Car reviews - Honda - Civic - VTi-L Hatch
Premium feel, steering, handling, boot space, interior comfort, quiet cabin, revvy engine
Room for improvement
Ride marred by bigger wheels, dated five-speed auto exacerbates lack of engine torque
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18 Mar 2013
Price and equipment
THE Honda Civic hatch is a slick and classy car that stands out on the road due to its quirky styling, while offering a brilliant mix of driver satisfaction, ease-of-use and premium, quality feel.
At $20,650 in base VTi-S trim it is one of the most affordable in its segment, and now the standard specification has improved to include Bluetooth and cruise control, it is in our eyes an almost no-brainer recommendation.
The price is also a minor miracle considering the previous-generation Civic hatch was almost $40,000.
In the repositioned $24,490 ($1100 cheaper) VTi-L tested here, cloth seats have replaced leather, but we see this as no bad thing because the quality of leather available at this price point rarely makes it feel more luxurious than decent cloth upholstery
That said the new top-spec $29,590 Civic Vti-LN – that packs sat-nav with SUNA live traffic updates and a DVD player – features hide that is better than most in its segment.
Around half of the VTi-L’s $4840 premium over the VTi-S is accounted for by the standard five-speed automatic transmission that is a $2300 option on the base variant.
The Holden Cruze is the only other mainstream small hatch to come with a standard self-shifter at this price point.
The rest is justified by automatic wipers, a seven-speaker premium audio system, dual-zone climate control, keyless entry/start, electrically adjustable driver and front passenger lumbar support, a self-dimming interior mirror, rear privacy glass, leather-trimmed steering wheel and gear selector and a rear centre arm-rest with two cup-holders.
WE LIKE the Civic’s squidgy dash, most interior plastics feel of respectable quality and there is a sense of long-lasting solidity about the cabin – and the new car smell is similar to that of an Audi.
Facing the driver is an all-digital instrument panel, which is easy to read while looking thoroughly modern, as does the multi-function readout in the centre of the dash.
We found the latter counter-intuitive as it is partly controlled using the steering wheel buttons, with further functions requiring a rotary controller on the audio unit and setting up a Bluetooth phone connection was convoluted and illogical.
While we are having a whinge, the ventilation system takes a bit of time to figure out how to stop it blowing annoyingly cold air onto exposed parts of the body, such as when wearing a singlet or short sleeves – as people do in hot weather when air-con is required.
Inside the big central storage bin are USB and auxiliary inputs and a 12-volt power outlet for gadgets, while the big glove compartment with thoughtful elasticated strap to secure the glove box guide
Beneath a roller door in the centre console are two well-sized cupholders that can be converted to a cubby by relocating a plastic divider, and another 12-volt outlet is close by, hidden under a flap.
Front door bins are on the small-side and the in-built bottle holders are a squeeze for anything bigger than 600ml, while taller bottles will clash with the underside of the arm rest.
The front seats are comfortable but rear leg and head room are a bit tight, unsurprising given the Civic’s swoopy roof line and comparatively compact dimensions for its segment.
Good news for younger families is that we found fitting a child seat easy.
A shortage of rear space is more than made up for by a massive 390-litre boot – one of the biggest in the business but curiously 10 litres smaller than the VTi-S.
Expanding that to 1120L is easy thanks to the ingenious Jazz-style fold-flat rear bench that makes the Civic a surprisingly versatile load-lugger – great for frequenting places like Bunnings or Ikea – and there is a fair bit of space beneath the boot floor too.
Rear visibility is a weak point – so thankfully there is a reversing camera – but no amount of technology can overcome the distorted view through the interior mirror caused by the split rear windscreen.
Engine and transmission
IN TYPICAL Honda fashion the 104kW/174Nm 1.8-litre petrol engine is free-revving and a pleasure to use, which is just as well given the fact it needs to be wrung out on urban hills due to a lack of mid-range torque.
Where a Volkswagen Golf would rely on the torque of its turbocharged engine to whisk it up a hill with the minimum of fuss, the Honda has to change down a ratio or two.
This is most clearly noticed when encountering a hill with the cruise control engaged as the little Honda suddenly realises it has slowed down due to an incline, then kicks down the transmission and gives it some welly to make up.
Although the Civic automatically selects a lower ratio to apply engine braking going down the other side of the hill, it can still easily run away with itself, requiring the driver to intervene if a speeding ticket is to be avoided.
For general round-town work the Civic engine is a delight, being quiet, smooth and refined, its fizzy acceleration note soon disappearing into silence.
It is just as quiet during a high-speed cruise, at which point there is also an impressive lack of wind noise and there is just a bit of background road rumble, making the Civic a beautifully serene way to travel.
We averaged fuel consumption of 8.0 litres per 100 kilometres during mostly suburban driving – well up on the official 6.5L/100km combined figure but not bad considering the urban rating of 8.9L/100km.
The five-speed automatic transmission is smooth, slick and quick-shifting and features standard paddle-shifters for manual cog-swaps, blending in perfectly with the slick, smooth, refined and sporty nature of the car.
Our only gripe – apart from the lack of sixth ratio – is that it is too easy to accidentally select Sport mode, which causes the engine to rev more as it holds onto each ratio longer.
Ride and handling
BECAUSE the VTi-L has larger 17-inch alloy wheels the Civic’s otherwise impressively comfortable ride takes on a slightly jigglier edge compared with the base model, which rolls on 16-inch items, so it is a case of fashion over function here.
The steering has more feel around the straight-ahead than most rivals, with the downside of feeling a bit twitchy when driving on fast roads, but its well-weighted, direct feel makes the car feel fun, nippy and natural around town and engaging on a twisty mountain pass.
Considering the supple ride, the Civic’s lack of body roll is impressive and there is plenty of grip from the tyres, adding to the feeling of nimbleness.
Also aiding the fun factor and topping off a car that feels so intrinsically right is a brake pedal that has plenty of feel, pulling the Civic up with a confidence inspiring amount of bite.
Safety and servicing
ANCAP awarded the Civic hatch five stars for crash-test performance and it comes with a three-year, 100,000km warranty.
Servicing is every 10,000kms or 6 months, but Honda currently has no capped-price servicing scheme.
THERE are a few quirks about the Civic but nothing that will do the driver’s head in – if they can get along with the styling.
As we have said, it is a great car – and one we would rather drive than most in the segment.
But the better ride, availability of a sweet six-speed manual transmission and recently improved standard specification mean that for us, the cheaper VTi-S, not this VTi-L remains the better deal.
1. Hyundai i30: From $20,990 plus on-road costs. Class-leading levels of equipment and a long warranty, mean the sweet-driving i30 comes close to top of the class. If they fixed the rubbery steering and added some dynamic polish it would be a formidable small car contender.
2. Mazda3: From $20,330 plus on-road costs. The best selling car in Australia and deservedly so for its nippy nature and generous equipment levels, but it is let down by a lack of rear legroom and a noisy cabin., 3.
Ford Focus: From $20,290 plus on-road costs. Great to drive and spacious too, but a fussy cabin, some cheap plastics and equipment omissions at base level make it harder to recommend.
MAKE/MODEL: Honda Civic Hatch VTi-L
ENGINE: 1798cc 4-cylinder SOHC petrol
LAYOUT: FWD, transverse
POWER: 104kW @ 6500rpm
TORQUE: 174Nm @ 4300rpm
TRANSMISSION: Five-speed auto
SUSPENSION f/r: MacPherson Struts/Torsion beam
STEERING: Electric rack and pinion
BRAKES f/r: Discs/discs
PRICE: From $20,650 plus on-roads
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