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Honda Civic 1.0 VTEC review: baby turbo hatchback tested

£23,585 when new

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Car specifications

Budget
£23,585
Brake horsepower
129bhp
Fuel consumption
55.4mpg
0–62 mph
11.20s
CO2
117g/km
Insurance Group
15E

A week after the Civic Type R sets a new Nürburgring benchmark, you drive the, er, opposite Civic, then?

Don’t worry. We’re driving the new Type R soon. But at the other end of the range, something interesting is happening. Honda has embraced downsizing, and given us a Civic with an engine less than half the size and producing around a third of the power of its lap-dancing flagship. The triple-cylinder 1.0-litre VTEC Turbo engine replaces the naturally aspirated 1.8-litre four-cylinder that clung on for far too long in the lacklustre old Civic. 

Hang on; I thought downsizing into tiny engines had gone back out of fashion?

The VW Group’s admitted that teeny turbos and triples aren’t the be-all-and-end-all of great fuel economy, sure. But there’s plenty of inertia in car-building – it takes years for new legislation and tastes to penetrate the market, and it doesn’t mean that a 998cc Civic is irrelevant straight away. These triples have a habit of injecting a jet of character into otherwise unremarkable cars, and given the new Civic is an unrecognisably better drive than its predecessor, this could be quite a clever combo.

Only if the vital stats are anything decent, of course…

Officially, this top-spec EX version will do 55.4mpg and emit 117g of CO2 when you go for the manual (which is a good’un, and you want) versus the slightly more eco-test-minded CVT (which you won’t). Subject to a week at the hands of the TG team and covering all manner of miles from traffic-choked urban commutes to motorway cruising, it actually averaged out at 41mpg, which is a respectable percentage of the claim given how wildly ambitious the figures sometimes are. Yes, Fiat and Ford, we’re frowning at you. 

Tax-wise, it’s in the £160 band for the toppy end of the range, or twenty quid less for the entry-level models – which matches the likes of the VW Golf 1.0 TSI. 

Is it actually a good engine, though?

It doesn’t feel anything like as slow as Honda claims it is, if that’s not too much of a back-handed observation. Supposedly, it’s good for 0-62mph in 11.2 seconds (believe it or not, the dreaded CVT is apparently a couple of tenths quicker). However, the actual sprints somewhere in the middle of that well-worn parameter that you actually use time and again (5-30, 30-60, and so on) are dispatched pretty easily. No, you’re not breathing on the throttle, you’re giving it a good prod and readily stirring that best-in-class slick gearshift, but everything about this Civic is more geared towards being engaging to drive, so that’s an appropriate frame of mind to be in. 

At idle, this isn’t the smoothest triple-cylinder turbo motor. Vauxhall and VW’s three-pots hum away more distantly, while the Civic admits just a mite more vibration in the pedals, more chunter through the firewall. Once it’s rolling, this largely dissipates. You’re in the sweet spot. Rev it out in anticipation of rewards from the ‘VTEC’ legend stamped on the engine cover and, well, there isn’t much. You get a brief note of three-cylinder fruitiness, then it gets a bit strained and you notice that noise levels are increasing disproportionately with your speed. Change up and get back into the sweet spot, then.

And I presume that better handling remains intact?

Yep, this is a nicely sorted family hatch that goes down the road positively and gamely. It steers sharply, the ride is better controlled and more deft than the old Civic’s (though adaptive dampers are overkill, so don’t worry about speccing them), and because all models get multi-link rear axle, you get the agility even on this downsized 1.0 Civic. 

Not so, in say, a VW Golf, where lower-power models make do with a twist-beam rear axle, and suffer a noisier, less controlled ride as result. The Honda, even in tiny engine form, has its priorities firmly on the driver. 

Anything else?

If you’re going to enjoy the Civic’s sharper than average dynamics, you’re going to be putting up with a below-par cabin. At the base price of £18,475, this is annoying. When you’re getting to £23k for this ultimate EX trim, it’s a deal-breaker.

The steering wheel buttons are an amateurish disaster that feel as though they’ve come out of a Chinese motor show concept from a start-up that’s never built a real car. This is the Civic Mk10. Its interior should be less schizophrenic than this now. The multiple material clashes are baffling, the infotainment difficult. This is a shame because some elements, like the widely adjustable driving position, digital instruments and amount of storage inside are all massively impressive.

For its huge new footprint (this Civic is 260mm longer and 50mm wider than a VW Golf, which we keep referring to simply because it remains the class benchmark), the Honda is smaller in the back, darker inside, has the world’s flimsiest luggage cover and the visibility’s still pinched. Priorities are all on the driver. But if B-road appetite sounds like your kind of hatch, this is the pick of the miniature engine wonders. If you can stomach the looks…

What do you think?

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