Car reviews - Honda - Civic - RS sedan
High-quality and roomy cabin, superb ride comfort over all surfaces, darty steering matched by agile handling
Room for improvement
Turbo engine grainy and coarse, automatic CVT lurches, flat rear seat, VTi-L is better value than RS
26 Aug 2016
Price and equipment
HONDA clings to its ageing 1.8-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine in its base VTi and VTi-S models that ask between $22,390 and $24,490 plus on-road costs. Selecting the new 1.5-litre turbocharged four-cylinder requires picking the $27,790 VTi-L or the $31,790 RS (as tested here).
There is also a $33,590 VTi-LX range-topper stacked with active safety kit and satellite navigation, however the two lower model grades with the turbo engine arguably represent better value.
Even the VTi-L includes 17-inch alloy wheels, auto on/off LED headlights, keyless auto-entry with push-button start, dual-zone climate control, illuminated vanity mirrors, leather-wrapped steering wheel and gearshifter, digital radio with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto connectivity and LaneWatch blind-spot camera, and a rearview camera with front and rear parking sensors.
It is a strong list for $28K.
The $4000 extra to the RS buys a bodykit with rear spoiler, leather trim with heated front seats and electrically adjustable driver’s seat, and a sunroof – niceties but hardly necessities, particularly when there are no suspension changes or power upgrades to match the RS badge.
The 2008-era Accord Euro still sets a high Honda watermark for design and quality inside, so it is a great compliment to the new Civic that it feels very ‘Euro’ inside – and in both senses of the word.
There is a great balance of subtle sportiness with pragmatic detail to the RS cabin, and it starts with a small steering wheel and low seating position, with the dashboard angled towards the driver and the centre console placed high enough to feel properly ensconced inside.
The 7.0-inch touchscreen offers high-resolution graphics and the climate controls in particular utilise matte-silver ‘knurled’ knobs that feel decidedly Audi-esque. If only the RS had integrated nav, rather than forcing owners to connect their iPhone or Android device and ‘mirror’ the smartphone’s nav onto the centre screen – which works well, but saps your monthly data allowance.
Honda also demands that the driver press ‘OK’ on the touchscreen acknowledging a safety note on each start-up, despite the vehicle not featuring nav. It seems incredulous given that most audio systems do not require a two-step process to simply use the radio, and the usability of this system is not as intuitive as other systems. That really should be addressed first.
Although the front seats are supportive, the rear bench is surprisingly flat and its low positioning does little to prevent a ‘knees up’ seating position despite the vast legroom. The rakish roofline affects headroom, too, so the Civic sedan is not as well packaged as its dimensions indicate.
The sedan’s boot is huge, with a 517-litre capacity eclipsing many models from the class above. The opening itself is small and narrow, even though the Civic actually looks like a liftback in the same vein as a Skoda Octavia.
Engine and transmission
Honda’s 1.5-litre turbocharged four-cylinder makes healthy numbers, with 127kW at 5500rpm and 220Nm from 1700rpm right up until where power peaks.
Consider the 1.4-litre turbo in the sub-$30K Volkswagen Golf 92TSI Comfortline produces 92kW/200Nm and the Civic especially looks good, although the sub-$35K Golf 110TSI Comfortline closes the gap with 110kW/250Nm from the same engine.
We use Volkswagen as the small-capacity turbo yardstick because the Golf’s engines are indeed the class benchmark.
In terms of outright performance, the RS is strong and seamless, with an energy and thrust under full-throttle duress that is spicy rather than scalding.
However, the automatic continuously variable transmission (CVT) can also feel lurchy, occasionally tugging occupants along like a stretched elastic band and feeling as though there is far too much slack in the driveline.
This engine begs for a flawless Honda manual transmission, and it is cruel it is not available in Australia.
Although the engine is strong, it is also noisy particularly on light throttle.
With a kerb weight of 1331kg, the Civic sedan is around 100kg heavier than a Golf and it might explain the CVT’s propensity to flare the engine to about 3000rpm even when moving from standstill, to the great detriment of refinement.
Even so, combined cycle fuel consumption of 6.0 litres per 100 kilometres is impressive and we came reasonably close to that on test (recording 7.3L/100km).
Unlike the Volkswagen, this turbo engine can run on regular unleaded rather than the costlier premium variety.
Ride and handling
Whatever is Japanese for joie de vivre the Civic RS has it on the road, brimming with joyful dynamic attributes that beg for a more adept transmission and smoother engine to match.
The steering of this new Honda is among the best in the segment, with immediate, direct and darty response while never feeling inconsistently weighted or nervous (it never wanders on the freeway at the straight-ahead position, for example).
Through corners the Civic feels light on its feet and agile, and it is backed by a superbly calibrated electronic stability control (ESC) that trusts the excellent chassis and only subtly intervenes during enthusiastic driving. It may not justify the RS badge, but give it a manual and it would come close.
However, the most amazing asset for what is still a small, spacious sedan, is its ride quality. Even on semi-low-profile tyres the way this Honda soaks up sizeable road irregularities and skims over small ones in a gracious and supple fashion takes the Golf to the wire.
Only some elements of road noise start to grate on coarse-chip country roads.
The RS also lacks the adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning and lane-keep assistance of the VTi-LX, although it does get the LaneWatch system that uses a camera mounted on the passenger door mirror that monitors your blind spot when a left indicator is used – a clever feature.
Safety and servicing
Six airbags (including dual front, front-side, and full-length curtain protection), ABS, switchable electronic stability control (ESC), front and rear parking sensors, rear-view camera and LaneWatch blind-spot camera.
ANCAP has not tested the Honda Civic.
Servicing is every six months or 10,000km (annual or 15,000km checks are the norm) at a cost $281 for each of the first seven services.
Honda is back in business with the Civic sedan, which blends subtle sportiness and sheer spaciousness better than anything else in the segment. Ultimately, a Golf hatchback is smoother and classier, but it is not as dynamic or spacious.
Work still needs to be done on both CVT refinement and road and engine noise, however, while the $28K VTi-L is simply outstanding value and would be our pick over the $32K RS tested here.
At least until Hyundai arrives with its Elantra SR boasting 1.6-litre turbo power, the Honda Civic is comfortably – again in every sense of the word – the pick among not-so-small sedans.
Skoda Octavia Ambition from $22,490 plus on-road costs
Left-field liftback feels like a budget Golf to drive.
Toyota Corolla ZR from $30,990 plus on-road costs
Huge cabin and comfy ride, but uninspiring to drive.
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