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First drive: 2017 Honda Civic VTEC Turbo. Image by Honda.

First drive: 2017 Honda Civic VTEC Turbo
Can Honda force the MkX Civic into the leading bunch of C-segment hatchbacks?

   



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2017 Honda Civic VTEC Turbo

4 4 4 4 4

Money - that's what Honda thought the Civic desperately needed. Ploughing massive amounts of its resources (said to be a third of the company's entire R&D budget) into developing the all-new tenth-generation Civic, Honda hopes its legendary engineering prowess has come up with a Volkswagen Golf rival that is no longer languishing in the doldrums of this segment. And, on first acquaintance, Honda's financial gamble appears to have paid off handsomely, because this is an excellent addition to the serried ranks of brilliant mid-sized hatchbacks.

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: Honda Civic 1.5 VTEC Turbo Sport Plus
Pricing: from 18,235; 1.5 VTEC Turbo Sport Plus from 25,335
Engine: 1.5-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol
Transmission: front-wheel drive, six-speed manual
Body style: five-door hatchback
CO2 emissions: 133g/km (VED Band E, 130 annually if registered before April 1, 2017; 200 first 12 months, 140 annually thereafter if registered post-April 1, 2017)
Combined economy: 48.7mpg
Top speed: 137mph
0-62mph: 8.3 seconds
Power: 182hp at 5,500rpm
Torque: 240Nm at 1,900- to 5,000rpm

What's this?

The Honda Civic, a hatchback to which the word 'venerable' could easily be deployed. It has been around since 1972, making it two years older than Volkswagen's Golf, and in that time it has been popular, but never particularly exciting... save for the Type R versions, obviously. Moreover, generations eight (arrived 2005, looked like a spaceship made of triangles) and nine (arrived 2011, was basically a smoothed-off version of its immediate predecessor) lagged behind prevailing class standards.

There were a few reasons for that (the fuel tank under the front seats leaving occupants sitting too high, and petrol engines that were normally aspirated and starting to feel their age were but two bugbears), but the biggest issue was that the seventh-gen's advanced multilink rear suspension was junked in favour of a simpler torsion beam, said to solve the jiggly ride quality as well as offering packaging and cost benefits.

Problem was, it made those Civics very dull to drive in non-Type R guise. And so Honda's C-segment challenger slipped further and further away from the summit of its class, overtaken in quality by all manner of cars from Europe and - more worryingly for Honda - South Korea.

The solution, thought the Japanese firm, was to throw everything it had at the Civic MkX and hope for the best. Thus, here we have a car that's new from the ground up, bolstered by a simply enormous amount of R&D investment by Honda; enough for the company to say it's the 'largest single model development programme' in its history. The Civic sits on a fresh global car platform and (praise be!) it has independent, multilink rear suspension. It also has some weight trimmed out of the body-in-white and the suspension, and while that might not be enough to actually reduce the overall bulk of the car, it does its bit to reduce the centre-of-gravity. This teams up with the Honda's 20mm lower roofline, the fuel tank going back where it belongs (at the rear, allowing the front seats to sit 34mm closer to the ground than on the old model) and improved aerodynamics to promise a more sporting drive than its two immediate antecedents.

We also have new engines, which - at launch - won't include a diesel motor among their number. Fear not, the 1.6-litre i-DTEC lump will make an appearance in the Civic MkX, but for now there are just two petrol engines. Both are VTECs, which is familiar, but both also feature turbochargers, which is far less common for Honda. The top seller will be the charismatic 1.0-litre three-cylinder mill, which delivers a healthy output of 129hp from such a small capacity, backed up by 200Nm, and which is so well engineered that it doesn't require a balancer shaft, as many similar rival triples do.

What we're driving here is the 1.5-litre four-cylinder model, which has an EK9 Civic Type R-rivalling 182hp (that Honda legend only had 185hp, though it was a damn sight lighter than the current hatch) and 240Nm. Both of these powerplants drive the front wheels through a standard-fit six-speed manual gearbox, while there's a CVT automatic option that trims peak torque on both cars by 20Nm. Just a quick note on the CVT: it's one of the better examples we've tried, with simulated 'gears' reducing that tortured high-revs bellowing that's the hallmark of these transmissions, and it also responds pretty well to throttle inputs, but as it only improves fuel economy/emissions marginally on the 1.0 (it negatively affects them on the 1.5), it's up against a typically brilliant Honda manual gearbox and it costs around 1,400 to equip it, we'd advise you steer clear.

There are seven UK trims in all, although basic S (100 less than the next level up) is something of an oddity and Honda seemed keen to gloss over its presence on the price lists. So, the 1.0 is available in three specifications - SE, SR and then EX - while the 1.5 has its own grades that run Sport, Sport Plus and Prestige; the cheapest 1.5, by the way, is the 22,470 Sport manual. The Honda Sensing suite of driver assist safety systems is standard across the range, higher-grade models get Honda Connect infotainment with Garmin satnav and in essence the Civic can come loaded with equipment... but it isn't especially cheap in this class as a result. It therefore needs to drive well to justify its price tag.

How does it drive?

Just before we get onto the dynamics, we need to mention the looks. Personally speaking, we like the Civic MkX. It's considerably longer (+130mm) and wider (+30mm) than it was before, while it has that rakish and distinctive fastback profile. We also approve of a lot of the detailing, such as the big vent-like shapes in the front and rear bumpers, and the centre-exit exhausts on the 1.5 model. However, just from some finger-in-the-air barometers of general consensus (social media, fellow critics etc.), it would appear this is clearly not a car that will win universal appeal. We will conclude by saying it looks better in the metal than it does in pictures, while the interior is well bolted together, extremely spacious and ergonomically far superior to the MkIX's cabin, although it's not very adventurous in terms of design and it features a lot of charcoal/black plastics of fair to middling quality.

Thankfully, if you're a fan of Honda, the driving experience makes up for any mental wobbles you might have about the Civic's looks, interior finishing or list price. This is a superb car. It's appealing and peppy enough in 1.0-litre guise, but this 1.5 model is a gem that bodes extremely well for the full-on Type R model that's already in the pipeline for later this year. For a start, forget about the lowly revs (for a VTEC engine) at which peak power is made, as the Civic Turbo loves to spin up through its tacho without ever once sounding coarse or introducing vibrations into the cabin. And while it might lack the noticeable, hair-raising wail of VTECs of yore (or the frisson of excitement brought about by the 'higher-cam kick'), performance is meaningful and brisk.

The engine is mated to another cracking Honda manual shift, that's both a delight to operate and blessed with beautifully spaced ratios that make the most of the Civic's huge upswing in midrange grunt, courtesy of the turbocharger. This means the car is swift in a straight line, but then it will go and hold on to as much of its gathered velocity in the corners as is feasibly possible, thanks to a front-drive hatchback chassis that we reckon is up with the best in class. For instance, the turn-in is rapier-sharp and consistently precise, while grip levels are enormous; understeer requires ludicrous levels of provocation. The independently-sprung rear axle isn't particularly lively, granted, but it's not entirely inert either, and what with strong, nicely modulated brakes, rigid restraint of body roll and superb individual wheel control at all corners, it leads to an invigorating steer that's the match for any of the likes of the SEAT Leon, Peugeot 308, Mazda3 and Vauxhall Astra.

So it's such a shame the much-vaunted double-pinion steering lets the side down. For two disciplines out of three, it's very, very good, as it's incredibly direct to respond to inputs and it has smooth, consistent weighting. What it lacks is feel. It's too remote in telling you what the front tyres are up to and it doesn't fizz with information in your hands. True enough, we can't think of many competitor EPAS set-ups that are markedly better, but in stark contrast to the rest of the Honda's sparkling road-holding abilities the steering is the notable weak spot.

Nevertheless, what the Honda then does is win you over completely with its refinement. Stuffed to the gunwales with sound-deadening in the underfloor and engine bay/bulkhead areas, it's exquisitely quiet when cruising along and the ride quality is second to none in this segment. Furthermore, the wider track and longer wheelbase allows Honda to claim increased stability and we can confirm the Civic is rock-steady at motorway pace, feeling like a much larger and grander car in terms of its resistance to being knocked off line by bumps in the road or crosswinds, as well as requiring minimal steering inputs to stay on your chosen course. Overall, whatever the road and traffic conditions, the Civic is simply a lovely, lovely thing to travel in.

Verdict

The Honda Civic MkX is a bit pricey, the looks are going to split public opinion more easily than the Brexit campaign, and the interior lacks the finesse of anything from the Volkswagen Group, or even vehicles like the Astra, the 308 or the latest Hyundai i30. But due to its thoroughly civilised day-to-day driving manners and its invigorating chassis, plus a wealth of upmarket equipment, the tenth-gen Civic moves comfortably up into the higher echelons of the C-segment, because it's no longer just making up the numbers in the class. We really can't wait for the arrival of the Type R scorcher later in the year.

4 4 4 4 4 Exterior Design

3 3 3 3 3 Interior Ambience

4 4 4 4 4 Passenger Space

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Luggage Space

5 5 5 5 5 Safety

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Comfort

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Driving Dynamics

4 4 4 4 4 Powertrain


Matt Robinson - 3 Feb 2017



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2017 Honda Civic VTEC Turbo. Image by Honda.2017 Honda Civic VTEC Turbo. Image by Honda.2017 Honda Civic VTEC Turbo. Image by Honda.2017 Honda Civic VTEC Turbo. Image by Honda.2017 Honda Civic VTEC Turbo. Image by Honda.

2017 Honda Civic VTEC Turbo. Image by Honda.2017 Honda Civic VTEC Turbo. Image by Honda.2017 Honda Civic VTEC Turbo. Image by Honda.2017 Honda Civic VTEC Turbo. Image by Honda.2017 Honda Civic VTEC Turbo. Image by Honda.








 

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