Car reviews - Honda - Civic - GLi sedan
User friendliness, interior room, cargo space, build quality, LEV engine
Room for improvement
Blandness, lack of refinement, steering kickback
11 May 2001
By TERRY MARTIN
THE Gen VII Civic rams home the hypocrisy inherent in the car-making business.
On the one hand, Honda has produced a distinctive, modern, thoughtful and brave car. A car that challenges, divides. A car that reshapes our thinking about small vehicle transport.
On the other, this builder of quality transport has also capitulated. It produced a sedan version. A bland, constrained car that defers to people who demand a boot and A good dose of chrome with their small hatch and who, when you tot them all up, determine whether Honda lives or dies.
One more generation, just one more. The baby boomers will be off the road and car companies like Honda can get on with the business of building holistic cars.
It comes as no surprise to learn that the Civic hatch was styled in a European studio and the sedan drawn up in Japan.
But the "booted one" misses out on more than simply Continental creativity. The hatch has exclusive rights to the VTEC 1.7-litre engine, a new NSX-derived electric power steering system, a dash-mounted gearshift that creates a ton of room around the front seats, a 15-inch wheel and tyre combination, rear head restraints and peripherals like a second cup holder for the driver.
To be fair, the four-door benefits from the mechanical reshuffle that produced interior headroom to rival the big top at Ashton's and loads of luggage space as well. A 60/40 split-fold made it, too.
But it also has less versatility, less loading appetite and, resting on a shorter wheelbase (the same, at 2620mm, as the previous generation), less of the rear legroom that makes the hatch such an impressive marquee.
Equipment levels are reasonably good considering the entry price though air-conditioning is optional and no Civic currently has anti-lock brakes or such niceties as a full-size spare tyre and variable intermittent wipers.
Bland, constrained, no match for the hatch. Yup. But put alongside its competitors, the sedan will nonetheless be difficult to beat.
It is time to turn the adjectives around.
Competent. Safe. Well screwed together. User-friendly. Economical. Green. The Civic sedan is all of these things and more.
A CD player, dual airbags, lap-sash seatbelts for all occupants, remote central locking (missing a boot release button), power windows and mirrors, halogen headlights and an effective quartet of discs brakes are not to be sneezed at.
Nor are the claims about structural integrity, G-Con safety technology, the liberal use of high-tensile steel (how does 50 per cent of the frame sound?), improved fit and finish and panel gaps down in some areas to less than 1mm. We spent an hour poring over the car to prove 'em wrong. We were impressed.
And whose idea was it to place the rotary heating/ventilation dials vertically, in the perfect order, in the perfect position, right next to the driver's left hand?
Indeed, all the controls are a snack to use, the LCD odo/trip meter oversized and the critical gauges satisfyingly clear and simple.
Pleasingly, soft plastics are used on the dash, padded elbow-rests on the doors and two shades of grey (lighter for the head lining and pillars) help lift the spirits a fraction.
A touch of gold metallic paint on the gearshift surround and doorhandle is also sure to please the boomers who will be trading in their Civic sedans to get a new one.
The front seats lack lateral support but otherwise offer good comfort, while the driver's pew and steering wheel adjusts for height. Space in all directions from the front is tremendous.
There are more storage spots than the hatch as a result of the centre console placed between the front seats - little recesses for small change et.al. and two man-size moulded cupholders.
Combined with the large glovebox, front door pockets, small CD holder (actually, it is more DVD than CD) and a sill near the driver's door, it makes for a fair collection of little holes, though we'd trade almost all of them for a centre console box with a lid.
Rear occupants are acceptably catered for in terms of space (two adults will fit fine across the bench, or three small kids) but are asked to store their odds and ends and drinks in the solitary map pocket located behind the front passenger's seat.
Each of these passengers is provided with a lap-sash seatbelt, and while the outboard spots benefit from a useful door grabhandle they're short-changed by the lack of a centre armrest as found in the hatch.
The designers found the energy to neatly recess the child seat anchorage points into the parcel shelf but not to include rear headrests. An oversight? An example of cost-cutting for the Australian market? No excuse will be good enough.
The rear bench can split-fold 60/40 via a dial on the rear shelf (turn left for the 40, right for the 60) to reveal a fully lined and good-sized thoroughfare with a maximum width of 950mm and height 390mm. The seatbacks do not, however, fold flat because the seatbases are fixed.
The cargo bay itself is flat, deep (1020mm) and wide (up to 1520mm) and would comfortably swallow the full 450 litres of cargo were it not for the bootlid hinges which can obstruct objects when fully loaded up. The omission of side storage boxes and a full-size spare also extends the available space.
Like the rest of this car, the mechanical package brings with it a mixture of highs and lows.
Without the benefit of VTEC variable valve timing, the sedan's 1.7-litre four-cylinder engine develops a lower 88kW at 6200rpm and 150Nm at 4500rpm but it is enough to shift the mass and its driver along comfortably.
The four-door does not appreciate being loaded up with a small family and the pram, toys and teddy bears that go with it (Honda's primary audience) and begs to be revved past 3250rpm to deliver its best. It will do so smoothly all the way to redline but with a disagreeable amount of noise in the process.
Our own sample figures agree that fuel economy is good, and the low emission (LEV) vehicle status applied to both sedan and hatch is a great bonus.
The five-speed manual gearlever, mounted conventionally on the floor, comes easily to hand and is light to shift, the latter a characteristic of the clutch action as well.
The steering is also light but, unlike the hatch, is unable to stamp out kickback through the wheel and the occasional rattle through the rack when ploughing through lumpy corners.
The level of grip is good, despite tyre and wheel size being an inch down on the hatch, and there are no great surprises when the car is pushed a little harder ? the front end will push straight-on within the confines a corner, though road irregularities at this point can sometimes force it off line.
The ride is generally comfortable but the suspension can allow the car to unceremoniously crash through potholes and send noise and vibration up into the cabin.
Refinement was high on the Gen VII Civic agenda - however the engine and suspension noise already noted and din from the tyres once off race circuit-smooth bitumen has prompted us to wave off the claims about decibel reduction.
Good. Nice. Competent. Bland words that describe the Civic sedan perfectly.
Now the hatch, on the other hand?
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