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The Top Gear car review:Honda Civic
What is it like on the road?
Sitting lower than in the old Civic, or indeed many rival hatches, makes you feel connected to the road. It’s not just an illusion; the Civic traces a precise and quick-witted path to follow your orders.
The high-geared steering would feel nervous if the car’s actual reactions weren’t so progressive. It rolls less than most rival hatches, and just gets on with the job of steering round the arc you set. There’s not a lot of steering feel, but the general chassis confidence makes up for it. It copes well with mid-corner bumps too.
No surprise then that the ride is relatively taut, but it never gets harsh over small bumps, and on big intrusions it usually finds something in reserve. The adaptive damper system is nice to have, but not transformative.
The engines aren’t quite such a success. The 1.0 certainly has enough urge to get the car up hills, making a distinctive triple-cylinder chatter as it goes. But because it needs high boost to make its power and torque, there’s definite lag across the rev range, especially below 3,000rpm. Also the rev limit is just 5,600rpm, and we kept bouncing against it. Most unlike high-revving Honda engines of old.
The 1.5 will rev higher, to 6,500rpm, and lags less. Even so, you can’t help the feeling Honda pulled back on the tech. How much more responsive would it have been with VTEC and a twin-scroll turbo? (The VTEC Turbo badge is a dummy – there’s no VTEC here.) Still, let’s not bicker - for a relatively mainstream hatch, this is impressively lively. On boost it does 0-62 mph in the low-8-second range, depending on transmission and tyres.
The 1.6 diesel is good by small capacity diesel standards: smooth and quiet, if you keep it below 2,500rpm, but fairly loud and uncouth above that point. But its 221lb ft is so chunky that you can make perfectly brisk progress right at the bottom of the rev range, and it disappears into the background when you keep the revs low. It’s an easygoing engine, not an exciting one.
For excitement, you want the Type R. Beneath its abundant styling is one of the sharpest, most focused hot hatches in recent memory, though its adapative suspension and new exhaust system make it really refined and comfy when you just want to get somewhere calmly. It’s a better all-rounder than before yet acts like a tarmac rally car when you press the right buttons and you’re in the mood. It’s brilliant.
The manual transmission in all Civics has a well-oiled notchy lever action and wisely chosen ratios. The optional CVT (on the sensible engines, obviously) is decently predictable in light driving. But if you press on, or take control using the paddles to choose between the seven virtual ratios, it slurs annoyingly.