ROAD TEST: Honda Civic 1.8 Executive
Reaction to the Civic’s smaller brother, the ‘reincarnated’ Honda Ballade, has been a bit on the lukewarm side. It’s smaller than most of previous Ballades and it doesn’t quite have that sporty spirit that fans expect from the nameplate.
Well, for starters, the new Ballade is not actually a Ballade - it’s a rebadged Honda City, which is based on the Honda Jazz. Mind you, the old Ballades (barring the first one) were not actually Ballades either - they were Civics. So the new ninth-generation Civic that you see here is really the new Ballade.
Not that this latest Corolla rival is going to have previous Ballade owners tripping each other up to get to the showroom floor, but it’s unlikely that anybody who drives it is going to argue that it’s not a worthy successor.
Hold onto that thought for a minute.
When I took delivery of a 1.8 Executive sedan I was expecting nothing but a week of mindless, humdrum commuting.
Stepping inside, I’m greeted by this big, hard mass of grey plastic. From the helm it follows the same theme as the Civic before it, complete with split-level instrumentation, but they seem to have toned that design down a bit and made it look more dreary and clinical than futuristic and exciting. It’s enough to put a person to sleep.
But, as I alluded to earlier, drive the new Civic in a hurry and it really comes alive. It’s not as peaky as earlier VTEC engines, as there is a fair helping of oomph in the lower rev range, but stomp the pedal and it’s both satisfyingly quick and sweet sounding.
It’s a pleasure to wring its free-revving neck.
It feels quicker than its rather modest quoted outputs - 104kW at 6500rpm and 174Nm at 4300rpm - would suggest. Against our clock at Gerotek in Gauteng, it sprinted from 0-100km/h in a reasonable 11 seconds.
If there is one gripe, Honda could have added a sixth gear ratio to aid highway cruising. However, the gearbox itself has a very slick and solid feel and the short-throw joystick-like lever is a joy to operate.
Honda has also done its homework on the chassis, which boasts a fully independent rear suspension to put it up there with the best in its class. While the handling is as agile as you’d expect from a car of this nature, the ride quality is notably cushy. This and the well-insulated cabin make it feel like a far larger luxury car.
BLAND GREY SUIT
Not that the Civic sedan is small inside. There’s plenty of stretching space for those in the back - once again mimicking a larger car. And, besides the grey sky blandness that I mentioned earlier, everything from the driver’s position works well from an ergonomic and comfort point of view.
Just a pity about the design and that colour scheme seemingly designed to match a bland gray suit.
Thankfully, a different team appears to have worked on the exterior design - for the most part at least. While not something to stand apart in a crowded parking lot, the Civic sedan is easy on the eye. The front has a purposeful and chiselled look about it and the side is elegant, if a little generic. Only weak link is the rear end, which looks like it was penned in the middle of a yawn.
Note to Honda - add a lot more polish to the interior, a little more zing to the exterior and a few ponies under the bonnet and the new Civic could be a true mini-Accord.
It’s surprisingly satisfying to drive, but it’s also up against some stiff competition at this end of the market. If you’re spending this kind of money, the 118kW VW Jetta TSI seems a better buy, while the Hyundai Elantra 1.8 GLS will provide most of what you get in the Honda for a good 40 grand less.
Honda Civic 1.8 Executive (104kW) – R269 900
Chevrolet Cruze 1.8 LT (104kW) – R266 500
Ford Focus 2.0 Trend P-shift 4dr (125kW) – R271 360
Hyundai Elantra 1.8 GLS (110kW) – R229 900
Kia Cerato 2.0 SX (115kW) – R213 995
Mazda3 2.0 Individual (110kW) – R289 420
Renault Fluence 2.0 Privilege (105kW) – R249 900
Toyota Corolla 2.0 Exclusive (102kW) – R269 500
VW Jetta 1.4 TSI Highline (118kW) – R274 500