Civic puts Honda back where it belongs

Time was when the Honda Civic was a favourite of sophisticated ladies of a certain age, smitten as they were by the solidity and smartness of the Japanese family car.

Civic puts Honda back where it belongs

It was a car seen by owners as being upmarket enough to be brought to the golf club and yet affordable enough to warrant investment. Somewhere around the mid-term of its 40-year existence, it hit a popularity peak among the so-called beige and grey brigade (check their twin sets and shoes) and was a particular darling because of its understated sophistication and bombproof reliability.

That unalloyed appeal was largely down to Honda’s reputation as being the BMW of Asian car makers and thus the acceptable face of Japanese motoring among a cabal who would never otherwise associate themselves with so-called foreign hordes.

But the tenth generation of the Civic has just landed with us — one look at this breathtakingly stylish and terribly modern machine and you will immediately see that Honda has changed tack on who it wants the car to woo.

No offence to those owners who previously championed Civic, but they are a dying breed — I know, my mother was one of them and, at 94, her driving experiences are now limited to a walking frame — and Honda demanded a new and more youthful audience.

From about generation eight of the Civic, it was obvious that Honda was targeting a new demographic. Sure, they had made Civic models in the past — the mad VVTi high-lift cam versions spring to mind — that had a specific ‘yoof’ appeal, but not enough of a draw to crack the claw-like grip of the older generation.

But then Honda started giving the Civic a post-apocalyptic character with interior stuff like floating dashboards, digital graphics, and all the sort of pseudo Star Wars guff that was going to be an obvious turn-off to the car’s previous constituency.

The wild exterior look, all angles and weird shapes, wasn’t exactly going to turn them on either. Trouble was, that in its desperation to create a new audience for the car, Honda dumbed it down at the altar of cost-efficiency. Stuff which had become de rigueur in the small family car class, such as independent rear suspension, was abandoned.

Thus, a car which was now appealing to the people Honda wanted it to appeal to was no longer a draw for those who actually enjoy driving and demand certain standards from their cars.

Having been a live contender against class leaders such as the Focus and the Golf, the Honda then found itself in something of an automotive wilderness. Well, for the tenth iteration of the car, not only has Honda piled on the research and development cash (astonishingly, one third of its total R&D budget was spent on it), the company reverted to the sort of engineering excellence it had once espoused but abandoned.

The investment has had a very telling effect. Another critical development in the Civic’s new armoury is one of those small, turbocharged, three-cylinder petrol engines which have become as fashionable as an autumn number from Stella McCartney as the fall from grace of the previously favoured diesel option became such a diabolical phenomenon.

The combination of this resurrection in engineering standards and the evolution of this new powerplant has firmly put the Civic back on the map as a desirable, cost-effective, sophisticated, and — although we might be getting slightly ahead of ourselves here — as bombproof as ever.

I say that because this engine is not fully tried and tested yet by the public — Honda itself will undoubtedly have put millions of dyno and real miles on it — and it might well turn out to be a dog, but I doubt that.

Honda’s reputation in this regard is extraordinary and while the company Formula One engine in the back of the 2017 McLaren is at present mired in controversy, as it is neither reliable nor powerful, you would have to suspect that a much less complicated road-going unit is not beyond the company.

Certainly in my experience, it is a fantastic thing to live with. With just 127 bhp on tap — as against the 700-900 bhp necessary in F1 — it should not be too much of an ask to provide customers with a decent, if small, engine.

And that’s what I experienced.

You’re going to have to work it a little harder than you might be used to from larger petrols or diesels, but the joie de vivre that this thing displays — coupled with the enthusiasm it possesses for high rev work — are enough to gladden any aficionado’s heart.

On the road too it has the feel of a much bigger car and, critically, is now closer in the crucial handling and ride departments to the main opposition than was the case so recently.

Around town it will soak up whatever the roads are offering with aplomb and on the open road it feels more like a D-segment car than an offering in the lesser C sphere.

The direct steering and the combination of excellent body control and impressive levels of grip ensure that even the most enthusiastic pilot will not be disappointed.

If the exterior look of the car is dramatic (and very pleasing — to these eyes anyway), then the interior is a bit disappointing by comparison. Certainly there is plenty of room for passengers and their cargo, but the whole layout is a touch on the dull side and nothing like as adventurous as in the past. I found small things really annoying, like the nearly impossible to read fuel gauge.

Otherwise kit levels in the Smart Plus spec we tested are well up to scratch, what with adaptive cruise control, auto light and wipers, air con, 17” alloys, and so forth.

A really good car then and while Honda might have taken something of a gamble by not making any diesel version available here, don’t be fooled.

The Civic, with the seemingly ridiculously diminutive engine, is actually a car which punches well above its weight and which will reward buyers with delightful enthusiasm, excellent consumption, and (I’m sticking my neck out a little here) reliable motoring.

That’s enough to put the Civic back up where it belongs.

Colley’s Verdict

The cost: €23,750-€26,250 as per model tested.

The engine: Another of a growing number of three-pot petrol turbos — and it’s a cracker.

The specification: Better than many in the class.

Overall verdict: The Civic is getting younger as it gets older.

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