Ryan Bubear samples the new Honda Civic Sedan 1.8 Executive 4-dr Auto.
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With hindsight, it's rather easy to point out that the Civic was a massively important model for Honda when it was launched way back in the early '70s. But back then, the Japanese manufacturer probably didn't realise just how significant this compact car would become as it evolved over the years.
You see, the Civic has turned into something of a cornerstone for Honda SA. And that makes the success of this latest incarnation — the ninth generation — all the more crucial.
Thanks to supply problems caused by natural disasters in Japan and Thailand, new Civics in South Africa have been pretty hard to come by of late. But now this latest version has arrived on our shores to pick up the slack.
Change... as good as a holiday
So, what's changed? Well, cosmetic alterations are relatively minor, as are changes to the drivetrain. But, significantly, the Civic sedan is now also available with a 92kW 1.6-litre powerplant, in addition to the familiar 1.8-litre already in the range. Honda engineers have tinkered with both of these engines to provide a smidgen more power and a dash less nasty emissions. Job well done, then.
The new Civic sedan is actually smaller than its predecessor, but still a fair bit larger than its South Africa-specific sibling, the Ballade (badged as the Honda City in other markets). Interestingly, the Ballade is actually taller than the Civic, which goes to show that the latter sits rather low for a car its size.
This low, wide stance is immediately noticeable when first laying eyes on the Civic, and adds to what is rather a pleasantly slippery shape, all in the name of aerodynamics. A long, raking windscreen, wraparound headlights and an angular front spoiler evoke images of the Civic's larger brother, the Accord. Our test car rolled up on understated 16-inch alloys.
The Civic sedan is offered in three trims levels (Honda customers will recognise the Comfort, Elegance and Executive tags), and of course with either the 1.6- or 1.8-litre heart, in either automatic or five-speed manual guise. This means that there is a fair amount of choice, with the entry-level model in manual priced below R210 000, and the range-topping automatic going for nearly R283 000. All models are covered by a standard three-year or 100 000km warranty, and a five-year or 90 000km service plan.
For the record, a five-door hatch is expected to arrive late in 2012, with a Type R rumoured to be hot on its tail. With bated breath we wait...
i-VTEC just kicked in
We had the flagship sedan on test: a 1.8 i-VTEC with a five-speed auto 'box. The engine is sprightly, churning out 104kW at 6500rpm and 174Nm at 4300rpm, and shunts the relatively light Civic along quite effectively. Honda says that this model is seven percent lighter than its predecessor, and combined with a small boost in power, this means that the 1.8 is no slouch, hitting 100km/h from standstill in about 10.7 seconds. Not greased lightning by any stretch of the imagination, but more than sufficient for a five-door sedan in this segment.
The torque-converter automatic gearbox is relatively smooth, but as is the case with so many self-shifters, often takes just that fraction too long to respond. But those seeking an added sensation of sportiness should bear in mind that the 1.8 auto in Executive trim comes with paddle-shifts as standard. And while I've never really been a fan of these on anything other than a supercar, they definitely increase the feeling of involvement.
Honda quotes a combined fuel consumption figure on this particular model as 6.6 litres per 100km, but after a week of real-world driving, my final figure sat closer to 7.6. An "Eco Assist" function — basically a system that attempts to school the driver in the dark art of fuel efficiency, and similar to systems found in Honda's latest hybrids — comes standard in the Civic in a bid to help you keep the 50-litre tank from hitting the dreaded empty point too soon.
The Civic handles the bends fairly respectively and is certainly stable around corners — not that one would expect to see a car in this class being thrown around a track. The ride is really rather comfortable, and together with the auto 'box, this allows you to waft along swiftly, yet calmly. In fact, it is quite a relaxing car to drive all-round.
From inside, visibility is excellent and the standard leather seats are comfortable, their light grey hue a refreshing change from the black interiors common to so many vehicles nowadays. In fact, this light colour adds to feeling of spaciousness in the cabin, which is pretty well-equipped on the range-topper. A multifunctional steering wheel, climate control and cruise control/speed limiter are all standard, as are automatic lights and wipers, Bluetooth, and CD player with iPod/USB connection points.
The only thing that is missing, even on the range-topper, is some sort of parking aid. No essential, of course, but definitely useful when backing up a sedan of moderate length.
The instrument panel retains the two-tier layout from the previous model, and an easy-to-read digital speedometer does duty on the top level. It's the next best thing to a heads-up display, and makes monitoring the vehicle's speed far easier, meaning you have more time to keep your eyes exactly where they should be: on the road. The dashboard is angled towards the driver (creating a sort of mini cockpit), meaning all controls are well within reach and instrument panels clearly visible. Simple, logical stuff from Honda, and it really makes a difference.
In addition to the two levels mentioned above, a third display does duty in the centre of the dash. This features more vehicle and audio information, and users can even upload their own wallpaper.
Luggage space is increased to 440 litres, and the deep boot is made all the more useful thanks to a low lip. Of course, as is customary these days, the rear seats fold down to boost space even further. Space on the rear bench would suit the needs of a small family well, with enough room for two or three whippersnappers. Six-footers, though, would struggle in terms of headroom. But if your toddlers are six-feet-tall, you have other things to worry about...
Overall, the new Civic feels like a compact car to drive, but has all the space and comfort of a large sedan. Lay eyes on one in an empty parking lot — with no other vehicles around to compare it to — and you'll probably find yourself struggling to decide whether it is indeed compact or not.
This ninth incarnation of the Civic faces plenty of strong competition from a number of other established players in what has become a jam-packed segment. Can it hold its own? By not making drastic changes to the outgoing model — and taking more of an add-what-was-missing kind of approach, while also reducing its size and weight — Honda seems to have high hopes that it can do just that.
And I don't blame them.
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Click through to page 2 for specs and pricing.