New Honda Civic 1.5 VTEC 2017 review
The new Honda Civic has already impressed us with the 1.0-litre engine, but is the larger 1.5 just as good? We find out...
The new Honda Civic's balance of ride and handling is excellent, and this 1.5-litre petrol model has a smoother and more refined engine than the 1.0-litre model we tested previously. However, the annoying CVT gearbox and sky-high price of this Prestige-spec car means it's not a great choice. A 1.0-litre manual is more economical and fun to drive, while a generous standard kit list means it's better to go for a cheaper trim level to get the most Civic for your cash.
The Honda Civic is off to a good start: the new 1.0-litre model impressed us on our first drive earlier in the year thanks to its excellent economy, comfort and refinement. Now we've finally driven the 1.5-litre petrol model, fitted with Honda's CVT automatic gearbox, to find out if it can tempt you away from the model with the downsized powerplant.
It's clear straight away that refinement is also the larger engine's strong point, as it's very quiet inside at any speed. The engine rumbles away quietly, while wind and road noise is minimal too, even as you pick up speed. The continuously variable transmission (CVT) is one of the better gearboxes of its type - it does its best to keep engine revs low, using the torque of the turbocharged engine to make progress instead of revving-up every time you put your foot down.
Sadly it's still a CVT so when you do want to speed up reasonably quickly, the engine revs unpleasantly - it's not loud, but the way it holds on to revs makes it sound like someone's switched on a vacuum cleaner in the next room. If you only plan on driving in a very calm manner, the CVT will be fine, but will be a constant disappointment for keen drivers.
Car group tests
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- New Honda Civic Type R 2020 review
- New Honda Civic Sport Line 2019 review
Used car tests
Hit a fast section of road and you might be tempted to use the wheel-mounted paddles, but as the CVT doesn't have gears as such, they don't really do what you might expect. Instead of gradually letting the revs rise like most cars, it just controls how loud and unpleasant you want the engine to be.
The DSG automatic in rival models - the VW Golf, Skoda Octavia and SEAT Leon - is a much better bet if you need an auto 'box in your family hatch. Still, the manual gearbox you can get in the Honda is actually precise and fun to use - so if you go for that, the whole problem is averted.
The 1.5-litre engine itself doesn't feel as lively as the 1.0-litre, though. With 180bhp, it's much more powerful than the 127bhp smaller unit, but it only has 20Nm more torque in the CVT model - so in-gear acceleration doesn’t feel all that different in normal driving. It's certainly faster if you push harder, but the CVT 'box means it's not much fun to do that anyway.
The 1.5 is smoother and doesn't have the livelier feel of the smaller unit, which may appeal to some drivers, but the fact that it's less economical means it won't work for the majority of people. Even keen drivers will be pleased to hear that the 55.4mpg 1.0-litre unit sounds better and is more fun to use than the 46.3mpg 1.5.
What hasn't changed in this Civic is how fun it is to drive - the quick steering and grippy chassis mean it's actually good fun to drive quickly, darting around corners as well as the best cars in its class. Our Prestige model came with adaptive dampers, which help reduce body roll by stiffening up, but it does make the ride a bit too firm and doesn't make enough difference to make it a button worth pressing.
A good driving position and comfortable seats are a big plus, but the Civic also happens to ride well with the dampers in the softer setting. Larger potholes are shrugged off surprisingly efficiently, and the car feels composed both around town and on faster roads.
In terms of ride and handling, the Civic is still very impressive - which makes it all the more disappointing that, when you get inside the Honda feels a step behind its rivals. The infotainment system in the dashboard is the chief culprit, it looks old fashioned and is both unresponsive and fiddly to use.
The cabin itself is functional and has plenty of storage, with soft-touch materials used in some places - but the cheap-feeling plastics used elsewhere feel out of place, especially in our high-spec test car. It's all well put together, as you'd expect from what's historically been one of the most robust family cars you can buy.
In the final reckoning our Prestige test car is really too expensive to recommend - if the more refined 1.5-litre petrol is what you want, the Sport model with a manual gearbox costs from £22,540 - that's a massive £5,010 less. It'll cost you around £50 a month more if you use a PCP deal, too.
All cars get 17-inch alloys, LED headlights, climate control, a parking camera, sat-nav and a seven-inch touchscreen. The Prestige model adds leather, heated seats, and a bigger stereo, but we'd argue it's not worth the premium you'll pay.