Honda Civic review
The 2015 Civic offers lots of equipment and some efficient engines to rival the Ford Focus and VW Golf, and now a scorching Type R variant
The Honda Civic first went on sale in 1973 – a year before the all-conquering Volkswagen Golf. Now in its ninth generation, the Civic is a well-specced family hatchback with a range of petrol and diesel engines and has established a hard-to-beat reputation for reliability.
Since going on sale in 2011, the Honda Civic has undergone a series of tweaks and updates, with changes to the suspension and steering back in 2014. This year it was given a range of cosmetic alterations to bring it in line with the facelifted Ford Focus, new Peugeot 308 and ever-stylish SEAT Leon. New headlamps with LED daytime running lights, a reshaped bumper and revised rear spoiler are all included – as is a brand-new Civic Sport trim.
While arguably not as exciting to drive or look at as its main rivals (the Type R model takes care of that), the Honda benefits from impressive equipment levels. Kicking off the range is the basic S spec – ahead of mid-level SE Plus, SR and range-topping EX Plus. The Sport slots in between the SE Plus and SR models and is bar far the most stylish looking car in the range. Bluetooth and sat-nav come as standard on SR and EX Plus models and can be added to the S, SE Plus and Sport specs as part of the Navi pack.
There are three engines to choose from, including a frugal 1.6 diesel offering 78.5mpg. Petrol buyers can opt for the entry-level 1.4-litre but most will have an eye on the strong but noisy 1.8 i-VTEC. As of July 2015 hot hatch enthusiasts will be able to finally get their hands on the storming 306bhp Civic Type R, which we've recently driven.
There’s stop-start tech as standard across the entire Honda Civic line-up, helping save fuel by shutting down the engine when you stop. Honda has fitted an ECON button, too, which adjusts throttle response and the car’s air-con usage to improve fuel economy.
Those in need of more practicality can opt for the Honda Civic Tourer, an excellent estate that boasts an impressive 624 litres of boot space.
Our choice: Civic 1.6-litre i-DTEC SE Plus Navi
Arguably one of the best looking hatchbacks, the previous generation Honda Civic was far removed from anything we’d previously seen from the Japanese manufacturer. The latest model hasn't really moved the game on in terms of styling, both inside and out, and some of its proportions are a little ungainly.
LED lights are standard and the distinctive split rear screen – similar to that found on now-defunct CR-Z – is carried over, but comes with a much-needed windscreen wiper this time around. Visibility is still severely compromised, but the standard reversing camera helps reversing in tight car parks.
The Civic’s high-quality interior is better overall than the Ford Focus or Kia Cee’d, but doesn’t feel as upmarket as a Golf and suffers from an odd dashboard layout. Depending on your seating position the steering wheel blocks the speedometer and the various screens reflect in the windscreen at night, which can be distracting. That said, the 2015 update included a new Android-operated touchscreen for top-spec models, making the Civic’s infotainment system much easier to use.
All models (spec levels include S, SE Plus, Sport , SR and flagship EX Plus) come equipped with climate control, USB connectivity and 16-inch alloy wheels. SE Plus adds accessories such as cruise control, a parking camera, front fog lights, dual-zone climate control and automatic wipers and lights, while the Sport gets gloss-black wheels, sleek side skirts and a body-coloured spoiler. Top-of- the-range EX Plus Civics get a panoramic sunroof and privacy glass (fitted on SR, too), plus 17-inch alloys and keyless entry & go. Bluetooth and sat-nav come as standard on SR and EX Plus models and can be added to the S, SE Plus and Sport specs as part of the Navi pack.
The extreme Type R is marked out by its huge rear wing, bulging wheelarches, active aerodynamic add-ons and large alloy wheels. It's certainly noticeable, but it won't appeal to all as it looks a little aftermarket and over-the-top.
The Honda Civic’s fluid-filled rear suspension bushes mean the ride is nice and smooth, and it’s almost as comfortable on UK roads as the Volkswagen Golf. Thanks to its slippery aerodynamics the Civic doesn’t suffer from too much wind noise either, so it’s pretty quiet on the motorway, adding to the relaxing overall feel.
A 2014 update saw some improvements to the car’s front and rear dampers to make it better to drive and more comfortable on the move, but the changes are very small and most buyers may struggle to notice any difference. The new electric power steering system is smooth but it doesn’t have much feel at higher speeds, leaving the Civic a less engaging drive than the Ford Focus.
On the engine front, the choices are 99bhp 1.4-litre and 140bhp 1.8-litre i-VTEC petrols, as well as the 118bhp 1.6-litre i-DTEC diesel. All models come with a smooth-shifting six-speed manual as standard, but a five-speed automatic is also available as an option with the 1.8-litre i-VTEC unit. Do be aware that opting for the automatic box means you have to go without the fuel-saving stop-start system, though.
The 1.6 i-DTEC diesel is the best option when it comes to blending performance and efficiency, as you get plenty of pulling power thanks to 300Nm of torque and Honda claims you’ll be able to return over 78mpg. Not to shabby, considering 0-62mph takes 10.5 seconds and in this guise the Civic tops out at 129mph.
This makes it only slightly slower than the 1.8-litre i-VTEC, which can see off 0-62mph in 9.1 seconds on course to 134mph. We’d advise against this engine though, as it needs to be revved quite hard to perform well and gets noisy.
The new Honda Civic Type R brings a new level of performance compared to the old car, with over 100bhp more thanks to the turbocharged 2.0-litre engine. It's extremely fast, highly entertaining and has an astonishing amount of grip, but we'll have to see if it can oust established rivals such as the SEAT Leon Cupra and Renault Megane RS.
Honda’s hard-earned reputation for reliability saw it finish second out of 32 brands in that category in the 2014 Driver Power survey, up from a sixth place finish the year before.
As for safety, the Civic has a maximum five-star Euro NCAP rating. That's partly because all Civics are fitted with a LED daytime running lights, ESP and ABS as standard. Higher spec models also get adaptive cruise control and a Collision Mitigation Braking System, which uses radar to detect imminent collisions at low speeds.
The clever ‘Magic Seat’ rear bench means that you can fold the seats flat when you want to carry longer items, or flip the seats up cinema-style when you want to transport taller loads. The boot offers 477 litres of space (including 76 litres within an under-floor compartment), which is a massive 161 litres more than the Ford Focus and bigger than the 380-litre offering from the VW Golf.
The low loading lip makes it easy to load big items into the car, but there's no spare wheel. And while thin A-pillars make forward visibility good, chunky rear pillars mean reversing is awkward. Plus, although the split rear screen has been lowered, it still interferes with your view out of the back.
The Honda Civic's dimensions are 4,300mm long, 2,065mm wide and 1,590mm tall so it's quite a size, but the huge boot space does eat into passenger space slightly. The gradually sloping roofline limits headroom for those in the rear and the rear bench is a little narrow, making it difficult to carry three adults in comfort. In terms of kerbweight it ranges from 1,273kg to 1,416kg.
There's no hybrid model of the Civic, but the diesel engine does a good job of keeping running costs as low as possible. The petrol engines are decent as well - the 1.4-litre i-VTEC petrol will return 52.3mpg and emits 129g/km of CO2, while the 1.8 i-VTEC gets 48.7mpg and 137g/km, or a slightly less impressive 44.8mpg and 148g/km when paired to the auto ‘box.
However, it’s the 1.6-litre diesel that is the cheapest Civic to run as it can return a near Golf BlueMotion-rivalling mpg figure of 78.5mpg and emits only 94g/km of CO2. It’s definitely the engine to go for if you look to keep an eye on running costs.
The 306bhp Type R, as you'd expect, pushes insurance and general running costs to new heights. But it still claims a decent 38.7mpg combined, with CO2 rated at 170g/km.
The most recent Honda Civic is cheaper to insure than the previous model thanks to lower insurance groups, and with strong residual values across the range, you’ll get a lot of your money back come resale time despite the lack of a standard extended warranty.