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Car reviews - Honda - Civic - sedan range

Launch Story

Honda logo3 Feb 2006

By CHRIS HARRIS

WITH sharp pricing and more features, space, power and refinement than before, Honda’s eighth-generation Civic sedan is poised to shake up the small-car segment like the Accord and Odyssey have theirs.

On sale from February 23, the new UH series will kick off at a rival-ruffling $20,990 for the VTi five-speed manual sedan.

Dual front airbags, ABS anti-lock brakes with EBD Electronic Brake Force Distribution, air-conditioning, cruise control, CD audio, electric windows, power mirrors and remote central locking are included.

This makes the Civic VTi cheaper than an equivalently equipped Mazda3 Neo, Ford Focus CL, Holden Astra CD, Subaru Impreza, Nissan Tiida and Toyota Corolla Ascent.

Such pricing is the upshot of Australia’s free-trade agreement with Thailand, where Honda has been making vehicles since 1983.

It continues a similar value strategy Honda has used since the current Accord duo debuted in 2003, along with the 2004 Odyssey. The resulting 30 per cent sales surge last year speaks for itself.

However this generation Civic will only be available in the one body shape for now – a first for the series since its inception here in March 1973.

A British-built UH five-door hatchback – already available in Europe to widespread acclaim – is still up to two years away.

Honda Australia says it dearly desires the strikingly styled hatchback, but is still sorting out pricing, currency exchange, Australian Design Rule certification, and supply issues.

A UH Civic two-door coupe also exists, but for North America only.

For the eighth iteration, Honda created an all-new base it calls the Global Compact Platform that utilises 50 per cent high-strength steel even though it is bigger overall than before.

It also redesigned the Civic inside and out, developing new engines, gearboxes and suspension for a model it dubs the ‘Global’ model.

Compared to the old sedan, the latest Civic is 4550mm (+70mm) long, 1750mm wide (+35mm) and 1435mm high (-5mm). It sits on a 2700mm wheelbase (+80mm), with 32.5mm and 62.5mm wider front and rear tracks respectively.

More cabin space is the immediate benefit, enabling the fitment of larger seats (similar to the Accord’s), while the steering wheel tilts and telescopes.

Most obvious though is the Odyssey-style dashboard pioneering what Honda calls a ‘Multiplex’ meter concept with a two-tier instrumentation display aligning the main dials directly within the driver’s field of vision.

These, along with a panoramic windscreen and ergonomically sited switches and controls – including having a lower-console situated transmission and handbrake levers – are key cabin changes in the latest Civic sedan.

Aided by a rear flat floor, the 376-litre boot can carry a 19-inch mountain bike with the rear seat folded, a three-piece luggage set or a full-sized wheel chair.

In the lower ranges (VTi and VTi-L) propulsion is provided to the front wheels by a 1799cc (1.8-litre), i-VTEC, single-overhead cam, four-cylinder engine.

It produces 103kW of power at 6300rpm and 174Nm of torque at 4200rpm the previous Civic sedan’s 1.7-litre output was 88kW at 6200rpm and 150Nm at 4800rpm.

Honda says this powerplant is as frugal as a 1.5-litre and yet offers the power of a 2.0-litre unit.

Its 6.9 litres per 100km combined fuel consumption average (7.1 for the auto) supports this, especially as these figures are almost half a litre less than the outgoing Civic GLi sedan’s 1.7-litre engine’s results.

High-tech features, such as a device Honda calls ‘slow cylinder-closing technology’, works with a new drive-by-wire throttle control to synchronise the engine’s air-fuel mixture for reduced inefficiencies and optimised economy.

More money buys the 2.0-litre Civic Sport, using a variation of the 1998cc (2.0-litre) twin-cam i-VTEC four-cylinder all-aluminium engine first seen locally in the 2001 Integra range.

In Civic duty it delivers 114kW at 6200rpm and 188Nm at 4200rpm (the most torque the model has ever offered), while the 7.9L/100km combined cycle fuel consumption (auto: 8.0) is only half a litre more than last year’s 1.7-litre sedan’s efforts.

Interestingly in the Integra the 2.0’s output is 118kW and 191Nm, escalating to 154kW and 194Nm in the sportier Type S.

Honda Australia senior director Lindsay Smalley says we can expect more excitement and limited editions to come, so perhaps a Civic Type R or S with a similar engine is likely. The 1995-1999-118kW/148Nm VTi-R hatch has yet to be replaced here.

Meanwhile the 2.0 Sport, aimed at the popular Mazda3 SP23 sedan, replaces the 1.8’s variable speed-sensitive rack and pinion hydraulic power steering with an electric system.

Honda promises that it is a sport-oriented system that increases assistance at low speeds and reduces it at higher ones for greater feel and linearity.

Transmission choices are a five-speed manual or a new-to-Civic five-speed automatic – with Grade Logic control that adapts the gearbox to driver and road conditions. Previously it was a four-speed auto.

The auto also features a sequential manual paddle shift operation on the 2.0-litre Sport model.

On the downside, weight is also up, but at a reasonably contained 140kg/145kg on the 1.8 sedan manual (1210kg) and auto (1240kg). The 2.0-litre models come in at 1290kg and 1320kg for the auto and manual respectively.

Nevertheless both engines qualify for low-emission vehicle II status in the United States, are Euro IV compliant, require only 91 RON standard unleaded petrol and can run on E10 fuel.

But they are overshadowed in the green stakes by another edition of the Japanese-built Civic Hybrid, bringing the 2006 Civic model tally to four.

Like before, it’s a 1.3-litre i-DSI single-cam four-cylinder unit (similar to the one found in the smaller Jazz 1.3 GLi model) that’s mated with Honda’s Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) electric motor, but from here the differences begin.

For starters, the regenerative braking is variable rather than fixed it now can run on electric-only power during cruising under certain conditions, and features a dual air-conditioning compressor – one for each motor – for uninterrupted climate-controlled flow.

The IMA’s power is up by 46 per cent and torque by 14 per cent, resulting in a combined output of 85kW at 6000rpm and 170Nm at 2500rpm. Previously it was 69kW at 5700rpm and 146Nm at 2000rpm.

More importantly fuel consumption falls, to a combined 4.6L/100km reading. This is 0.6L/100km better than last year’s Hybrid despite a 75kg weight gain – to 1265kg.

An improved CVT automatic gearbox delivers drive to the front wheels with a wider gear range and higher clutch capacity than before.

On all 2006 Civic sedans, Honda has carried over the previous model’s MacPherson strut-front and rear multi-link double wishbone set-up, but with detail alterations aimed in improving steering, handling and ride properties.

To this end the chassis is now stiffer, with a 35 per cent increase in torsional rigidity.

Noise/vibration and harshness levels have been tackled with the inclusion of a torque-rod damper to the subframe, reinforced engine mounts and better seals, insulation and lining in the cabin.

This results in a six-decibel noise drop inside. Together with a two-decibel reduction in the 1.8 engine’s operation, Honda says it has produced a much quieter car.

On the safety front all Civics receive dual front airbags and ABS/EBD, anti-whiplash front seat head restraints, lap-sash seatbelts all-round, while front and rear curtain airbags appear in all bar the base VTi.

Pedestrian impact trauma can be lessened through the new Civic’s impact absorbing bonnet, bumper and windscreen wiper assemblies.

It achieves six-stars in the Japanese NCAP crash-test ratings – equal to five-stars in the Australian NCAP equivalent.

Steel wheels shod with 195/65 R15 tyres hold up the VTi, with alloys on the VTi-L and 205/55 R16 alloys gracing the Sport.

Honda is forecasting selling 1000 UH Civics a month, with 100 of these being the Hybrid model, to life its share in the small-car segment.

The base VTi should snare half of all sales, with 20 per cent going to the VTi-L, eighteen to the Sport and 10 per cent for the Hybrid.

In 2005, sales ran at an average of 610 per month (Hybrid: 25 monthly) – or 7331 in total.

Although these were bolstered by the presence of the Japanese-built five-door hatchback, its premium pricing meant the hatch accounted for only 10 per cent of total Civic sales last year. In ’04 it was 360 per month/4324 for the year.

The demographic is people in their mid-30s with small families, or Empty Nesters needed a smaller car. The average buyer is 49 years old. Honda expects a strong take-up from current Civic owners.

Since 1972, almost 300,000 Civics have been sold in Australia from over 16 million globally.

This year it hopes that overall sales will hit the 50,000 mark, a 3000 unit – or six per cent – improvement over last year’s record tally.

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