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First drive: Honda launches Prius-fighting Civic diesel

The good oil: Civic’s 1.6-litre engine makes it the most economical choice in the Japanese car-maker’s line-up.

Forget hybrid tech, Honda’s most economical model Down Under is a Civic diesel

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Honda logo16 Apr 2013

HONDA’S most fuel-efficient model yet in Australia is now on sale – and it doesn’t even wear a hybrid badge.

The Civic ‘DTi-S’ diesel, based on the British-built hatchback, is priced from $26,990 plus on-road costs, a $1500 premium to the mid-specification Civic VTi-L it closely matches on equipment.

However, it is fuel economy that will have most buyers interested.

Officially, the Civic diesel will sip just 4.0 litres per 100 kilometres on the combined cycle, bettering a long list of mostly more expensive petrol-electric rivals.

This includes Honda’s own Insight hatch (from $29,990 and using 4.3L/100km), the city-friendly Jazz hybrid (from $22,990 and using 4.5L/100km) and Civic Hybrid sedan (from $35,990 and 4.4L/100km), and almost matching Toyota’s environmental hero, the Prius (from $33,990 and using 3.9L/100km).

Emissions for the Civic diesel are rated at 105 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometre. This beats the smaller Jazz hybrid by two grams, but is not quite as good as either the Civic hybrid or Insight.

The Prius, though, officially emits only 89g/km, trumping them all.

Power comes from a 1.6-litre turbo-diesel four-cylinder ‘Earth Dreams Technology’ engine developing only 88kW of power fairly high in the rev range, but a V6-rivalling 300Nm of pulling power from just off idle.

It includes a stop-start system that can switch off the engine while the Civic is halted in traffic, and automatically restart it as the driver lifts a foot off the brake.

To drive the economy message home, Honda has included a series of lights around the speedometer that glow green while the Civic is driven economically, changing to blue when the driver gets more aggressive with the throttle.

An ‘ECON’ button helps save even more fuel by making the accelerator pedal a lot more doughy and smoothing out the engine’s run through the torque curve.

There’s a catch, though. While the Civic diesel’s hybrid rivals use automatic gearboxes to help them along, Civic owners will need to shift cogs themselves via a new-generation six-speed manual gearbox.

Honda says the new gearbox is much lighter than the previous generation of DIY transmissions.

However, at 1373kg the Civic diesel still takes the mantle as heaviest variant in the hatchback line-up.

Standard equipment includes automatic headlights and wipers, dual-zone climate-control air-conditioning, Bluetooth phone connectivity, six-speaker audio with USB and auxiliary inputs, a reversing camera, a hill-hold function that stops the Civic rolling back on a slope and a tyre pressure monitor that alerts the driver if one starts to go flat.

Also included are 17-inch alloy wheels with a space-saver spare, foglights, LED daytime running lights, LED tail-lights, cruise control with a speed limiter and leather-trimmed steering wheel and gearlever boot.

Honda has also opted to ensure drivers do not mistakenly try and sink a tank full of petrol into the oil-burning Civic by mistake, with a cap-less “misfuel inhibitor device” that will not accept the nozzle of a petrol pump.

For the first time, too, the Civic gains an “active noise cancellation system” that feeds sound into the cabin via the stereo system’s speakers to mute unwanted noise.

Honda first introduced the system to the Legend large car, before rolling into the Accord range, and now the Civic.

The diesel version of the Civic hatch also introduces some engineering changes.

The most noticeable of these are more pronounced strakes at the front and rear of the car, which help to make the Civic more slippery through the air.

Meanwhile, the extra weight of the diesel drivetrain means the front suspension has been beefed up to improve road-holding.

Safety remains at six airbags and a top five-star crash rating from the independent NCAP regime, although Honda is still tight-lipped on when the Civic and other Australian-delivered models are likely to get access to a newly developed system that can automatically brake a car in the event of a rear-end crash.

Honda Civic Hatch pricing*
VTi-S $20,640
VTi-S (a)$22,950
VTi-L (a) $25,490
DTi-S $26,990
VTi-L Navi (a) $29,590
*Excludes on-road costs

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