Honda says the new Civic is cleverer, sportier and more refined than its predecessor. Chris Pickering takes to the roads of Catalonia to put it to the test...
The new Civic is a big deal for Honda. This tenth-generation model is said to be the result of the largest single development programme in the brand’s 70-odd year history. That’s quite a statement from a company that’s legendarily fanatical about its engineering.
So what’s new? In short, everything. The biggest news, however, is a new family of turbocharged petrol engines in place of the old naturally aspirated units. There are just two at present; a 1-litre 129 PS three-cylinder and a 1.5-litre 182 PS four-cylinder. A hotter Type R version will be on its way later in the year, along with a 1.6-litre diesel.
Visually, it’s certainly different to the outgoing Civic. In the UK we’ll only get the five-door model and it’s a curious blend of traditional hatchback and small-saloon. From some angles this gives the impression that the rear portion of the car was designed by a different person to the front, but it’s not without reason. The new silhouette contributes to the lowest drag co-efficient in its class, not to mention much-improved head and leg room in back. It also retains the Civic’s class-leading boot space, now up to 478 litres, with a low, wide aperture for loading and 60:40 split folding seats.
In the front you now get a 7-inch colour display in place of the traditional analogue gauges. This doubles as the display for a host of other functions, including sat nav directions, SMS messages and emails, which you can scroll through using a steering wheel-mounted thumbpad. There’s also a 7-inch touchscreen display in the centre console that handles the infotainment functions, including internet connectivity via the latest versions of Apple Car Play and Android Auto. It’s not the slickest system out there, but it is reasonably intuitive to use, and it’s included on all models at no extra cost.
To find out what the new Civic is like to drive we took to the stunning roads around Barcelona, starting with the 1-litre triple. Not so long ago the idea of a 1-litre engine in a car the size of the Civic would have been sniffed at, but the torquey, responsive little unit actually provides more urge at low-revs than the outgoing 1.8. As a result, it’s got more than enough grunt for motorway cruising and trips around town. It sounds good too, and returns a claimed 58.9 mpg and 110 g/km in 6-speed manual form.
The larger four-cylinder engine is appreciably smoother and somewhat quieter. Like the triple it responds well right across the range, but it’s keener to rev and the extra 50-odd horsepower soon makes its presence felt. Predictably, though, it will cost you more to run, returning 48.7 mpg and 133 g/km in the base-spec manual.
For those who have a particularly extreme aversion to changing gear there’s also a constantly variable transmission (CVT) option. On the whole this does a fairly reasonable job of imitating a conventional automatic. Seven simulated gears provide steps in the power delivery – and even a manual mode, should you wish – but you never quite escape the slurring sensation of a CVT and it stifles the engine’s responses. Our advice would be to go for the manual; it shifts sweetly and makes the whole powertrain feel that little bit more alert.
Honda has gone to great lengths to make the 2017 Civic a more engaging drive. There’s a new multi-link rear suspension system, not to mention a significant increase in structural stiffness. The end result is really quite impressive. For starters, it rides well, particularly on the regular passive dampers. Higher spec models come with adaptive suspension, which is perhaps a touch firmer in Normal mode, but still rides better than most of its competitors. Switch to Sport mode and the body control improves further without sacrificing too much in the way of comfort.
Throw it into a corner and the Civic feels agile, aided by a variable-rate steering system, similar to that found in the NSX supercar. These systems haven’t always been universally popular, but Honda appears to have cracked it lately. True, it’s not the last word in feedback, but it’s no worse than any of its competitors in that regard. More importantly, the variable rate rack feels totally natural and it means you rarely need to take your hands off the wheel, even for the tightest of corners.
There’s also an underlying sense of composure to the Civic chassis, which seems to calmly soak up everything from motorway driving to the twisty Spanish B-roads of our test route. It’s not an overtly sporting car by any means – that’ll be left to the forthcoming Type R – but there is some genuine fun to be had here already.
Ranging from £18,235 to £27,480, the Civic is priced closer to the Volkswagen Golf than the Ford Focus or the Vauxhall Astra. Crucially, though, it has the space, the dynamics and the refinement to compete, plus strong residuals and plenty of standard kit. Even the entry level S model comes with sat nav and real-time traffic updates, heated front seats and smartphone connectivity. If you’re in the market for a mid-sized hatch it’s definitely one to watch.