Car reviews - Honda - Civic - hatch range
Sprightly 1.5-litre turbo engine, handling, ride, unique packaging, driving position, massive boot
Room for improvement
NVH could be further improved, rowdy 1.8L engine and CVT combo, no rear air vents, AEB only in top-spec VTi-LX
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9 May 2017
HONDA has had mixed fortunes with its Civic small car in Australia. In its early generations it was one of the most popular offerings in the segment and developed a reputation for reliability and for offering an engaging drive experience.
Recent generations were seen as a bit bland by comparison, with some – we are looking at you ninth-gen Civic – losing the fun to drive reputation.
That all changed with the 10th-gen sedan that hit showrooms exactly a year ago.
It introduced dramatic exterior styling, a big step up in cabin comfort and standard features, and crucially, a new 1.5-litre turbo-petrol engine that has helped give the Civic its mojo back, both in terms of driveability and on the sales charts.
The Civic is now well and truly back on buyers’ shopping lists and with good reason. It is an enjoyable car to drive and is packaged competitively against its impressive competition that runs from the top-selling Toyota Corolla, Mazda3 and Hyundai i30 to the Volkswagen Golf and new Subaru Impreza and Holden Astra.
The hatchback mirrors the line-up of the sedan and for the most part, matching its pricing and spec. Only the RS is $500 more than its booted equivalent but it gets some hatch-specific extras.
People seem to either love or loathe the Civic sedan’s styling and the hatch gets the same response.
While the two body styles are the same from the B-pillar forward, Honda has made the hatch the sportier looking variant, ditching the chrome front grille in favour of an all-piano black affair, larger air intakes at the front and a faux diffuser look on the rear.
The effect works, with the hatch offering a more aggressive look. Older buyers will likely prefer the blingier look of the chrome-heavy sedan.
Inside, the hatch retains the sedan’s dash layout and materials. The overall design is a bit busy, with intentionally unaligned elements likely to frustrate anyone who prefers perfect symmetry.
We can see the appeal of the mismatched dash panels as it provides a point of difference. Honda has used the theme of shapes well in the cabin, with the shape of the dash cowl matching the outline of various instruments in the cluster. It’s a subtle but cute touch.
The Civic’s steering wheel is chunky and appealing and the lower stance and sloping bonnet make for excellent forward vision and a near perfect driving position.
Sitting in the cockpit of the Civic feels like you are behind the wheel of a sportscar, not a $25,000 small hatchback. Honda is pushing its renewed sporty focus and on this front it works.
There are some neat touches, like an extra storage area behind the gear lever, and the innovative side-mounted luggage cover in the cargo area. These are little things, but they add up and help the Civic stand out against its rivals.
The 414L boot is massive compared with other small hatches – 280L for the Corolla and 308L for the Mazda3 – and the opening is wide and low enough to aid loading.
Rear occupants have plenty of leg and kneeroom, but taller folk might find the swoopy roofline impacts headroom. The rear pew is supportive and comfortable and would be a pleasant place to spend a few hours. This is something not all small cars can offer.
There are, however, no rear air vents, and there is only a map pocket on the rear of the front passenger seat, not the driver’s side.
In all grades, the cabin has black cloth or leather-appointed seats, and black or very dark grey tones everywhere else. Somehow the dark tones don’t overwhelm the cabin, but it would be nice to have something to contrast it.
There is not much differentiating the cabin from the lower grade $24,490 before on-roads VTi-S from the flagship $33,590 VTi-LX. Aside from the leather-appointed upholstery and a black roofliner, each variant looks and feels pretty much the same.
Honda is not the only car-maker to employ this strategy, but a more premium trim, some chrome flourishes or more luxury touches would help buyers feel better about spending the extra $10k to get a top-grade model.
That top-spec VTi-LX is also the only variant to be fitted with autonomous emergency braking. It is not even an option in lower grades. Honda says it is always looking at spec levels but that active safety features like that were less desired by consumers.
We think that might be because there is confusion around what AEB is and does.
If consumers knew the benefits, they would probably be more interested in having it as standard in their new car.
As with the sedan, the 104kW/174Nm 1.8-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder petrol unit powers the base VTi and VTi-S, and we sampled the latter.
It is not a particularly sophisticated engine, but has enough pull to satisfy most small car buyers. It pulls away well, but it is a noisy unit when pushed.
Like the 1.5-litre turbo in other variants, the 1.8L is paired with a continuously variable transmission (CVT), which combined with the rowdy engine, does not make for a pleasant engine note.
Honda says it has worked hard to improve noise, vibration and harshness levels with the new-gen Civic, but there is clearly not enough insulation between the engine bay and the cabin.
After a very brief stint in the VTi-S we swapped into an RS, which along with the VTi-L and VTi-LX uses Honda’s much newer 127kW/220Nm 1.5-litre four-pot turbo unit.
We have tested both powertrains in the sedan and there is very little difference in how the hatch drives.
As per the sedan, the 1.5-litre engine is by far the better powertrain, offering instant response and spirited acceleration.
It too suffers from the unappealing engine/CVT note when pushed hard, but it is not as grating as in the 1.8L.
The turbo-petrol engine is also a better match for the well balanced new-gen chassis. While its straight line performance is impressive, the Civic is a hoot to drive through twisty and undulating terrain, which is exactly what the Adelaide Hills and the Barossa Valley provided on the launch drive.
It stays flat through corners and remains planted, even over slightly loose surfaces, and while there is the occasional tyre squeal when pushed hard through tighter bends, it maintains its composure well.
The improvements to the suspension set-up and spring and damper rates has also had a positive impact. The ride in the Civic is smooth, even over bumps and corrugations.
The Civic’s steering too is sharp, direct and nicely weighted. It never feels vague.
It might be a matter of taste, and most buyers who are not enthusiasts are unlikely to take issue with the CVT, but we just can’t help but think how much more appealing the powertrain would be if it was fitted with a regular six-speed torque converter auto.
Don’t even get us started on how much fun a manual would be. Honda has no intention of offering a manual on the Civic until the arrival of the blistering Type R later this year, which will be manual only.
The Civic hatch has equalled the sedan when it comes to its excellent ride, handling, turbo-petrol performance and overall driveability, and it is all wrapped up in a truly unique package that is a bit more interesting than some of its same-again competitors.
There really is very little difference between the two body styles, so it will come down to personal taste whether buyers prefer the hatch or the sedan.
Whatever the body style, the 10th-gen Civic should be high on small-car buyers’ shopping lists.
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