Car reviews - Honda - Civic - VTi-LX hatch
Interior presentation and quality, excellent digital dash, gutsy turbo engine, dynamically sound, big boot, thoughtful features
Room for improvement
Safety tech suite exclusive to top-spec and not that sophisticated, sunroof robs headroom, inconsistent infotainment, NVH issues, runaway cruise control
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27 Jul 2017
HONDA has not exactly played it safe with its latest entry to Australia’s competitive small hatchback market, the Civic. The past couple of Civic generations have had a split personality between the sedan designed and engineered to appeal to an American or Asian audience and the British-built hatch that was more in line with European tastes.
With this 10th-generation Civic, the two body styles have converged and are both supplied out of Thailand for the Australian market. Each has something of a concept car feel, with daring exterior designs that are difficult to distinguish from some angles and a good dose of quirky on-board tech.
And although the Civic continues Honda’s recent return to form, it isn’t cohesive enough to topple the class leader.
Price and equipment
We tested the top-spec VTi-LX hatch, which weighs in at $33,590 plus on-road costs.
It is the only variant to include Honda’s suite of active safety technologies comprising autonomous emergency braking (AEB), forward collision warning (FCW), lane-keeping assistance with lane-departure warning and road departure mitigation (which over and above the lane-keeping assistance gently steers, brakes and alerts the driver if it detects the car is veering off the road).
No other variant has AEB, FCW or any of these technologies even as an option.
Also exclusive to VTi-LX trim are adaptive cruise control with low-speed follow for traffic jams, satellite navigation with SUNA live traffic updates, and a self-dimming, interior mirror.
Honda’s LaneWatch system that shows a camera view of the passenger-side blind-spot when indicating left or at the push of a button, is standard from VTi-S spec, which is one step above the base VTi variant.
Every Civic comes with dual frontal, side and full-length curtain airbags, tyre pressure monitoring, electric park brake with auto-hold and hill-start assist, an anti-theft alarm, electronic stability control and anti-lock brakes, with electronic brake-force distribution and hazard light activation under hard braking.
The VTi-LX spec-sheet includes a 7.0-inch touchscreen providing vision from the LaneWatch and reversing cameras (the latter with animated guidance lines), Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration, DAB+ digital radio (plus AM/FM tuner), Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, USB audio input. Sound is piped through a 10-speaker, 452-watt audio system with subwoofer.
Also on the list are dual-zone climate control, leather upholstery, heated front seats, eight-way electric driver’s seat adjustment, an electric sunroof, LED headlights with auto-levelling and dusk sensing, LED foglights, front and rear parking sensors, keyless entry with push-button start, a leather-wrapped multi-function steering wheel, LCD digital instrument panel with integrated trip computer, automatic front wipers, electrically folding door mirrors with integrated LED indicators, alloy pedals, illuminated vanity mirrors, rear privacy glass and 17-inch alloy wheels.
The Civic hatch range opens at $23,390 plus on-road costs for the steel-wheeled, cloth-trimmed VTi, which along with the VTi-S use a 1.8-litre naturally aspirated petrol engine whereas the VTi-L, RS and VTi-LX tested here all use a 1.5-litre turbo-petrol engine. All drive the front wheels through an automatic continuously variable transmission (CVT).
Honda has attracted some criticism for its latest Civic interiors lacking appreciable differentiation between the base VTi and range-topping VTi-LX variants, but we’d rather the company spread the cost of a quality cabin ambience across the range rather than slapping on some token chintz at the top end in a failed attempt to make them feel a bit more special.
Many brands are guilty of the latter, putting in all sorts of awful unconvincing fake metal trim, tough grainy leather and glitchy tech. The end result is usually the range sweet-spot being an uncorrupted base or second-from-base variant.
Less so with the Honda. The cabin materials, ambience and sense of quality were more than befitting of a $33,000 small car. You might not be rewarded for your extra spend like you are in a Mazda3, for example, but neither will you feel short-changed. Overall, pretty democratic.
There is a decent amount of storage on-board, too. The glovebox is big, although we’d prefer a damped action rather than it dropping unceremoniously open when the clasp is released.
A large compartment beneath the plushly upholstered sliding front-central armrest is handy, as is the configurable pair of cupholders within. Then there is the capacious two-tier technology shelf with conduits for passing cables from the USB and 12V sockets on the lower deck to devices nestled above.
Door bins up-front are deep and wide, with space for our 750ml water bottle but the rear door bins are either-or when it comes to bottle-holding. A fold-down central armrest contains two more cupholders and there is a map pocket on the rear of the front passenger seat. There’s nowhere obvious to store sunglasses, though.
The boot is great, providing a generous 410L of space – that’s 30L more than a Volkswagen Golf – and a large floor area. Put it this way, we had to employ some serious Tetris skills unloading a full Civic boot into the back of a physically much larger Subaru Forester (but providing only 12 more litres than the Civic beneath the cargo blind). It really is that big.
Where the boot floor meets the backrests of the rear seats is an odd-looking ramp-like section that in practice ensures there is no step created when they are folded flat by pressing chunky buttons on the outer edges of the backrests.
Above is an innovative cargo blind that pulls across from the left, meaning it does not have to be disconnected and stored when the rear seats are folded. To maximise access and space, it can be easily removed and takes up far less room than a conventional blind – think slightly more than a compact umbrella. Genius!Unfortunately there is a compromise and we found the Civic hatch well suited to small people with lots of things to carry.
It is fine for the driver, whose seat can be height-adjusted into a low-slung position that is very Honda. Although the steering wheel adjustment release is quite a reach toward the pedals, and the adjustment operation itself stiff, there is a decent range of movement on offer.
But if anyone taller than, say, 186cm switches from the driving seat to the front passenger seat, they are cramped for headroom beneath headlining that has been lowered for the sunroof, with no ability to adjust the chair for height.
If this person decides to sit behind someone of similar height, their knees rub the backrest in front of them and they still struggle for headroom.
The front seats are comfortable, though, and reminded us of those from a Holden Commodore. Not so good in the back, where the cushions are a bit oddly shaped and the backrest a little too reclined. The central position is surprisingly tolerable but does place the occupant a bit higher, making it useless for the lofty.
Attaching child seats was a mixed bag. Both outboard positions have Isofix anchorages, but they are deeply embedded and we struggled to get the clips to engage while we pushed past the upholstery and padding. The location of the top-tether points low on the rear of the backrest and its steep recline angle meant an extension strap may be necessary for your child restraint. The central position’s top tether is beneath a flap in the boot floor, lower than those either side, so it is even further away.
Better news came from the fact a rear-facing infant carrier could be installed without the occupant in front sacrificing too much space, although somebody tall would have to choose between knee-room and sitting bolt upright. Small door apertures and the plunging roof-line make placing a child into their seat tricky, too.
Returning to the driver’s seat, the Civic’s digital dash is crisp, well-designed and able to present an ideal mix of information with clarity. We loved it.
Shame that the infotainment system was clearly designed by another team with less of an eye for design or even regard for consistency. Every menu seemed to have a different theme, the touch-sensitive shortcut buttons were anything but and navigation around the various screens was far from intuitive. In fact, it seemed to get worse the more we used it.
Apart from the smartphone integration that we largely stuck to rather than frustrate ourselves with Honda’s silly software, the sat-nav was the Civic touchscreen’s saving grace. It was easy to program an address into, with accurate and clear directions.
Sound quality from the 10-speaker stereo was excellent and without it turned on, the Civic was generally not an unpleasantly loud environment even on some extreme coarse-chip surfaces or with the engine revving hard.
Forward visibility is excellent and despite the shape and split rear windscreen design, we never struggled for rear or over-the-shoulder visibility in the Civic either, helped by the clarity of the reversing camera and its usefully accurate guidance lines that bend with the steering angle.
On a related note, the camera-based LaneWatch blind-spot technology is particularly useful at night or when turning across a cycle lane but unlike conventional blind-spot monitoring systems it provides no coverage on the driver’s side or audible alert on either side.
The adaptive cruise control system was generally well-behaved, but despite being able to brake for slowing traffic ahead, would run away with itself down hills. At one point it exceeded our set speed by more than 20km/h, which is less than ideal especially on Australia’s camera-infested roads.
Lane-departure warning was better, jiggling the wheel in the direction away from the lane marking we were crossing but not intruding in scenarios such as twisty roads or roundabouts where getting close to the white lines is common.
Lane-keeping assistance was OK, but not as sophisticated or effective as the best systems we have experienced, such as that on the latest Hyundai i30.
During our dynamic test the forward collision warning got a bit worried about a road sign as we approached a high-speed corner, but apart from that we had no reason for it to activate.
Engine and transmission
Honda’s recent foray into turbo-petrol engines is pretty successful. The force-fed 1.5-litre four-cylinder fitted to up-spec Civics is smooth and punchy, producing 127kW of power at 5500rpm and 220Nm of torque between 1700rpm and 5500rpm.
This means it is not far off the big 2.5-litre naturally aspirated unit in a Mazda3 SP25 while feeling more muscular at low revs due to its broad spread of turbocharged torque.
Unlike many turbo engines, the Honda 1.5 has an appealing note when driven hard, a hard-edged snarl. It also responds well to revs and feels lively in the upper reaches of the tacho needle’s travel, which belies the relatively low 5500rpm power peak.
It will also happily cruise at 100km/h using just 2000rpm, unless the responsive S mode on the transmission is accidentally selected – and it is all to easy to do this when intending to select D – in which case it sits at a thrummy 3500rpm.
As with the Toyota C-HR crossover, we are not convinced by the combination of turbo-petrol engines with automatic continuously variable transmissions. Turbo engines feel good when building boost through a rev-range and locked into a real gear ratio, rather than the revs being allowed to flare.
That said, the CVT in the Civic appears to hide a bit of low-speed lag, as revealed when accessing the seven virtual stepped ratios through the paddle-shifters. Although the torque peak starts at a low 1700rpm there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot going on below this figure.
Manual changes are quick but soft and unconvincing when trying to drive spiritedly, but the Civic will doggedly hang onto the selected ratio and we found it preferable to letting the CVT do its own thing when tackling twisty roads.
Throttle response gets better with revs, helping the Civic feel lively when pushed.
But for the suburban and highway driving most customers will subject their Civic to, the drivetrain was pretty seamless and impressively effortless – apart from the odd stumble when crawling up to junctions on urban hills that was reminiscent of a glitch common to dual-clutch transmissions.
Our only real gripe with this drivetrain was an odd sound that could be heard from inside the cabin at speeds below 60km/h. It was like a room full of typists and reminded us of the racket exhibited by early direct-injection petrol engines from cold. There was also an odd vibration at motorway speeds felt through the driver’s footrest.
During our week of mixed driving the Civic returned fuel consumption of 7.4 litres per 100 kilometres, compared with the official combined-cycle figure of 6.1L/100km. This worked out exactly litre more efficient than the Mazda3 SP25 mentioned earlier, which is a tenth less thirsty in official combined cycle data.
What’s more, and unusual for this type of engine, Honda specifies 91 RON standard Unleaded rather than pricier 95 RON Premium Unleaded.
Ride and handling
The Civic hatch VTi-LX rides a little firmly on its 17-inch alloys and while it is not uncomfortable and never felt busy or jiggly, we would not describe it as supple either. We thought the sedan was a touch more plush over bumps.
We could live with it, and the payoff was controlled cornering on fast twisty roads plus a nimble and nippy feel around town.
These qualities were magnified by the slick, crisp steering response that lacked the on-centre friction or gloopiness that afflicts a number of competitors. Steering weight is light, but not over-assisted.
Neither is it the paragon of feel or feedback, although the eager turn-in followed by confident cornering poise never failed to put a smile on our face.
And there was feel through the seat of the pants, especially when the Civic got a little more interactive as it moved around during rapid off-camber direction changes.
Grip and traction from the Yokohama Advan tyres was plentiful in the dry conditions of our test and the Civic felt reassuringly planted as a result. But when provoked, we could peel back a few layers of playfulness in the chassis as well.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the Civic’s dynamic package was how seamless and balanced it felt, as well as its resistance to being thrown off-line by poor corner surfaces.
Braking performance was also strong, with a linear pedal action and positive feel.
Dynamically the Civic edges past ‘competent’ in our estimation and almost into ‘exciting’. It feels like a Honda should, and it is a while since we’ve been able to say that about a Civic.
Safety and servicing
Shortly before we took custody of this Civic, Honda Australia announced a range-wide warranty upgrade from three years and 100,000 kilometres to five years and unlimited kilometres, unless you are a fleet or commercial operator in which case it is capped at 140,000km.
This does not affect the existing six-year rust perforation and three-year paint warranty, while roadside assistance remains a cost-option upgrade.
Maintenance intervals are every 12 months or 10,000km. Under Honda’s capped price servicing program, the first 10 visits cost $281 each, with the caveat that replacement brake fluid, cabin filter, air cleaner, fuel filter, spark plugs and transmission fluid are not included and cost between $54 and $208 depending on the vehicle’s age and kilometres covered.
The hatchback’s five-star ANCAP crash-test safety rating is borrowed from the sedan, with an overall score of 34.68 comprising 14.75 out of 16 for the frontal offset test, 14.93 out of 16 in the side test and a maximum 2 out of 2 in the pole test. Whiplash and pedestrian protection were both deemed ‘good’.
Standard safety equipment includes dual frontal, side and full-length curtain airbags, tyre pressure monitoring, electric park brake with auto-hold and hill-start assist, an anti-theft alarm, electronic stability control and anti-lock brakes, with electronic brake-force distribution and hazard light activation under hard braking.
As mentioned earlier, the VTi-LX is the only Civic variant to benefit from autonomous emergency braking (AEB), forward collision warning (FCW), lane-keeping assistance with lane-departure warning and road departure mitigation.
No other variant has AEB, FCW or any of these technologies even as an option.
That’s not exactly a fair go.
Honda is back from the GFC-addled abyss of recent years and has taken a fair old swing at bringing the venerable Civic nameplate up to scratch for its 10th generation.
As good as the Civic is, Honda didn’t get enough of it consistently right to challenge the segment’s best and the car as a whole lacks the sense of cohesiveness and completeness that makes for a benchmark-setter. We’re thinking Golf and i30 as examples of cars that do this.
There is a blend of thoughtful and compelling features on this car, offset by some baffling and frustrating flaws that we can only hope are ironed out in time for the mid-life facelift. Job number one: Make the safety tech more widely available.
But if you are upgrading from one of the nine previous-generation Civics, or are a Honda fan who has been waiting for the brand to regain its mojo, you are unlikely to be disappointed. Just be aware that you could have bought better.
Volkswagen Golf 110 TSI Highline from $34,490 plus on-road costs
Manages to stay ahead of the game with the recent 7.5 update. It has big car refinement, a fluidity to its ride and handling that few can match, a benchmark-setting engine and top-flight infotainment. Standard AEB but to match the Civic’s safety cache requires options.
Hyundai i30 SR Premium from $33,950 plus on-road costs
All things considered, we’d probably put our own money into one of these.
Classy, spacious interior, a boot almost as big as the Honda’s, superior infotainment, much more standard equipment and a safety tech suite that is among the very best in operation. Best of all? The i30 does very little to annoy and even in firmly sprung SR spec the ride comfort compromise over a Civic is minimal.
Mazda3 SP25 GT from $31,990 plus on-road costs
Expertly blends comfort with corner-carving ability while having a lot to offer in terms of standard kit and sweet, sweet drivetrain that proves well-engineered naturally aspirated engines and torque converter transmissions can keep up with downsized turbos, dual-clutch autos and CVTs. Classy interior and plenty of kit, but a small boot and cramped, noisy interior lose the Mazda some points in this company.
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