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ROAD TEST: Honda Civic Hatch 1.8 Executive
Look in the catalogue of human wisdom under the section on aesthetics and you'll find all sorts of sayings like “don't judge a book by its cover” and that “beauty is not skin deep” and “in the eye of the beholder.”
Wise words indeed, but I found myself challenged to put them to practice when testing the new Honda Civic hatchback.
I'm struggling to make peace with the way it looks. Its predecessor might have looked like it was conceived under the influence of some strong wacky-backie, but at least it looked sporty in a stealth-fighter kind of way. Now it looks as if they've taken that design and churned it through a jelly mould.
From that big expanse of black plastic on the front end to those tail lights that look as if they've just been plucked onto the rear window like an afterthought, I think it looks both ugly and boring at the same time - which takes some doing. And I have yet to find someone who disagrees with me.
Thankfully you don't have to look at it once you're inside - and it is surprisingly beautiful in there. I remember dissing the Civic sedan a few months ago for its big expanse of bland, cheap-looking plastic inside, but the hatch has a completely different dashboard. It's centred towards the driver and impressed me with its sporty design and plush-looking, solidly-put-together surfaces. This is easily one of the best interiors in its class.
It gets even better once you hit the road. In fact, this car is an absolute joy to drive. Surprising, considering its 104kW/174Nm 1.8-litre naturally aspirated VTEC engine looks rather boring on paper. But in reality it's a free-revving gem. In fact it sounds so sweet, so rorty, in the upper reaches of the rev range that you almost feel compelled to wring its neck. And while it doesn't pull too badly at lower revs, in typical VTEC fashion the party is towards the red-line.
Look, this 1.8 is not fast by any stretch of the imagination, but it is certainly brisk enough for the average driver and it's one of those cars that proves that you don't need to go all that fast to enjoy your time behind the wheel.
Adding to the satisfaction is a slick and solid-feeling gearshift and a very direct and intuitive steering rack. Road holding is suitably agile, if nothing too special, and even the ride is quite comfortable. Sure, it has a rear torsion beam rather than the fully independent suspension that you get at the back end of the Civic sedan - but if the latter's ride quality is downright excellent, then the lesser-endowed hatch is simply 'very good'.
Sized well enough to serve as family transportation, the Civic hatch boasts generous rear legroom and a big boot (477 litres), but the only blemish is tight rear headroom. The 1.8 Executive model I test drove comes packed with bells and whistles, including leather seats (heated up front), cruise control, rear-view camera and automatic climate control.
Pricing is quite steep at R270 000 for the six-speed manual model but it is a far better deal than the 2.2 turbodiesel, which has an absolutely ludicrous asking price of R343 800.
If you can get your head around the styling (who knows, you may even like it) and if you can get past the fact that it's a bit pricey for a naturally aspirated 1.8, the Civic hatch could prove to be a very satisfying car. I just wish they would make a hatchback version of the Civic sedan, with this car's interior…
Honda Civic Hatch 1.8 Executive (104kW) - R270 000
BMW 116i 5-door (100kW) - R274 026
Ford Focus hatch 2.0 Sport (125kW) - R279 200
Hyundai i30 1.8 GLS (110kW) - R249 900
Peugeot 308 1.6T Active (115kW) - R265 900
Renault Megane 1.4 TCe GT Line (96kW) - R249 900
VW Golf 1.4 TSI Comfortline (90kW) - R257 000