This is a nose-to-tail, top-to-toe overhaul of the Honda Civic
. It’s much better to drive – close to class best in many ways – and sleeker with it. Yet the space of the old Civic has survived intact, if not perhaps its cabin versatility.
Most noticeably, it’s far lower than before, which makes it feel more lithe to drive. Lowering it has also reclined the passengers, so it’s longer.
The chassis now has a multi-link rear suspension so as to combine handling precision with better comfort. Adaptive dampers appear on upper-spec versions.
You’ve a choice of three petrol engines and one diesel. Two new petrol engines comprise a 1.0 three-cylinder turbo, making a healthy 129bhp. Want zestier performance? Pick the 1.5 four-cylinder turbo of 182bhp. You can have either of them with a new six-speed manual transmission, or a CVT automatic.
The diesel is a 118bhp/221lb ft option that adds about £1,300 to the 1.0 petrol, but compensates with a claimed 80mpg. You won’t reach that in the real world, but it’s a good base for reaching the 50s and 60s in more realistic conditions.
The final engine? The Civic Type R and its 316bhp 2.0-litre VTEC turbo. Spoiler alert (no pun intended): it’s Top Gear’s
2017 car of the year and one of the greatest hot hatches in recent history.
Exterior styling of all new Civics is busy with lines and angles. Huge pentagonal fake grilles dominate the front and rear corners. Sill and bumper extensions cling to the perimeter. Inside, you’re faced with a more logical and better-assembled dash than before. It’s still extrovertly styled compared with the German opposition though.
The old Civic’s famous ‘magic seat’, an upward-folding rear bench, has gone. It depended on the fuel tank being below the front seats, which is why the previous car ended up so tall. Now it’s in the conventional place below the fixed rear cushion. So you can’t have a footwell-to ceiling load space. On the other hand, that forward fuel tank always robbed rear passengers of foot space, so we’ll accept the trade.
It’s admirable that Honda fits a wide-ranging active safety suite to every single Civic model. That includes collision warning and auto city braking with pedestrian recognition, and active lane keeping. It uses the same cameras and radar for its cruise control, which doesn’t just adapt to the speed of the car in front, but also tries to predict when someone will cut in ahead of you and slows down more gently ahead of time. It’ll also change your speed as you pass limit signs. Blind-spot warning tech and a reversing camera come if you step up to the upper-middle trim.
is engineered with Europe very much in mind. But for the first time in several generations, the Civic sold here also sells with little modification in the Americas and Asia (they used to get their own very different cars.) In fact Swindon is only the factory in Honda’s worldwide network building the five-door version. It’s exported worldwide too. Good for Wiltshire.
Sitting lower than in the old Civic
, or indeed many rival hatches, makes you feel connected to the road. It’s not just an illusion; the Civic
traces a precise and quick-witted path to follow your orders.
The high-geared steering would feel nervous if the car’s actual reactions weren’t so progressive. It rolls less than most rival hatches, and just gets on with the job of steering round the arc you set. There’s not a lot of steering feel, but the general chassis confidence makes up for it. It copes well with mid-corner bumps too.
No surprise then that the ride is relatively taut, but it never gets harsh over small bumps, and on big intrusions it usually finds something in reserve. The adaptive damper system is nice to have, but not transformative.
The engines aren’t quite such a success. The 1.0 certainly has enough urge to get the car up hills, making a distinctive triple-cylinder chatter as it goes. But because it needs high boost to make its power and torque, there’s definite lag across the rev range, especially below 3,000rpm. Also the rev limit is just 5,600rpm, and we kept bouncing against it. Most unlike high-revving Honda engines of old.
The 1.5 will rev higher, to 6,500rpm, and lags less. Even so, you can’t help the feeling Honda pulled back on the tech. How much more responsive would it have been with VTEC and a twin-scroll turbo? (The VTEC Turbo badge is a dummy – there’s no VTEC here.) Still, let’s not bicker - for a relatively mainstream hatch, this is impressively lively. On boost it does 0-62 mph in the low-8-second range, depending on transmission and tyres.
The 1.6 diesel is good by small capacity diesel standards: smooth and quiet, if you keep it below 2,500rpm, but fairly loud and uncouth above that point. But its 221lb ft is so chunky that you can make perfectly brisk progress right at the bottom of the rev range, and it disappears into the background when you keep the revs low. It’s an easygoing engine, not an exciting one.
For excitement, you want the Type R. Beneath its abundant styling is one of the sharpest, most focused hot hatches in recent memory, though its adaptive suspension and new exhaust system make it really refined and comfy when you just want to get somewhere calmly. It’s a better all-rounder than before yet acts like a tarmac rally car when you press the right buttons and you’re in the mood. It’s brilliant.
The manual transmission in all Civics has a well-oiled notchy lever action and wisely chosen ratios. The optional CVT (on the sensible engines, obviously) is decently predictable in light driving. But if you press on, or take control using the paddles to choose between the seven virtual ratios, it slurs annoyingly.
On the inside
The main instrument cluster consists of a TFT screen with a half-moon tacho wrapping around a digital speedo and lots of selectable ancillary info. The graphics are clear enough if not especially beautiful. On either side are bar-graph fuel and temp gauges.
The main central touch screen measures seven inches on upper spec versions, and five on the lowest. The bigger one features Honda Connect, linking you to web-based apps and traffic, and enabling Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Response time and touch smoothness of the screen are first rate.
You can quickly adjust temperature with actual knobs on the dash, but if you want to redirect the air flow or change fan speed, you’re into the screen.
Lying below all that, the central spine of the Civic is vastly accommodating. A two-level tray holds a phone or three. A conduit takes a USB cable from the low-mounted slot to the upper-level tray. That’s thoughtful. This upper tray can also act as a wireless charger if your phone takes it. Behind that is a big armrest-cubby-cupholder setup with dozens of possible arrangements.
The back seat is fine for legroom, if tight for tall heads. Behind that, the boot is big anyway, and even deeper if you can live without the optional spare wheel. Instead of a rigid boot cover that’s a pain to store when you fold the seats, there’s a roller blind that brilliantly goes side to side. Rolled up, it’s little more than the size of a telescoping umbrella. Still some clever touches to admire then, even without those magic seats.
Outward vision isn’t great. Much of the apparent glass area in the rear three-quarters and back window is just glossy black paint. You’ll want the reversing camera.