausts, although the latter does rob the boot of a small amount of space.

However, while the money spent on engineering the Civic is very welcome, it’s a shame that a little more wasn’t spent on some of the materials inside – it’s all undoubtedly built to a very high standard, but the hard, shiny plastics found all around the cabin just feel cheaper than the rest of the car.

That’s just a minor blip on what is otherwise an exemplary effort. The changes from the previous generation are so deep that it’s almost a surprise that it keeps the same name. The tenth generation Civic is great to drive, comfortable, spacious, reasonably frugal, refined, practical and good value. Finally, it’s a car that can compete with the very best hatchbacks available.

Model Tested: Honda Civic Sport 1.5 182PS VTEC Turbo
Price: £22,470
Engine: 1.5-litre turbo petrol
Top speed: 136 mph
0-62 mph: 8.2 seconds
Power: 182 PS (180 bhp)
Torque: 240 Nm (177 ft lb)
Official fuel economy: 48.7 mpg
Road Test economy: N/A
CO2 Emissions: 133 g/km
VED Band: F / £130
Car insurance group: 22E
Kerb weight: 1,357 kg
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Phil is a motoring writer for print and web, failed racing driver, car hoarder and banger rally competitor. Nominated for the Headline Auto Rising Star award and a MGMW member, Phil freelances for outlets as diverse as Diesel Car magazine, and Cambridge Magazine, amongst many others. He also maintains a fleet of unloved motors, but spends most of his time driving an old Corvette.

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