Johannesburg - Last week’s road test of the Honda Civic Sport brought with it a really cool coincidence.
In the preceding weeks my wife and I had been looking for a good, solid used hatchback to replace her trusty old steed that was stolen on the first day of Level 3 lockdown. We eventually found a really neat second-generation Honda Jazz, which I firmly feel is the best-generation Jazz, and the week we took delivery coincided with the Civic Sport arriving in my driveway for a review. It's as if it was here to welcome home its older cousin.
The two cars really got me thinking of how Honda has evolved as a brand in recent times.
There’s no denying that the Japanese company produced brilliant cars through the eighties, nineties and noughties, but many feel that Honda lost its way in the last decade, with Consumer Reports and many other publications completely lambasting the 2012 Civic, due largely to its low-rent interior and lack of overall refinement. It was no surprise that the car got an early makeover. As the world was reeling from the Great Recession of 2008, it seems Honda had fallen prey to the cost-cutting bean counters. Which seems even sadder when you consider that Honda is one of the few companies that was founded by a genuine car enthusiast, none other than Soichiro Honda.
The latest-generation Honda Civic, as I’ve noted before, is a genuine return to glory for Honda, and unlike its predecessor, it's a car that Soichiro Honda would likely have been proud of.
This is particularly true in the case of the 1.5T Sport model, which comes with a sportier styling package (note how all the chrome you see on other versions makes way for gloss black trim) and it’s also got a relatively potent 1.5-litre turbopetrol engine, which is good for 127kW and 220Nm.
It’s not quite a GTI, but the force-fed 1.5 provides impressively brisk performance that’s befitting of the badge. It feels enjoyably rapid off the mark, and effortless on the open road and when overtaking. Consumption amounted to 8.4 litres per 100km in a mixture of urban and freeway driving.
Honda has fitted the vehicle with a continuously variable transmission, which is not a very sporty choice, but we must admit that by CVT standards, this gearbox - with its simulated ratios - doesn’t feel too bad. For the most part it feels like a conventional autobox. Turbo motors tend to work better with CVTs as the abundance of low-down torque prevents that droney, laboured acceleration that plagues many normally aspirated vehicles with continuously variable gearboxes.
All considered, the Civic 1.5T Sport is a very pleasant car to drive, and one that does well in balancing excitement with comfort.
Through fast corners, there is a sensation of almost unflappable agility, and the steering tells you exactly what’s happening at the wheels.
It’s refined too, the Civic feeling quiet and solid on the open road, and the ride quality is impressively comfortable on everyday surfaces.
Practicality is another box you can tick, thanks to the generous legroom for rear occupants, although those who are taller than average will wish for more headroom in the back. On the other hand, I didn’t appreciate the small boot aperture - surely this car would have worked better as a three-box hatchback?
Moving to the cockpit, last year’s mini-facelift brought with it a more user friendly interface.
In the original car all the infotainment functions were absorbed into the touchscreen - there wasn’t even a volume button, much to our dismay. The new model still has a touchscreen, but there’s now a volume knob next to it, while some of the other main menu functions, such as ‘Home’, ‘Audio’, ‘Tel’ and ‘Back’ have become buttons next to the 17.8cm screen. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration is now part of the deal too.
In spec terms, the Sport model comes equipped with leather seats, heated up front, as well as dual-zone climate control, reverse camera, keyless start and cruise control. You can also buy a 1.5T in ‘Executive’ flavour, which adds a whole suite of active safety features, including Lane Departure Warning, Forward Collision Warning and Adaptive Cruise Control with Low Speed Following.
The latest-generation Honda Civic has always been priced on the steep side and although rivals such as the Mazda3 and Toyota Corolla have largely caught up with their own exorbitant price increases (the 1.8 normally aspirated Civic no longer costs significantly more than its rivals) the Civic Sport that you want, with a 1.5T engine, requires an investment of R513 300.
Yes, the Civic does have a performance advantage over its normally aspirated rivals, but that price is still going to be a hard pill for prospective buyers to swallow.