In a market where excellence is the norm, the Honda Civic is easily overlooked. But it’s an intriguing alternative, with its big boot and neat cabin touches, while the brand has introduced an all-new 1.6-litre diesel – with lower emissions and fuel consumption – in a bid to make the car even more attractive.
The British-built hatchback still ploughs its own furrow in terms of design. While the styling is toned down from the previous generation, the Civic is a world away from the saloon-like Skoda Octavia thanks to its short bonnet, large windows and stumpy rear end.
Climb inside, and the dashboard is also radically different to those of the Volkswagen Group models. There’s a low-resolution colour screen on the centre console and dozens of buttons, and while it looks as though Honda has taken a scattergun approach to their positioning, it’s actually pretty easy to find your way around.
The two-level dashboard adds a futuristic touch, but the steering wheel cuts between the displays, and some drivers will need to position the wheel in their laps to prevent it from obscuring the speedometer.
The seats are comfortable, although we weren’t keen on their soft fabrics, and while visibility out front is good, the divide in the tailgate cuts through your rear view. Honda has added a windscreen wiper to the rear, but it sweeps the upper part of the glass; you spend more time looking out of the lower section.
In the back, the Civic trails its rivals for passenger space, and the narrow doors make access trickier, too. Still, while the 477-litre boot trails the Skoda’s capacity by 113 litres, a double floor with a deep lower section and a low boot lip give the Civic a practical edge.
Honda’s first diesel – the refined and eager 2.2 i-CTDi – was a revelation, and this new 1.6 i-DTEC is just as smooth, although it’s not that far ahead of the VW Group engine. It’s hooked up to a smooth-shifting six-speed box, and has a healthy dose of mid-range torque.
At the test track, we managed to cover 0-60mph in 10.6 seconds in the Honda – that’s a second faster than in the other cars – while acceleration through the gears was equally impressive.
Unfortunately, the rest of the driving experience doesn’t live up to the engine’s potential. Light steering makes low-speed driving a breeze, but there’s no fun to be had, while unsettled suspension means the Civic isn’t as composed as its rivals over bumps.
Our ES-spec model costs £105 more than the Skoda, at £20,595, and comes fitted with a similar amount of equipment as standard. Emissions are on a par with the Golf’s and slightly better than the Octavia’s, while the six-speed gearbox helped the Honda deliver a best-on-test fuel return of 52.2mpg.
So this 1.6 i-DTEC is clearly the best model in the Civic range. The question is whether it’s a strong enough contender to make an impact here.