Johannesburg - Ten. That’s the number of station wagons there are in our price guide. The biggest purveyor of these family-mobiles is Mercedes-Benz, with the new C-Class Estate launched in SA a few weeks ago, and the E250 available with a bigger bum. Other than that, Audi has the Allroad and a few high-powered Avants with S4 and RS4 badges - and Honda has the subject of this road test, the new Civic Tourer.
Testing a wagon these days, then, is somewhat of a rare opportunity - and a quick-snap survey revealed many who don’t see the point of this body guise.
The thinking is that, just as video killed the radio star, the SUV killed the station wagon. Fair enough, SUVs tend to offer raised ride-heights, elevated driving positions, and greater proportions – but surely there’s still a market wanting the traditional sedan paired to the lugging room found in the wagon?
Perhaps the problem is that consumers picture wagons with a square-ish boot, and therefore boxy lines. Honda’s answer to the family man’s space-quandary is arrow-sleek and Amy Adams sexy.
The Civic Tourer is the third body style in the Civic range (after the hatch and sedan), and I’d say it’s also the best looking. Which is a bit of a surprise, as the Civic hatch gets proper go-faster pocket-rocket styling. Instead of just clumsily slapping a bigger boot on the hatch, it’s clear some time was spent in the design department here.
The result shows an extended roofline and unique rear and side spoilers (for less drag) – for a sportier, more wind-cheating overall shape.
The interior is typical Civic.
its layout is futuristic in terms of dials and a very-sporty seating position is just a few lever-pulls away. Honda has the whole split-level dash thing going on in the Civic, but unlike in certain Peugeots where this causes the rim of the wheel to block the dials, it’s pretty much perfect ergonomically here. Fit and finish-levels are top notch too; my only gripe was with the fuel-flap release switch – which is well-hidden in the foot-well (the petrol attendant thought it was hilarious that I needed the owner’s manual to open the tank).
Boot space, the real point of this car, is cavernous.
The Tourer’s body is 235mm longer than its siblings, gets the raised roofline I mentioned earlier, a rear seating system that folds and falls in various ways, and even has a special storage compartment for the loose tonneau cover after you’re dropped the seats. Also clever here is the rubber mat in the boot, with inserts that create little boxed storage areas, and can be adapted in tetris-like ways.
Honda quotes boot litreage of 573 with seats in place, and almost double that with seats folded – but it’s the higher roof and the flat-loading space (with seats down) that makes the Tourer so user-friendly.
It’s kid-friendly too, with a very comfy double-bed cum play-area possible back there (it would also make for the perfect picnic-mobile).
The sting in the tail comes in the Tourer’s lack of go to match the show.
Pulling this mobile warehouse around is Honda's familiar 1.8-litre 16v i-VTec powerplant, good for 104kW and 174Nm, mated (in this case) to a six-speed manual ‘box (five-speed auto with steering-wheel paddles is an option). As promising as it sounds on paper, this engine tends to get a little overwhelmed, lacking the ability for any real zest coming through front rubber. At altitude I’d safely add a second or two to the 9.5 second 0-100km/h sea-level claim.
The carmaker’s intentions are there, though, with the Civic Tourer the first production model to receive a rear adaptive-damping system – which adjusts firmness at the back depending on load and driving conditions. Throw in specific suspension modes (Comfort, Normal and Dynamic), an electric power steering recalibrated for driver feel, and tweaked body stiffness – and you have the makings of a spicy family hauler.
Sadly, all this makes very little difference.
In sixth gear the Tourer battles to hold the national speed limit up slight inclines; and requires more third-to-second gear changes in daily driving than it should. And I won’t even get into what it’s like in the Eco mode, or the blue/green indicators in the dash that encourage greener driving!
The manual ‘box, as in most Hondas, is superb, with crisp and solid-feeling changes. And the steering, even though electric, is a masterful piece of technology (it’s something the Korean manufacturers should use as the benchmark). The Tourer’s general ride quality is great too – in Comfort mode. Dynamic significantly hardens things up, which in a family wagon seems a little pointless.
Our test car returned 8.3 litres per 100km (versus the 6.7 claimed), which isn’t unreasonable – but the smallish 50 litre tank (it lives under the front seats for greater interior space) could limit a family’s travel plans.
It’s obvious really. Honda needs to jump on the force-fed powertrain bandwagon - soon. More gusto is all that’s required here to turn this R360 000 Civic Tourer into something special. Come on Honda, you race these Tourers in the British Touring Car Championship running two-litre turbos and pushing 225kW. Bolt that engine in here, slap on a few Type R badges, and we’re sorted. - Star Motoring
Honda Civic Tourer 1.8 Executive
Engine: 4-cyl, 1.8-litre petrol
Gearbox: 6-speed manual
Power: 104kW @ 6500rpm
Torque: 174Nm @ 4300rpm
0-100km/h (claimed): 9.5 seconds
Top speed (claimed): 210km/h
Consumption (measured): 8.3 l/100km
Price: R360 000
Warranty: 3-year/100 000km
Service plan: 5-year/90 000km
Audi A4 Allroad quattro 2.0T (165kW/350Nm) - R501 500
Mercedes-Benz C180 Estate (115kW/250Nm) - R448 626