By: Denis Droppa
Cape Town - The sedan version of the tenth-generation Honda Civic has arrived in South Africa armed with stand-out styling, class-leading space and greatly improved power, but it doesn’t come cheap.
Fresh from winning the North American Car of the Year title, the imported new four-door Civic arrives here with two engines and four levels of specification, supported by five-year/200 000km warranties and five-year/90 000km service plans. It will sell alongside the old-generation five-door hatchback Civic, with that car’s replacement due to be launched at next month’s Paris motor show.
The new four-door is a total reinvention, built on a new platform with major enhancements over the ninth-generation Civic particularly in styling, engine performance and cabin quality.
To paraphrase Star Trek, the new design boldly goes where the rather generic old car didn’t go before. A swoopy, coupe-like roofline and distinctive front and rear lights with daytime LEDs, means Honda’s new sedan certainly doesn’t suffer from anonymity syndrome. It has also grown larger to give it a generally more imposing presence.
The style comes with more sizzle, and Honda joins the petrol turbo party with a new 1.5-litre turbocharged four-cylinder VTEC engine that powers the two top models. Feisty outputs of 127kW and 220Nm are good for a claimed 0-100km/h sprint in a brisk 8.2 seconds, giving it the chops to compete with turbocharged rivals like the Opel Astra, Ford Focus and VW Jetta.
The old 1.8-litre normally-aspirated petrol engine is retained to power the two entry-level Civic versions. Outputs are the same as before at 104kW and 174Nm, but the 1.8’s fuel economy has improved to a claimed 6.3 litres per 100km (the new 1.5T sips a claimed 5.9 litres).
All versions are paired with the contentious continuously variable transmission (CVT), and a manual is no longer available.
Only the 1.5T versions were available to drive at last week’s media launch held in Cape Town and the turbo engine proved to be an enthusiastic performer, eager from the starting blocks and an easy cruiser. And, importantly, that lively nature won’t be sucked out of it by Gauteng’s high altitude - thanks to the joys of turbocharging.
The gearbox is much better than earlier CVTs and has programmed steps to give it a more natural driving feel, but under hard acceleration it still has the characteristic drone of a belt-driven transmission. Dual-clutch autos still feel better, though Honda has stuck with CVT because it claims better fuel economy.
Apart from the occasional drone the new Civic’s a refined drive, with minimal wind noise. The interior’s also a big improvement over the cheap-looking plasticky cabin of its predecessor. The dash, and most of the interior surfaces that humans come into contact with, are made of richer-feeling soft-touch plastics, and the upgraded interior ambience is inside a cabin that has grown substantially.
The new sedan is now as large as the first-generation Accord, giving it the roomiest interior in its segment and making for real family-sized seating space. With the Civic now swelled out to such voluminous proportions, Honda South Africa has discontinued the Accord.
Boot space in the Civic has grown to 430 litres, and that’s with a full-sized spare wheel.
The formerly split-level instrument display has reverted to a more traditional single unit, with a digital speedometer inside an analogue rev counter.
Infotainment’s handled by a large 7-inch touchscreen (on all models except for the baseline 1.8 Comfort which has a 5-inch audio display). Bluetooth and USB connectivity is part of the range-wide deal while the flagship 1.5T Executive also comes with navigation. This top-of-the-range derivative also comes with high-tech driving aids like adaptive cruise control and a lane-keeping assist. All versions have six airbags, stability control and ABS brakes in their standard safety repertoire.
Leather seats (heated in front) are standard on all but the entry-level model, and the steering wheel offers tilt and telescopic adjustment.
Good ride and handling
The previous Civic’s stand-out feature was its comfortable ride quality and this is retained in its successor, which has a lengthened wheelbase that makes it glide over bumps even more serenely.
Despite its growth spurt the new Civic’s slightly lighter than before and also more torsionally rigid, which has benefited its corner-carving abilities. The car zips through corners very efficiently, backed by a variable-ratio electric power steering that feels decently weighted. Driver over-eagerness is controlled by stability control integrated with a new Agile Handling Assist (AHA) feature which continually modulates brake and throttle inputs in small, imperceptible increments.
Which brings us to the contentious cost issue. Even accounting for having the largest cabin in its segment, the imported Civic sedan commands very high pricetags.
The 1.5 turbo versions cost R430 000 and R460 000 for the Sport and Executive respectively, which makes them over 100 grand more expensive than rivals like the Opel Astra 1.6T and Ford Focus 1.5T, and places the Hondas right into the price league of larger executive cars like the VW Passat. And that might be a hard-sell.
HONDA CIVIC SEDAN PRICES
1.8 Comfort CVT - R330 000
1.8 Elegance CVT - R370 000
1.5T Sport CVT - R430 000
1.5T Executive CVT - R460 000Star Motoring
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