The Honda Civic is a brilliant car, easily on a par with rivals such as the Ford Focus, Vauxhall Astra and VW Golf. Yet it is hamstrung slightly -- its limited range of engines forming a barrier to entry for some users. It has suffered particularly with a lack of small capacity diesels, but Honda is set to put this right with a new 1.6-litre diesel engine that promises high economy and low CO2 emissions.

Design

The Honda Civic 1.6 i-DTEC is largely identical to every other Civic in the range, but there are a couple of subtle physical tweaks that help remind you of the fact you're dealing with an i-DTEC diesel model. Chief among these is the active grille shutter that closes at high speed to improve aerodynamics and opens at lower speed to improve cooling. The vehicle also has a set of rear side strakes – vertical fins just ahead of the rear wheels – that direct airflow around the wheels, and side spoilers below the rear lights that help improve aerodynamics.

Like every other current Civic, this car does have a few design foibles. Visibility through the rear is reduced by a silly split-level hatch and very short or very tall drivers may find the speedo difficult to see because the steering wheel gets in the way.

Practicality

The Honda Civic 1.6 i-DTEC's practicality is identical to other models in the range. Rear head room is limited for 6-foot-tall passengers riding behind taller occupants up front, but the boot is massive, offering 477 litres with the seats up and 1,368 with them folded down -- more than any of its primary rivals. The rear seat cushions fold up, too, offering a convenient space for tall loads (think potted plants etc.). Up front, there's an ample number of well-shaped cubby holes to store gadgets, sweeties and the like.

Performance & Handling

The Honda Civic has always been blessed with good ride and handling and this 1.6 i-DTEC is no different. In fact, if anything, this version is a little better than the others in the range. According to Honda, it has a quicker steering gear ratio for a more precise, go-kart-like turn-in, has modified front suspension that provides better stability during cornering and the engine is 54kg lighter than the 2.2-litre lump, so it feels less front-heavy. In practice, this Civic feels agile, has steering at least as responsive as that of the larger 2.2-litre i-DTEC diesel and didn't feel prone to understeering when driven enthusiastically.

It felt plenty powerful enough. The 1.6-litre engine produces a very respectable 120PS, which is more than you get from the 1.6- and 1.6-litre engines in the Focus and Golf, respectively. Plus it is capable of churning out a very respectable 300Nm of torque, which means it catapults itself away from stop lights and out of low speed corners with aplomb. 0-60mph is a nippy 10.5 seconds and it'll hit 129mph flat out.

Economy & Environment

Where the Honda Civic 1.6 i-DTEC really shines is in its ability to deliver high economy and low CO2 emissions. Honda reckons it'll return a whopping 78.5mpg if driven sensibly, while emitting a mere 94g/km. Again, this compares very favourably with its rivals. There is one engine in the Ford Focus range that offers slightly better economy, but it provides nowhere near the same amount of power. It makes a mockery of the 1.6-litre engine in the Volkswagen Golf, too, delivering a superior blend of power and efficiency.

Equipment & Value

The new Civic 1.6 i-DTEC is available in several trim levels – SE, SE-T, ES, ES-T and EX. The entry-level ES, £19,400, comes fairly well-equipped with everything you'll need to get by, including LED day-running lights, four speakers, a CD/radio player with USB and aux-in and stop-start. The ES model, £20,595, adds rain-sensing auto wipers, dual-zone climate control, cruise control, a rear view parking camera and automatic lights. The SE-T and ES-T versions add a slightly idiosyncratic, but entirely functional sat-nav and Bluetooth to the SE and ES base packages, increasing each of their prices by £995. The EX model, £23,175, adds a DAB radio receiver, a subwoofer, and a sat-nav with maps loaded onto a hard disk drive (which can also be used to copy audio CDs onto).

The new Civic 1.6 i-DTEC also come with an active noise cancellation system. Like headphones sporting similar technology, it uses microphones to capture low-end rumble from the drivetrain, tyres etc. and creates a reverse phase audio signal that is played over the car's door speakers and subwoofer to reduce cabin rumble. According to Honda, the system allows for a 10dB reduction in low-frequency noise levels.

Safety

The Honda Civic has been awarded a 5-star Euro NCAP safety rating. The car uses Honda's Advanced Compatibility Engineering (ACE) body structure, which distributes crash energy more evenly throughout the front of the car in the event of an impact, helping reduce the forces transferred to the passenger compartment. This system is kinder to pedestrians, too, improving their chances of survival should you inadvertently run them over. The Honda Civic i-DTEC also comes with a full complement of airbags including front, side and full-length curtain airbags.

Verdict

The Honda Civic was always a solid, dependable car that was practical and fun to drive. It was only ever let down only by the lack of a super frugal, low emissions engine option. The 1.6 i-DTEC engine addresses this issue perfectly and allows the Civic to compete with and emerge superior to rivals such as the Ford Focus 1.6 TDCI and VW Golf S BlueMotion 1.6 TDI. It's more powerful, has more torque, has lower CO2 emissions and is cheaper to run, making it a hugely attractive proposition.

Key specs

Model tested: Honda Civic 1.6 i-DTE
Engine: 1.6-litre diesel (120PS)
Power: 118bhp
Torque: 300Nm
Acceleration: 0-60mph in 10.5 seconds
Top speed: 129mph
Economy: 78.5mpg
Emissions: 94g/km CO2
Price: £19,400

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