GIVEN all the palaver in recent times about the advent of the Crossover, and how the segment is going to swallow whole a load of other mini-segments due to its all-conquering effect on buyers, there is still a conservative vibe going on out there. And, curiously, Honda are at the thick of it.
It may be that the Honda Civic is not what it used to be: a solid, dependable and — let’s not deny — a cut above those other, well, Asian, tin boxes. Honda were always above average and if you owned one then you could well bow a slighted head to a Nissan driver, for example. Especially outside Mass on a Sunday.
I know. My mother did it for years and as a Honda driver she felt no compunction looking down upon those who drove ‘lesser’ cars.
But then Civic took an unexpected turn in 2006 when Honda took it to the left side of the field and presented a more mojo vibe in a car traditionally steadfast in its staidness. The Civic took a sociological u-turn and tried to appeal to — for God’s sake — young people. I even remember writing an open letter to my mum warning her of what was in store were she brave enough to put a foot in a dealer’s door.
“Isn’t it a shame,” she said ruefully. “I wouldn’t like one of them,” was her conclusion when I showed her the car.
Star Wars styling and digital read-outs on a double plinth dashboard don’t do it for the critical mass — 70+ age group, in this case — but Honda were desperately trying to capitalise on Formula One success. So, Star Wars styling and digital read-outs on a double plinth dashboard it became.
And, as we’ve seen in the recent past, the current crop of maturing young adults are well able to express their preferences and thus it has come to be that Crossovers (Qashqai, Kuga, Yeti, etc.) and the Mini-Crossover (Juke, Mokka, EcoSport, Countryman, Captur, etc.) have exploded in popularity, but there has also been a concurrent resurgence in the — ostensibly conservative — small family estate car market and it seems that there are floods of them coming on the market.
Such as Renault, Ford, Volkswagen and Peugeot have been ever-present in this segment with their respective Megane, Focus, Golf and 308 estate models, but lately it seems the Japanese and the Koreans have been coming back to this particular breed of machine and the new Toyota Auris Touring, Hyundai i30 Touring, Kia Cee’d Sportwagon all now represent very attractive, practical and plausible buying options.
There is one notable company, however, which has never really competed in the small estate class and that is Honda. Indeed, Honda has never really much gone for estates of any kind — a notable exception being the Accord Aerodeck of some time ago.
Now Honda has joined the growing ranks embracing the small estate concept and the Civic ST — that’s Sports Tourer to you and me — is the company’s new big hope in the segment and Honda has made a conscious and deliberate decision to aim their car at the upper end of this market. Many manufacturers have pitched their contenders in the €20,000 to €25,000 bracket, but some, like Honda, have gone for the loftier end of the scale from €25,000 to €30,000.
This is no surprise really as Honda has always judged itself to be a cut above most of its eastern rivals — the BMW of Japan, if you will (see badge snobbery reference above) — and has always placed a very high value on the quality of its products as against its traditional Japanese and emerging Korean rivals.
Our test car this week is the top-of-the-range Executive version of the ST and a daring and smart looking thing it is too. Honda pushed the design boundaries of the small family car range with the hatchback and saloon models back in 2006 and with this car it continues to do so. The ST’s wedgy design is definitely a stand out in terms of looks, but don’t be fooled into thinking this might compromise its practicality — the car actually has class leading boot space with seats in place and folded down.
Now this roominess may create a slight problem for those who like their cars to handle like racers. The space friendly rear torsion beam suspension might not appeal to such people, but what I experienced was a car which will cope admirably — loaded up or empty — with most conditions and any handling compromises are negligible.
The interior still boasts the fairly unique dashboard with its mix of digital and analogue dials, but it is easy to live with when you get used to it and the rest of the layout is pretty intuitive once you get over the initial shock — really, those in the 70+ age bracket should not be afraid.
All good so far, but the best is still to come — the engine. We are already familiar with Honda’s excellent 1.6 turbodiesel and the more familiar we are with it, the more it excels. Capable of a 10.1 second 0-100 kph time and a top speed of 195, these figures belie the seemingly weedy 88 kW (118 bhp) output. But the one figure that leaps out at you is the 3.7 l/100 km consumption rate (that’s 74 mpg in old currency) and that is astonishing enough to convince most people.
The Civic is still pushing boundaries therefore, and while many of its previous constituents — sorry Mum — might not like it, there are plenty of those who will, and even if they have to pay a premium price for the ST, they will find plenty of evidence here to persuade them it was money well spent.
The Cost: €30,995 as tested.
The Engine: a quite brilliant piece of engineering which might not have a huge power output, but still had decent performance figures and an astonishingly frugal manner.
The Specification: in top-line Executive trim there’s not much more you’d like as standard, but it is pricey.
The Overall Verdict: Honda’s take on the small family estate is possibly even greater than the sum of its parts.
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