They love a good engine at Honda. F1 fans still get misty-eyed at the memory of Senna and Prost wiping the floor with everyone back in 1988, thanks in no small part to the RA168E Honda motor in the McLaren. Top Gear, meanwhile, spent much of the Nineties trying to make various high-revving Honda VTEC units explode, and failing.
So you can't help thinking that Europe's diesel predilection must baffle Honda's boffins. Low revs, fat mid-range torque, high compression ratios... what lunacy is this? Actually, I once watched a Honda diesel being assembled in the Swindon factory - more exciting than it sounds - and had a crash course in thixotropic casting, which alters the molecular structure of aluminium so that it can be spread like butter. Clever.
This new 1.6-litre turbodiesel has an aluminium block, and a very compact 'charger, so the cleverness continues. Really, this is all about the numbers, so here are the headlines, or at least as many as Honda will confirm: average fuel consumption should be around 75mpg, and its emissions should dip just below the magic, road tax-exempt 100g/km threshold. Competitive stuff.
Here are a few others: 118bhp and 221lb ft of torque. Yes, in days gone by it would have been the other way round in any self-respecting Honda, but there we are. Besides, that torque figure beats all similarly sized rivals. The 1.6 diesel will slot in below the existing 2.2-litre when it arrives in the UK next autumn, and TG recently enjoyed a secret-squirrel preview at Honda's Motegi test track.
Well, I say enjoyed. Honda claims this new unit is the lightest diesel in the world (it weighs 170kg), but it's certainly not the most refined. Your operating window is a fairly slender 2,000-4,000rpm, so you'll be working the Civic's thankfully precise six-speed 'box if you want to make any progress. But it'll pull subterranean revs at motorway speeds quietly enough, which is probably a more pertinent test.
I rather like the rest of the new Civic. It looks good, it's nicely made, the cabin is the right side of barmy to engage the driver, and it rides a lot better than the old one thanks to fluid-filled bushes and tweaks to the rear torsion-beam suspension. Not a natural Honda, then, but a perfectly decent one.
1600cc, 4cyl, FWD, 118bhp, 221lb ft, 75mpg, 99g/km CO2, 0-62 in 11.0secs, 120mph, 1300kg
New engine, new rules. The 1.6 diesel is highly efficient but harsh, the Civic itself a decent alternative for non-Golfers