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The new Honda Civic, already?
Yes, we’re getting an early drive in the new tenth-gen, British-built Honda Civic before it reaches dealers in March 2017. You’ll wait until late 2017 for the 1.6-litre diesel, and its optional nine-speed automatic. First up come the turbo petrols, in 1.0-litre three-cylinder and 1.5-litre four-cyl form, with a six-speed manual or CVT.
We’re driving the quickest one available (obviously), at least until the new Civic Type R arrives next year. It’s a Civic Sport (the Type S badge is now reserved for Acuras) complete with a major body kit, 17-inch rims, the 179bhp 1.5-litre engine and – oh yes – centrally mounted tailpipes. This is likely to cost around £23k when it lands next year.
It’s a much bigger car, this Civic (130mm longer, 30mm wider and 20mm lower than Civic MkIV) but in a Sport suit, looks modern and crisp. And properly Japanese. Audi-spec conservatism? Forget it.
Still got a wing across the back window I see…
Kept for its valuable effect on drag and efficiency, apparently. The view-obscuring spoiler is slimmer though – in fact this Civic is more rational in a lot more ways, and here’s the rub: almost every change is aimed at making the new Civic better to drive. Honda is painfully aware (and freely admits) that the outgoing Civic was sorely missing driver appeal, and that needs to change.
So, for the Mk10, the fuel tank’s crawled from under the front seats to hide beneath the rears. You lose the folding ‘magic’ seats with their cinema-style flip-up bottoms, but the front seats’ hip point drops 35mm lower. Matt Neal BTCC fantasies ahoy.
Remember the Civic’s love/hate two-tier dash, with the head-up display-style speedo lurking above the steering wheel? That’s gone too, in favour of smart digital instruments in the usual place. The gearlever has jumped ship to the centre tunnel, rather than hovering higher, near the dashboard. And though overall cargo room has swelled by one token litre to 478, there’s no longer a cavernous cellar below the generous boot’s floor.
Because the centre-mounted exhausts go straight through where the bottomless boot used to live. Add in the 16kg weight saving, 52 per cent leap in chassis stiffness, and the fact Honda’s ditched the space-efficient beam axle to bolt in more sophisticated suspension and you realise this Civic’s hunting the Grand Theft Auto generation. Instead of their grand-parents.
What’s it like inside?
A mixed bag. Ergonomically, it’s less haphazard. Honda insists the materials are of premium quality, but they’re not, frankly, and there are still too many contrasting surfaces and weird edges and angles clashing with each other. It’s par with the Koreans, and in fairness, a decent step on from the old Civic’s cheapo dash. But no more.
I’m obliged to point out the Civics on hand for such an early test were pre-production, without totally finalised fit and finish. Though, if it was comprehensively re-trimmed between now and March 2017, I’d be astounded.
The driving position is so much better sorted than the old Civic’s (re-engineered Type R aside), but the infotainment touchscreen remains sluggish. Rear visibility’s pinched, and the good work done by the longer wheelbase extending rear legroom (by 95mm) is undone by the raked roofline eating headroom. So despite looking as long as an Accord, the new Civic’s no more spacious inside than a Golf. And you no longer get versatile acrobatic seats as a pay-off.
Better be a sweet drive then. Is it fast?
Oh yeah, the other problem with pre-production cars is having no official performance data. Reckon on 0-62mph in around 8.0 seconds for this 1.5 Sport, I’d estimate. Efficiency is estimated at 137g/km and 47mpg.
Real-world thirst will obviously be greater, but it’s worth it because this engine wants to rev. It doesn’t dump full torque at 1,700-odd rpm like its VW Group rivals, holding back full torque until around 2,500rpm. And even then, it’s eager rather than thrusting.
Wind it past 4,500rpm and there’s a palpable surge – and a welcome change in the engine note – into something moderately sporty. That’s the VTEC kicking in, yo. That get-up alone makes accelerating that bit more enjoyable, even though you’re not going any quicker than say, a Seat Leon FR.
The gearshift is typical Honda – a bit of a peach. It’s lighter than a Type R’s mechanical action, but more satisfying than pretty much any other boggo hatch, except a Mazda 3. Bodes well for that new Type R…
Does it do corners?
It does, with a lot more appetite than the old Civic, which was a nose-heavy drearfest until it sprouted a wing and a red ‘H’ badge. This new car immediately feels lighter on its feet, and better settled at the rear thanks to 21st century suspension. Civic Sports come with a Porsche-style damper button as standard to firm up the ride a notch, but the effect is subtle and the car’s easily planted enough in the regular mode.
We’ll need a longer drive to really chuck the Civic around, but it makes a strong first impression. It’s agile and keen, which is surprising given how enormous it’s become. The steering’s quick and accurate, and on German roads, the Sport rides pliantly.
So what needs to change?
Honda says it’s working on NVH, fiddling with the seals to hush up the prevalent wind noise that blusters around over 60mph. There’s a weird turbo whine as the motor closes in on 6,500rpm that’ll need to go too. The trim’s merely adequate, and the infotainment is going to date very quickly if it stays that laggy. And the retractable tarpaulin fitted in the boot to replace a proper parcel shelf is truly nasty.
But as a drive, all the signs are there that the Civic is back to being an enjoyable steer, and will make a way, way better platform for a 300bhp+ ‘Ring King than the old car. VW and Renaultsport: you have been warned.
Mainly, Honda needs to change its customers’ attitudes, because the new car isn’t as practical or versatile as its big footprint would have you assume. All that old cabin cleverness – not to mention potential pennies to spend on a more upmarket interior – have been sacrificed in the name of making it a laugh to drive. As car-liking folk, we applaud that. But several USPs have been shunted into Honda history. Brave move…