The new ninth-generation Honda Civic is more civilised than ever, with improved refinement, toned-down styling and lower running costs. Honda has sold more than 650,000 Civics in the UK since 1973, so the arrival of an all-new version of the Ford Focus rival, built in Swindon, Wiltshire, is big news – and we’ve driven it.
Video: watch our video review of the Honda Civic
The design represents a gentle evolution rather than the radical overhaul introduced by the old car. It won’t be to everyone’s tastes, but is still sure to get you noticed. The new Civic is 2cm lower, 1cm wider and 3cm longer than before, but a shorter wheelbase leaves it with much longer overhangs.
Other novelties include the high-mounted tail-lamp clusters, the daylight running LEDs and the active grille shutter on diesel models. The light strip spoiler, which bisects the back window, is set 20mm lower than before and a rear wiper has been added, too.
Inside, there’s slightly less space in the rear, although adults still have plenty of head and legroom. The boot is eight litres smaller than before, at 478 litres, but that’s still class-leading. Honda’s flexible seat layout is carried over, allowing you to fold the rear bench flat or fix the seats vertically, freeing up space to slot in bulky objects through the rear doors.
From the driver’s seat, visibility is improved thanks to thinner A-pillars, but the spilt screen still hampers the view to the rear. The dash layout has grown up, too, with the confusing digital dials from the old car making way for a cleaner, more logical design.
Quality has taken a leap with soft-touch materials added everywhere except on the top of the instrument panel. The driver’s seat has better lateral support and now features a pneumatic lumbar support which will be useful on long journeys.
It doesn’t take long behind the wheel to realise Honda’s focus was to improve refinement. The suspension bushes are now filled with fluid, rather than rubber, so the ride is more comfortable, while reinforced door sills and thicker front windows help keep engine noise and tyre roar at bay.
The Civic’s relaxing character is helped by the light steering, which is ideal around town, and a more direct ratio means it’s accurate and quick when you up the pace.
The initial engine line-up will be familiar to owners of the current Civic, although stop-start has been added across the range. The 1.4-litre and 1.8-litre petrol engines have the same outputs as the current model – 99bhp and 140bhp respectively – while the 2.2-litre diesel in the car we drove has been given a more thorough makeover. Power is up by 10bhp and torque by 10Nm, to 148bhp and 350Nm, and fuel economy rises 18 per cent to 67.3mpg.
The large-capacity four-cylinder diesel remains one of the best engines around. It pulls hard from low revs, spins smoothly and has plenty of performance.
Despite being the most expensive option, Honda predicts this engine will be its biggest seller here – at least until a smaller 120bhp 1.6-litre diesel, with less than 100g/km of CO2, arrives this time next year.