Longer, lower and leaner than before, Honda’s new Civic marks the tenth generation of the nameplate and takes things in a new, more European direction. No better test then - for both aesthetics, and the way it drives - to drive the car on European roads, albeit the smooth twists and turns around Barcelona. We’ll have to wait a little longer to see how the more sophisticated new Civic handles in the UK.
Engine, performance and 0-60mph time
Two engines are available from launch. Both are petrol - a compact 1-litre triple whose induction is boosted by a turbocharger to an eyebrow-raising 127bhp, with 147lb ft of torque at 2250rpm. The other is also turbocharged - a 1.5-litre four-cylinder making 180bhp. Not long ago, that was almost Type R power - though with 177lb ft at 2250rpm, more of its performance should be accessible at day-to-day speeds.
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On the way are two more engines, including a 1.6-litre turbodiesel (which, if the previous model is anything to go by, should be spectacularly frugal) and a 2-litre turbocharged petrol in the Type R - which should be spectacularly quick. A six-speed manual is standard across the range. Petrol automatics get a CVT, while a nine-speed auto will be optional on diesel models.
The Civic’s dramatic new shape belies significant changes to the car’s proportions. The new model is 30mm wider than before, sits 20mm lower, and there’s a full 130mm of extra bodywork end-to-end. Despite these new measurements, greater use of materials like high-tensile steel and clever use of welding has shed 19kg from the body-in-white while torsional stiffness has improved by 52 per cent.
Better still, Honda has finally seen fit to return to fully independent rear suspension, something that disappeared when the eighth-generation model debuted. There are struts up front, as before, but the rear is now multi-link. The reason back then was to maximise boot space; the reason now is to improve the way the car drives. 1.5-litre models have the option of adaptive dampers.
What’s it like to drive?
The new cabin is a definite improvement than the esoteric layout of the old car. You sit lower and feel more a part of the action than before, while the TFT instrument display is more conventional - and all grouped within the instrument cluster, rather than layered. The gearshift doesn’t feel quite as well-sited as it did, without the handspan distance between lever and wheel, but it’s hardly an inconvenience. Quality is good, but not touchy-feely in the Germanic sense.
The way the Civic actually drives is hugely competent but not, at this stage, much fun. That’s not to damn the Civic with faint praise - those seeking thrills will undoubtedly wait for the Type R, and anyone trading up from cooking versions of the current Civic will find a great deal to like about the new car.
Among its merits are quick steering (but not to the point of nervousness), strong grip levels and foolproof balance. The ride quality seems good too, though we’ll have to wait until we drive the car in the UK before giving it a definitive thumbs-up. The UK may also be a better test for the adaptive dampers than smooth Spanish roads - there was little discernable difference between Normal and Dynamic settings in over bumps, but in Dynamic there was a slight - only just noticeable - increase in body control, feeling less floaty over crests and undulations.
The steering is light and transmits very little feel, but on dry, smooth tarmac it’s predictable enough to commit to corners with confidence. Traction is very good - though not hugely troubled by the current engine range - and lifting off the throttle mid-corner tucks the nose in safely but doesn’t call the rear axle into play. This is a stable car, rather than an agile one.
We tried all four engine and transmission combinations currently available - both the 1-litre and 1.5, with both the manual and CVT gearbox options. The CVT is among the better of its type we’ve tried; high-rev mooing under hard acceleration hasn’t been completely banished but it’s also not overly intrusive (and with the gravelly three-pot, not unpleasant either), and switching to the stepped-ratio ‘manual’ mode you do get an extra degree of control.
This being a Honda though, the manual is the much more satisfying option. The shift is slick and precise, with a short throw. The 1-litre and manual combination is actually the sweetest we reckon, since the four-cylinder 1.5 delivers a raucous, tuneless (and most un-Honda) racket under acceleration. Our test cars felt a little tight, but the 1.5 definitely offers a performance advantage over the 1-litre, which sometimes felt like it needed a gear between a short second and long third on twisty roads.
Price and rivals
The new Civic kicks off in SE trim with the manual-equipped 1-litre model at £18,335, and currently rises to £27,295 for the 1.5 Prestige CVT. Kit levels are comprehensive at the top end of the range - Prestige trim gets leather seats, in addition to standard kit from lower levels like auto headlights, adaptive cruise control, Honda Connect infotainment and more.
Ford Focus, VW Golfs and the like start at less money than the Civic but each manufacturer's entry-level model is pretty miserable, so to get Civic-equivalent power and kit you're looking at similar money - a 123bhp 1.4-litre TSI Golf in S trim is £18,665, for instance.