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First drive: Absence makes the hatch go Honda

Civic duty: Honda's new Civic hatch will bring the fight to rivals like the Mazda 3, Ford Focus and Holden Cruze.

Civic finally gains a volume hatchback contender Down Under


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26 Jun 2012

HONDA is finally on a more even footing in the fiercely competitive small-car segment against rivals such as the Mazda 3 following the launch of the latest Civic hatch, ending more than six years with only a mainstream sedan.

Launched this week from $22,650 “to take up the fight in the small hatch market”, the ninth-generation five-door from Britain will sell alongside the American-inspired – though Japanese-built until Thai-produced cars come back on stream soon – four-door sedan released four months ago.

The entry model is $7340 cheaper than the outgoing sporty Si manual hatch that was more of a niche model.

Along with more favourable currency exchange rates and sharper negotiation tactics, Honda Australia achieved the lower pricing by taking a scalpel to the Si hatch’s standard specification list.

Consequently, while the base car includes six airbags and electronic stability control for a five-star ANCAP safety rating, as well as a hill-hold device, climate-control air-conditioning, alloy wheels and even tyre pressure sensors, buyers must choose the auto-only VTi-L to get cruise control.

The VTi-L also scores dual-zone climate-control, a reversing camera, leather upholstery, heated front seats, audio streaming, larger wheels, automatic headlights, fog lights and rain-sensing wipers.

However, integrated satellite-navigation is not available.

Nevertheless, Honda says the FK series Civic hatch features significant improvements in refinement, safety, efficiency, driveability and perceived quality, despite enclosing the small car stalwart in a similar – though more slippery at 0.30Cd – cab-forward silhouette as before.

With a one-box ‘monoform’ shape, hidden rear doorhandles and glassy rounded rump, the hatch’s styling is – like the chassis underneath – very much an evolution of the striking 2006 original, yet every body panel is new.

The nose has a blacked-out mask with bigger headlights, grille and bumper, the rocketship-shaped doorhandles are gone and the higher tail-lights are larger for a more “sophisticated” look in response to criticism from existing Civic owners, who also succeeded in getting a rear wiper at last.

Vision is improved thanks to lower rear hatch glass, thinner pillars and exterior mirrors with wider lenses.

There were also customer calls for improved ride and handling capabilities, noise suppression, performance, economy and environmental credentials, while retaining bold looks.

The new model is 30mm longer, 20mm lower and 10mm wider than before, but the wheelbase is 30mm shorter while front and rear tracks are quite a bit wider, so overall cabin volume is unaffected.

Driving the front wheels via either a revised six-speed manual or carryover five-speed auto is a redevelopment of the old model’s 1.8-litre single-cam 16-valve four-cylinder petrol engine with variable valve timing.

Now said to be significantly quieter and smoother, it delivers 104kW of power at 6500rpm (1kW and 200rpm more than before), and 174Nm of torque at 4300rpm (same output but at 100rpm less), thanks to changes to the intake system.

Fuel consumption and carbon dioxide emissions fall by around 10 per cent, resulting in a combined average rating of 6.1 litres per 100 kilometres (auto: 6.5L/100km) and 146 grams per kilometre (auto: 155g/km).

An ‘ECO Assist’ feature alters the speedometer’s colour illumination from blue to green according to how the driver is operating the accelerator and braking, encouraging more frugal habits.

The manual features a shift indicator for optimised gear changes and the driver can also press the ‘ECON’ button on the fascia to allow the car to select the thriftiest throttle, engine and air-con settings. Honda says the differences can be in the vicinity of 15 per cent.

New to the hatch is a Hill Start Assist function that holds the car for about a second after releasing the brake for smoother take-off on inclines.

While the sedan has a multi-link rear suspension, the hatch once again has a torsion beam rear axle to improve overall interior packaging and allow for the fitment of Jazz-like ‘Magic’ rear seats that fold down deep and flush with the cargo floor. With the fuel tank located under the front seats, no C-segment rival can match its versatility.

To quell vibration and noise transmission, the rear dampers feature fluid-filled compliance bushings, a technology borrowed from the Legend luxury car.

Honda has adopted electric power for the rack and pinion steering over hydraulic, with a more direct steering ratio.

The dashboard is angled more towards the driver, with a swoopier and more integrated design featuring sportier analogue dials.

Improved insulation materials cut road as well as wind noise intrusion, there is now a sound-insulating windscreen fitted, the window glass is thicker, and better seals are used.

Luggage capacity is between 400 and 1130 litres while kerb weights rise by about 30kg, with the VTi-S manual being the lightest at 1268kg.

Honda expects the hatch to add a few hundred units to the Civic sedan’s monthly sales tally, which was up 12.1 per cent to the end of May – double the segment growth – thanks to the arrival of the new sedan.

A 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine variant is on the cards for early next year, and will be a first in Australia for the Civic, which is approaching its 40th year on sale.

Honda Civic hatch pricing (plus on-roads):
Civic hatch VTi-S$22,650
Civic hatch VTi-S (a)$24,950
Civic hatch VTi-L (a)$29,990

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