Johannesburg - It was a giant leap for Civic-kind when the latest generation of Honda’s Corolla-rivalling sedan first landed here in 2016. Sporting a far more striking design than its most recent predecessors, along with a decent increase in size and sophistication, the Civic really appeared to be reaching for the stars.

And yet sales have been slow since day one, something we’d put down to price, with the range having cost between R330 000 and R460 000 at launch, which was a great deal of money for a C sedan three years ago, and still is for that matter.

But now it’s time to revisit the Civic, which has just been given a midlife makeover that includes a subtle facelift and a few noteworthy ergonomic enhancements inside. It’s still quite expensive, costing between R364 500 and R507 600, but to be fair, prices have increased below inflation, at around 10 percent over three years, while its key rival the Mazda3 has become a lot more expensive in its latest generation.

Still, the Civic Sport on test here, at R474 700 as the second best equipped car in the range, is still a few thousand more than even the Mazda3 2.0 Astina flagship. The Honda is, however, 25 grand cheaper than the Audi A3 35 TFSI S Line - although the latter is admittedly classified as a premium brand vehicle.

So what’s new for 2019?

You won’t notice the exterior changes very easily but they do include a redesigned front grille, a retouched bumper featuring a more three-dimensional look as well as new chrome detailing on the rear of the car.

On the inside, Honda has addressed a few ergonomic bugbears. 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. All in all, the system is now a lot more user friendly, while Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration is now part of the deal too.

Beneath the skin, Honda has made a few improvements to the noise insulation package, but there are no mechanical changes to speak of in 2019, the Civic soldiering on with the familiar normally aspirated 1.8-litre engine (104kW/174Nm) and turbocharged 1.5-litre unit (127kW/220Nm). 

The force-fed 1.5, fitted to the Sport that's on test here, 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 doesn’t feel too bad and for the most part it feels like a conventional autobox and avoids being too droney. Still, considering the premium price tag, Honda might have been better off just investing in a dual-clutch gearbox, which would have had a more responsive and engaging feel to it.

All considered though, the Civic 1.5T Sport is a very pleasant car to drive, and one that does well in balancing sporty and comfy.

Through fast corners, there is a sensation of almost unflappable agility, and the steering tells you exactly what’s happening at the wheels. What’s more it feels quiet and refined on the open road, and the ride quality is impressively comfortable on everyday surfaces. It’s a practical car too, with generous legroom for rear occupants, although those who are taller than average will wish for more headroom in the back.

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. Externally, it’s told apart by a piano black grille and a boot spoiler.

Oh, and 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.

VERDICT

The latest Honda Civic 1.5T Sport is a highly desirable sedan that’s both sporty and sophisticated, but the price tag of R470 000 is going to be a hard pill for many buyers to swallow. It’s still well worth a test drive though.

IOL Motoring