By: Jason Woosey
Johannesburg - I think it’s fair to say that the last few generations of Honda’s Civic sedan have been friend-zoned by many potential buyers who are of the car-loving variety. It was that car that lurked shyly in the corner of the showroom, gaining a few approving nods for its quality and durability, but no one ever stopped in their tracks and blurted “wow, I have to have one of those”.
Striking design, turbo power
Forgive me for stating the obvious, but Honda wants all that to change with the latest generation Civic. With its wing-themed frontal design, coupè-mimicking sloping tail and boomerang rear lights that aggressively claw their way into the boot lip, it’s easily the most striking car in its class right now.
Order it with the new 1.5-litre turbo Vtec engine and it’s also the most powerful Civic sedan ever sold in South Africa. With 127kW and 220Nm on tap, it’s not exactly in Type R territory but it is a good rung above the average Corolla-segment sedan.
Elephant in the room
Yet before I elaborate on any of that, there is an elephant to tackle in this room. The cheapest of the turbo-powered Civics is the Sport model on test here and it costs an eye-watering R430 000. Look, it’s no secret that car prices are rising even quicker than allegations of shady transactions mount against the Guptas, but this Honda is dipping its toes in premium German territory here. Has the Civic suddenly gone from quiet nerd to overrated jock? Or is it really worth all that money?
A colleague challenged me on the pricing issue, asking if I’d still call it overpriced if it had an Accord badge on the boot lid. Fair point. Honda has alluded that it partially replaces the larger sedan locally since it no longer imports the US-market Accord. The new Civic is also a good 109mm longer than its predecessor, and 44cm longer than a Corolla for that matter. But it’s still positioned against Corolla and buddies overseas, meaning it would probably be a stretch to say it’s graduated to the class above.
Nice engine, pity about the CVT
As mentioned, the 1.5T is at a slightly higher station performance wise, while a reasonably low kerb weight of 1293kg certainly works in its favour. As a result performance is quite effortless, if a touch laggy off the mark. Economy was not bad either, our car drinking 8.4 l/100km in a combination of urban and highway driving.
But now I have to drop that CVT bombshell on you. Look, this continuously variable transmission is a lot less droney and annoying than earlier CVTs and it’s pleasantly smooth too. On top of that, I do understand that this type of gearbox makes sense from a cost and efficiency point of view. Yet given this vehicle’s premium and sporty positioning, I can’t shake off the feeling that a good double-clutch gearbox like the ones the Germans make these days would be far better suited to this car. The Civic’s powertain simply can’t match those rivals for responsiveness. Come to think of it, one of Honda’s lovely manual gearboxes would not go amiss in this car either.
I was otherwise quite smitten by the way this new Civic drives. Chuck it into a corner at speed and you feel this sensation of almost unflappable agility, and the steering tells you exactly what’s happening at the wheels. On top of that, the ride quality is supremely comfortable. Honda clearly did well to invest in multi-link rear suspension. The Civic is well insulated from road noise too.
Smart, comfy cabin
All of this conspires to make you feel like you’re in a relatively premium product and for the most part the interior materials live up to their end of the bargain. There are some high-tech vibes too, with a digital LCD instrument cluster that performs a rather theatrical lighting show for you every time you hit the start button.
Your central command centre is an 18cm touchscreen, which works much like a tablet and pairing my smart-phone with it was a quick and easy experience. What’s more, the infotainment system has thankfully avoided the temptation of gobbling up all the buttons and dials. Well, mostly. The main ventilation dials are still there, but the volume button has been replaced by a frustratingly clunky touchscreen mechanism. It does make up for that to some degree with a strange ribbed contraption on the steering wheel, which you rub your thumb across.
The Sport model featured here is hedonistically equipped, with elegantly stitched leather seats, heated up front, as well as dual-zone climate control, reverse camera, keyless start and cruise control. Externally you can tell it apart by its piano black grille (other models have chrome) and a boot spoiler.
The range topping 1.5T Executive adds satnav and a whole suite of active safety features, including Lane Departure Warning, Forward Collision Warning and Adaptive Cruise Control with Low Speed Following.
As for practicality, the Civic’s cabin is quite spacious, thanks to those increased dimensions, and rear legroom is ample, but that racy roofline will make headroom a problem for those that are taller than average.
Honda’s Civic sedan has finally found its mojo and as a result it’s unlikely to be friend-zoned by more enthusiastic buyers. Sadly, it’s also playing hard to get with that R430 000 price tag.
Honda Civic sedan 1.5T Sport
Engine: 1.5-litre, 4-cylinder turbopetrol
Power: 127kW @ 5500rpm
Torque: 220Nm @ 1700 - 5500rpm
0-100km/h (claimed): 8.2 seconds
Top speed (claimed): 200km/h
Price: R430 000
Warranty: 5-year / 200 000km
Service plan: 5-year / 90 000km
Audi A3 sedan 1.8 TFSI SE auto - 132kW/250Nm - R462 500
Ford Focus sedan 1.5T Trend auto - 132kW/240Nm - R318 800
Volkswagen Jetta 1.4 TSI Highline - 110kW/250Nm - R375 700