Honda need a game changing model to re-establish themselves as a serious player in our new car market, and they may just have one in the form of the new Civic turbo sedan.
The company’s sales here have relied heavily on the collectively efforts of the popular Jazz hatch and HRV compact SUV, now the revitalised Civic sedan is poised to significantly drive up sales. It will do this with even greater purpose, when the range is bolstered by the arrival of a hatchback in the first half of 2017. This body style traditionally accounts for a large chunk of small car sales, although that’s now under threat from SUV’s, who are beginning to dominate almost every segment of our new car market.
Globally Honda has a lot riding on this car. It’s seen as a key model and a symbolic return to the flair and sporty character that was once at the very core of the company’s success. In recent years they drifted away from this, but now with the latest Civic, they have returned to that space and place in the most emphatic fashion possible.
The big news with this model is a new turbocharged 1.5L VTEC Turbo, direct injected and inline 4 cylinder engine with variable valve timing electronic control (VVTC) that’s good for 127kW of power at 5500 rpm and a more than credible 220Nm of torque that chimes in from as low as 1700rpm.
An improved version of the stalwart 1.8L normally aspirated petrol engine is confined to the $29,995 entry level S model. From here, prices head all the way north to $42,990 for the range topping NT.
Buyers have four models to choose from and for the first time a $39,995 RS version. Widely tipped for best-seller status, it wasn’t a great surprise that Honda chose to send around for this road test. Providing the visual swagger and plenty of it is an integrated body kit, Rear Sports Spoiler, exclusive 17” RS Alloys Wheels, dark Chrome Door Handles, LED Headlights, LED Fog Lights, and Sunroof. Collectively they make a strong statement that Honda has it sights set high for the new Civic. Furthermore, it signal their intent to give the small car market a good shake and stir, the likes of which we haven’t seen since the original Civic of over 40 years ago!
Honda decision to head down the same small capacity high power output turbo charged engine path widely used by European carmakers, is a gamble, but one that should pay good dividends. On paper at least the 1.5 turbo engine presents with enviable credentials with plenty of power, lower emissions and exceptional fuel economy.
In real world every day driving it largely delivers on its considerable promise. You cannot help but admire its smoothness and tractability the low to mid rev range. Acceleration is brisk, although perhaps lacking the vibrancy and thrust you might expect from a feisty 127kw pocket rocket.
Under full throttle the engine sounded unexpectedly harsh, somewhat at odds with otherwise civilised and refined demeanour. This was about the only area where it underwhelmed. Rather than dwell on this slight fumble, most owners will rejoice at finally having a Civic with a modern, sophisticated and credible engine, that betters many of its rivals, some with surprising ease.
The newly developed CVT automatic strikes up a good partnership with the motor. Both sing from the same hymn sheet, ensuring a harmonious relationship between engine and gearbox. A really telling point of difference between this CVT and others is that Honda allows the engine to operate within its most efficient range for longer periods. It achieves this by continuously varying the gear ratios instead of adjusting the engine throttle opening. This means the often unnecessary surging in engine revs that many detest in CVT gearboxes is largely eliminated.
Inside, the new Civic is equally as impressive as it is on the outside comfortably seating five adults. Occupants enjoy levels of leg and should room rarely found in a car of this size. A roofline that slopes away reasonably sharply toward the rear of the car, trims off a few millimetres of headroom that taller back seat passenger would appreciate. Overall a huge improvement of over the model it replaces, with the car now a default replacement for the compact Euro Accord that’s now slipped off our market without any great fanfare.
Advanced connectivity and infotainment is offered at every turn with a 7” Touch Screen and Honda’s Advanced Display Audio. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto™.
Honda has always had a stronger commitment to safety and this very evident in this car. Heading up a comprehensive list of safety features on the test car were front, side and full length curtain airbags, Anti-Lock Braking System (ABS), Agile Handling Assist System (AHA), Straight Drive Assist, Vehicle Stability Assist (VSA), Emergency Stop Signal (ESS) plus a Tyre Deflation Warning System.
A really useful safety feature is the LaneWatch Camera situated on the left wing mirror and transmitting the left hand side view of the car on to the 7” Screen when the left indicator is on. This reduces the left hand blind spot and makes turning left or switching lanes safer. Smart and practical, it works brilliantly in every day driving.
Without a doubt, the RS is easily the best handling model in the current Honda passenger car range. The suspension adjusts quickly and decisive to sudden and unexpected changes in the road surface or steering, and with a reassuring measure of calmness and composure. With its wider and lower slung stance this new Civic has a more planted feel on the road than any of its predecessors, signaling a more grown-up and mature car. It now has the handling reserves, along with sharper and more reactive steering, to easily set the car up to dart quickly and confidently through corners and over undulating terrain. At last a Civic you can call a genuine drivers car!
What is the verdict? The best Honda in years and just the model the company needs to reassert itself in our new car market.