Honda Civic: A small engine with a big heart

Honda has yet to make an electric or hybrid Civic. Instead, it has the 1.0-litre i-VTEC turbo, a petrol version that has the power of a larger engine, says Declan Colley.

Honda Civic: A small engine with a big heart

Honda has yet to make an electric or hybrid Civic. Instead, it has the 1.0-litre i-VTEC turbo, a petrol version that has the power of a larger engine, says Declan Colley.

The Honda Civic is a sophisticated and classy family car in either hatchback or saloon formats and whether with a petrol or diesel engine.

While Honda is somewhat behind the eight-ball in not yet having a hybrid or electric Civic — not yet — it has gone down the route I predicted many manufacturers would in making a small capacity petrol engine version.

The four-door, 1.0 i-VTEC turbo (cost from €27,385) will complement the 1.5-petrol and 1.6-diesel engines already available in the range.

This is a small engine with a big heart and a complicated history. It is related, Honda tell us, to the brutal, 310 bhp, two-litre, VTEC turbo that was first seen in the 2015 Type R Civic.

The development programme for this new engine was built on the experience gained during the design of what was Honda’s first-ever VTEC turbo.

The diminutive ‘triple’ is closely related to the earlier two-litre unit and shares technologies that boost output and efficiency and some of which emerged from Honda’s in-house motorsport programme.

Stuff like direct injection, a compact, low-inertia, mono-scroll turbo, electronic wastegate, Honda’s own intelligent variable timing, and ‘lift electronic control’ (which is actually where the i-VTEC acronym comes from), as well as dual-variable timing control (Dual-VTC), are all technologies which will be familiar to Honda heads.

This 1.0 i-VTEC turbo , however, has the power and torque of a much bigger engine and the 126 bhp, at 5,500 rpm, and 200 Nm, at 2,250 rpm, are figures that underscore the manufacturers’ claims.

Sure, the 210km/h top speed indicates something that is not a boy racer and this is confirmed by the 10.6 second 0-100km/h time, but this Civic is not aimed at that sort of clientele and if you want something speedier, there is plenty on offer in the model line-up to suit.

While it may not be the speediest thing on the block, it is a sweet revver and, allied to one of the slickest six-speed manual gearboxes around, well able for any task.

It will also return 5.9 l/100 km (47.4 mpg) and its emission levels put it in tax band A3, for an annual road tax bill of €190.

The sonorous engine note is typical of the three-pot breed and gives the car an eccentric charm and personality that you simply don’t get from a four-cylinder.

Being in the correct gear at the correct time is important to get the best from the 1.0 i-VTEC turbo . There’s no point being in sixth during a swift passing move, so there may be a lot of shifting of gears, but this adds to the enjoyment of the driving experience

On the road, the chassis is sharp and the steering nicely weighted, which make for a car that scores highly in handling, although the ride is a little crashy.

Body lean is well contained and while it is not quite the Ford Focus, it is not too far removed and thus even hard-charging drivers will find a level of entertainment here that is not widely seen in the class.

Also impressive is the interior, which is among the smartest in the segment.

The low driving position is excellent and the digital instrumentation is impressive, but there are one or two quibbles.

The cup holder is only suitable for cups and anything bigger (a bottle of water, for example) will interfere with your gear-changing arm, and I didn’t get the purpose of the ‘Eco’ button, which appears to do nothing to either performance or economy.

On top of that, the infotainment/connectivity system is not the slickest and it needs several prods of a stiff finger to kick-start it, which can be quite disconcerting when you’re negotiating a country road.

There is plenty of room in the car itself and the boot is also commodious, so four large adults and their gear can be easily accommodated.

Like so many other such systems, the Honda ‘Sensing’ safety system is thorough, what with collision mitigation braking, forward collision warning, and lane-departure warnings all being in place, but the sensitivity of some of them gives you the impression the car doesn’t trust your judgement, which can be annoying.

On the plus side, there is a raft of good kit, like the adaptive cruise control and the sign recognition and general specification additions, like the leather steering wheel, rain-sensing wipers, electric door mirrors, 17” alloys, and climate control.

The Civic is a good car and, in my opinion, a good-looking car (although the styling is somewhat polarising) and the addition of this engine has broadened the appeal of the range for those of us who believe hybrid and plug-in options are still far from acceptable choices, because the technology is Neanderthal.

Added to what is already a reasonably complex and innovative machine, this little triple is a welcome ‘other’ option and delightful to drive.

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