Car reviews - Honda - Civic - sedan range
Style, space, cabin presentation, Hybrid driveability, economy, quality
Room for improvement
Slightly dull to drive and steer, no stability control option, no hatchback
3 Feb 2006
THE first thing that strikes you about the latest Honda Civic sedan isn’t its newfound bigness, improved styling featuring a pleasantly fresh appearance, or slightly sportier proportions.
No, it’s what lies inside, which – in true Honda tradition – is big on the small details.
Like some aspects of the exterior (especially around the cab-forward A-pillar), the cabin feels like a scaled-down Honda Odyssey’s – right down to the brilliant blue night lighting, funky trim and vast spaciousness (for a small car).
Since it’s where you’ll spend most of your time if you decide to buy one, this is not a bad thing at all. And there’s plenty of depth to the details beyond just sheer novelty value too.
Take that dashboard – it manages to trump the Mazda3’s for looks and useability while bringing back – finally – that panoramic windscreen look that made all Civics from 1983 to 1995 such a pleasure to be in and see out of.
Its two-tiered instrumentation is a gem, with a digital speedometer as big as all get-out sitting just where you can always see it without having your eyes stray off the road.
Siting the handbrake far forward and beside the gearshift means there’s space galore for your junk in the centre console – which features one of the slickest drink holder solutions to date. Nice one Honda!
Big seats – again featuring a cool detail (a see-through slit in the headrests) – dead-easy audio and climate controls and perfectly placed ventilation outlets for the front passengers are other plus points.
After all this, the driving experience is slightly dull and so a tad disappointing, with performance and dynamics that live somewhere between the slickness and ease of a Toyota Corolla and the competence of the Mazda3.
At least it moves on from the old Civic sedan.
Actually final judgement needs to be made on Australian roads, for the cars GoAuto drove were on mostly unusually coarse New Zealand bitumen that cast doubts on Honda’s loud quietness claims until more regular roads in fact did show how hushed these cars really are.
Plus the examples sampled were built in Japan and not Thailand as ours are, and also featured stability control – a life-saving device that, tragically for some, won’t be available on our Civics – shame on you Honda.
The new 103kW 1.8 engine, while agreeably smooth and powerful, feels closer to the Holden Astra 1.8’s for performance delivery than the 2.0-litres that Honda says it goes like.
But this might be a deception because – like many Hondas – this Civic was always going significantly faster than the seat-of-the-pants feeling suggested. Maybe that’s the quiet cabin talking.
Rowing the slick though slightly loose-feeling five-speed manual gearshift is no hassle at all, and it enables full exploration of the engine’s impressive capabilities.
The handling is sharp, flat and enjoyable, and defined by nicely weighted steering that transmits ample feeling and plenty of control.
Only some minor bump steer caused by uneven roads blotted the roadholding aspect, which is otherwise good but not quite in the same league as the Ford Focus, Mazda3 and VW Golf.
Meanwhile the 2.0-litre Sport is palpably the stronger performer, with extra urge available throughout the rev range at just a press of the accelerator pedal.
The five-speed automatic tested is a great partner to the 2.0, less so in the 1.8, since it offers instant downshifts when needed and a responsive sequential shift facility via the steering column paddles (a Tiptronic-style floor shift is oddly missing here).
The 1.8 auto does without the paddles, but it’s still a dynamic duo and probably preferable to the manual.
Other 2.0 Sport attributes include electric steering that doesn’t feel as artificial as most other types do, a ride that isn’t affected by the firmer suspension settings the Sport model brings, and an engine that feels far rortier than the somewhat anodyne – and quite un-Honda-like – 1.8 models.
Overall the Civic sedans as tested in NZ specification come across as thoroughly modern and accommodating small cars with striking interiors, exemplary efficient drivetrains and capable – if not class-leading – dynamics.
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