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Car reviews - Honda - Civic - DTi-S

Our Opinion

We like
Brilliant economy, refined and gutsy diesel engine flexibility, comfy interior, versatile Jazz-style rear-seat arrangement, offbeat styling, sporty suspension set-up, appealing Eurasian flavour
Room for improvement
Poor rear vision, driving position set too high for some, rear cushion too low, limited rear headroom, no auto will limit DTi-S’ appeal

Honda logo30 Aug 2013

By BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS

Price and equipment

PRICES kick off at $26,990 before on-road costs. That’s about $8500 less than the (albeit far better equipped) Golf Highline, although Hyundai’s i30 CRDi makes a laughing stock of both, since it kicks off from just $23,590.

The DTi-S includes cruise control with a speed limiter, dual-zone climate-control air-conditioning, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming with USB and auxiliary inputs, a reversing camera, a hill-hold function, auto-on/off wipers and lights, LED daytime running lamps, foglights, 17-inch alloys, a leather-wrapped wheel, an anti-misfuelling filler cap and four coat hooks for rear-seat passengers.

On the gadget front there’s stop-start as well as anti-noise technology to counteract the din from the all-new Earth Dreams diesel powerplant.

Visually, only random bits of the body-coloured plastic strips sited at each end are the DTi-S telltale. They catch wind vortices better, evidently.

Ah… but there’s another catch.

Though it returns a hybrid=spooking 4.0L/100km average, the Civic Hatch diesel from Swindon is a six-speed manual-only proposition.

So, can the DTi-S overcome its crowd-displeasing no-auto-for-now status to get the diesel party started again, or will it languish on the sidelines like a wallflower? With such bold and futuristic styling, it certainly hasn’t come dressed like one.

Interior

Funny. Even though the Civic Hatch shared our driveway space with the latest Golf and Audi A3, it didn’t feel outclassed. Indeed, distinctive, solid, and beautifully built, we like the dashboard more now than at this time last year.

Nothing much has changed apart from a recalibrated tachometer and a (very effective) pair of eco lights lambasting lead-footed driving.

As before, the split-level dash is angled towards the vehicle’s operator, with an industry-best digital speedo up high right in the driver’s eyeline, above a trio of conventional analogue instruments.

Your 178cm tester found the driving position first class, but taller folk may complain that the seat cushion is too high on its lowest setting. With a fuel tank directly underneath where in most other cars there’s just empty space, that’s why. More on that later.

Finished in invitingly soft cloth, the front seats support in all the proper places, the switchgear is easily identifiable and a joy to use and the ventilation couldn’t be ampler.

Some time is necessary to master the myriad trip computer and vehicle adjustability menus, and the font is hilariously low-fi, but once there nobody should find fault with its functionality.

Plus, Honda supplies a plethora of storage options to lose stuff in.

Clearly, a lot of work has gone into the Civic Hatch’s interior, then.

Have the quality of plastics improved since the petrol models were launched earlier last year? You won’t mistake the cabin ambience for a Lexus’ but the presentation and execution is beyond reproach.

The DTi-S is also quieter than we were expecting. Does that acoustic noise-cancelling tech make that much of a difference? We must point out that our test vehicle was fitted with heavy insulating mats, available at extra from your local Honda dealer.

The most obvious fault for us is the poor rear vision (not helped by the bisected back glass). Also, the rear wiper that only sweeps the top half of the hatch window.

Out back, the Jazz-like ‘Magic Seats’ fold down into the cavity that would house the fuel tank in other cars, for a deeper-than-usual cargo area of 1130 litres (up from about 400L with the backrest up in situ).

But the cushion feels a bit low and flat for longer-distance comfort, taller people might find headroom limited, and there are no rear air vents. At least Honda provides overhead grab handles, a centre armrest with cupholders, and a single seat-back map pocket.

Along with Isofix latches for child seats there are tether latches immediately behind the 60/40 folding seat, the ultra-deep floor,low loading lip, space-saver spare, 12V outlets and tie-down hooks all improve the ownership experience.

Engine and transmission

Earth Dreams. It says so right there on the engine’s cam cover. So let’s talk about the Civic diesel’s delightful fuel consumption.

We averaged between 4.4 and 4.9L/100km over a 12-day driving period, and are convinced that the real-world consumption of Honda’s latest engine is amongst the world’s best since there were no special driving techniques utilised.

Most of the time the ECON button – which cuts the torque as well as the air-con output – was left activated, mainly because the healthy 300Nm of torque from the 88kW 1.6-litre four-cylinder powerplant never made the DTi-S feel anything less than spirited.

And refined too – with very little mechanical noise intrusion inside the well-insulated cabin. Honda may have been tardy to the diesel party, but it is here to have a great time.

Frankly the differences between ECON and Normal are slight, for in either mode the 1373kg Civic pulls forward eagerly (though more so in the latter of course), and maintains the pace with terrific mid-range response – just like a good turbo-diesel ought to.

On the open road the DTi-S will hum along quietly at 110km/h with the engine ticking over at 2000rpm in top (sixth) gear, while there’s enough torque at hand for the car to surge forth with no time to waste should the driver demand it.

Most times the stop-start tech works instantly and unobtrusively, but on two occasions, after extinguishing quickly as usual, we were left waiting a few seconds longer than ideal in heavy traffic for it to fire up again. Normally the diesel is clattering away by the time the clutch pedal is pressed in. And there wasn’t a massive power load on the battery either, with the air-con off both times.

The DTi-S features an all-new lightweight six-speed manual gearbox, and it follows the marque-norm by being slick and easy to use. If you prefer changing gears yourself then the diesel offers an enjoyable shifting experience.

By the way, thanks to all that torque, the Civic Hatch diesel offers a towing capacity of 1500kg/800kg with/without a braked trailer respectively.

Ride and handling

Fast and reactive steering, combined with a stable and flat roadholding attitude, makes this Honda hatchback fun to fling around fast corners.

Even on rough and rugged bitumen, the car remains neutral yet poised, for surefooted handling across a variety of conditions. The diesel’s suspension has been strengthened and modified to put up with the 100kg or so extra weight that the DTi-S package brings.

While the steering isn’t over-endowed with feedback, there’s no rack rattle to distract the driver either.

However, the turning circle is larger than ideal at 11.2m, compromising the Civic’s manoeuvrability. More than once we needed to perform a three-point park where we didn’t think it necessary.

While not too bad, the ride quality on the Michelin Primacy 225/45 R17 tyres aren’t as supple as we’d like. But they don’t transmit too much road noise, and do provide plenty of grip.

Last year, we pondered whether the base Civic Hatch petrol’s simple torsion beam rear axle (compared to the four-door’s multi-link set-up) might make for a less sophisticated ride.

But this time around, the DTi-S – while not class-leading like the Golf – seems both well planted and quiet enough to please most owners.

Safety and servicing

Being developed specifically for Europe, the Civic Hatch scores a five-star ENCAP crash-test rating.

Currently Honda offers no fixed-cost servicing scheme.

Verdict

Like the name suggests, the Honda Motor Company made its name in the 1970s and ‘80s by being at the cutting edge of mainstream drivetrain technology.

Think of the pioneering CVCC low-emission or VTEC variable valve timing powerplants. At the time it was the fear of Europe and the equal of BMW.

However, worthy hybrids and fuel-cell tech aside, the regular petrol and diesel engine families had been left to languish behind other rivals – an error only recently addressed. VW has TSI, TDI and now TGI. Ford has EcoBoost. Mazda has SkyActiv. And Honda has Earth Dreams.

And it is no coincidence, then, that the Civic Hatch DTi-S shines because of what is beneath its beaky bonnet. If you want a distinctive small diesel with advanced technology, Honda – at last – can once again oblige. This is one of our class favourites.

Rivals

VW Golf 110TDI Highline DSG (from $34,490 plus on-roads).

It may look like last year’s model, but the Mk7 is virtually all-new except for the still-fine 2.0-litre TDI, now uprated with more power, in a stupendously capable and refined premium small-car package.

Ford Focus Trend 5DR TDCi Powershift (from $28,090 plus on-roads).

Ford’s Thai-built Focus loses some of the little refinements of the German-built version it replaced last year, but it is usefully cheaper, adds useful connectivity tech, and is the most dynamic of its type.

Hyundai i30 CRDi (from $23,590 plus on-roads).

Its sheer commonness, dull steering, and flashy interior may detract, but the handsome and generously equipped i30’s diesel tech is first-class, as is the value, warranty, and dependability. The Hyundai deserves every sale.

Specs

Make and model: Honda FB2 Civic Hatch DTi-S
Engine type: 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel
Layout: FWD
Power: 88kW @ 4000rpm
Torque: 300Nm @ 2000rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual
0-100km: 10.5s
Fuel consumption: 4.0L/100km
CO2 rating: 105g/km
Dimensions: L/W/H/WB 4300/1770/1475/2605mm
Weight: 1373kg
Suspension: MacPherson struts/torsion beam
Steering: Electric rack and pinion
Price: From $26,990

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