Competition is so fierce in the family hatchback market, any new entrant has to stand out. With excellent choices in the shape of the VW Golf and Ford Focus, not to mention upstarts such as the new Hyundai i30 and Kia Cee’d, there’s no room for a me-too product. So how does the new Honda Civic fit into that mix? We got hold of one of the first right-hand-drive cars in the UK to find out.
Since its launch in 1973, Honda has sold more than 650,000 Civics. The previous generation really hit on a winning formula – striking looks, a futuristic yet practical cabin and a fun driving experience. The new model seeks to build on that reputation, while offering a more comfortable ride and a better-quality interior.
Video: watch CarBuyer's video review of the new Honda Civic
This time around, Honda has been less daring with the car’s shape. The more you look at it, the more it feels as if it has lost some of its personality.
LED running lights add some show to the front end, but although the shape has been smoothed off and updated, the rear window is still split awkwardly and hampers vision.
What about comfort? Honda engineers have spent many hours testing the new Civic on UK roads, and you can tell straight away their hard work has paid off. New fluid-filled suspension bushes make it much more compliant, so it soaks up potholes well. Big bumps still send a jolt through the cabin, but it’s generally comfier than the outgoing car.
Overall, it feels more grown up. The body may not be as distinctive but it’s far more aerodynamic and, as a result, wind noise is reduced – the Civic is much quieter at any speed.
Quality has improved, too. Out go the brittle plastics of the old car, and in comes a new soft-touch material for the dash. The digital display has also been simplified, but still looks a bit busy. Equipment levels are excellent, even on basic SE-trimmed cars. Climate control, an ECON button (which modifies throttle response to improve economy), stop-start and alloy wheels are all standard. Our EX GT flagship had leather upholstery on its very comfortable seats, xenon headlights, a parking camera and sat-nav.
On the move, the 148bhp 2.2-litre diesel we tested had quite a narrow power band – you need to change gear quickly and often to maintain acceleration – and it sounded a little gruffer than similarly powerful engines from VW and Ford. It’s capable of 0-62mph in 8.8 seconds, while Honda claims 64.2mpg and CO2 emissions of 115g/km, making road tax free in the first year.
Our advice, however, would be to hold out for the new 1.6-litre diesel, which will be even more economical and has sub-100g/km CO2 emissions. This engine is due at the end of the year.
The Civic is still fun to drive on a twisty road. With retuned suspension and a rear trailing arm that’s stiffer than that of the old Type R hot hatch, it’s a pretty agile machine, with decent turn-in and good grip. The new electric power-steering is precise, if a bit light. That’s fine at low speed, but it could do with more weight as the pace quickens.
However, many of the old car’s virtues have been carried over, including the cinema-style rear seats that fold up to allow awkward items such as bikes to slide behind the front seats. The boot is big at 487 litres and has a twin-height floor, although rear seat space could be better.
So is the new Civic much of a leap forward? Sadly, the answer is no. Improvements are small, and although existing customers will be happy, we’re not convinced it stands out enough to attract new ones.