The Honda Civic has, in one form or another, been around for over four decades — and for good reason. It’s always been an affordable, reliable car that’s very well suited to just about everybody with a pulse.
Honda isn’t content to sit on its laurels and allow the Civic to trade on its reputation, however. It’s introduced an all new model for 2012 that will boldly challlenge its rivals in what is a very busy segment. The new Civic offer a host of improvements over its predecessors that helps it swing toe to toe against the likes of the Ford Focus, Vauxhall Astra and VW Golf.
The model tested here is the £26,850 Honda Civic 2.2-litre i-DTEC diesel manual.
If, like us, you’re a fan of the previous generation Civic, then you may not be too happy with the design of this new car. It retains its predecessor’s sporty wedge profile, but the new car sports a far busier design that isn’t particularly cohesive. We take particular offense to the face of the car, whose metal bumpers are inexplicably interrupted by a quite ugly plastic section.
The new civic is roughly the same size as its primary rivals in this segment, but rear headroom is a little cramped for anyone approaching the 6ft mark. That said, it offers lots of storage space for cargo. Its boot will accommodate 467 litres with the seats up, and 1,368 litres with the seats down, which is more than a Ford Focus, Vauxhall Astra, Peugeot 308 or Volkswagen Golf. This space is very usable, too. The seats fold completely flat, which is great for ferrying flat packed furniture, its doors open wide for easy access, and the rear cushions even fold up, giving you lots of room to carry awkward loads. Up front, you’ll find plenty of cubby holes to stash gadgets, loose change and confectionery to keep your mouth occupied on long road trips.
Performance & handling
The Civic is a joy to drive. New suspension components, including fluid-filled suspension bushes, help it soak up imperfections in the road more effectively than the previous model, and its steering is light, which makes it easy to waft around town. Like previous Civics, the car has a somewhat annoying rear spoiler, which ruins rear visibility, so reversing into spaces is trickier than it should be.
The Civic handles well at speed. It’s exceptionally agile, so those who like the occasional backstreet hoon will certainly enjoy chucking it about. That said, its ultra-light steering, which is such a bonus around town, feels a bit over-assisted at high speed, which can make the car feel a bit twitchy. Overall, we’d say the Ford Focus handles better, but the new Civic makes a great account of itself.
Economy & environment
The 2.2-litre diesel engine in the new Civic is a real gem. It churns out 150bhp and 350Nm of torque, so it’s very willing to accellerate if you even so much as look at the accelerator. It’s also relatively efficient, returning 64.2mpg on the combined cycle and emits 115g/km of CO2.
Curiously, no Ford Focus offers as compelling a combination of figures. There are more efficient models (the 1.6-litre Duratorq TDCI 95ps delivers 67.3mpg) but this engine doesn’t feel as meaty as the diesel used in the Civic. The Golf BlueMotion 1.6, meanwhile, has better economy and lower emissions that exempt it from road tax, but the Civic’s 2.2-litre engine still makes a compelling case for itself.
Equipment & value
The Civic comes in six different equipment grades. The basic car, the SE, comes with luxuries such as LED day-running lights, USB and auxiliary music inputs and a four-speaker stereo system with steering wheel-mounted audio controls. Upgrade to the SE-T spec, and Honda will throw in a navigation system with integrated Bluetooth hands free functionality.
Next up in the food chain is the ES model, which comes with the same features as the SE, but also boasts a leather steering wheel, leather gear knob, drilled aluinium foot pedals, dual-zone climate control, front fog lights, a rear view parking camera, electrically retracting door mirrors, automatic lights and wipers and cruise control.
The EX model gets all the above but also boasts leather upholstery, a decent if hardly mind-blowing ‘premium’ audio setup with subwoofer, a video jack for those who want to play video via an external device and a hard disk-based navigation system. The top spec EX GT gets 17-inch alloys, keyless entry, tinted windows, a panoramic glass roof and an auto-dimming rear view mirror.
According to Euro NCAP tests, the Honda Civic is exceptionally safe — particularly if you’re fortunate enough to be on the inside of the thing when it crashes. The car achieved a 94 per cent adult occupant safety rating, and a solid 83 per cent child occupant rating, scoring particularly highly in side impact and rear impact tests.
We can’t help but recommend the new Civic, as it gets just about everything right. It offers more interior space than its rivals, has decent engines engines and drives well. It doesn’t handle quite as nicely as a Ford Focus, but it has exceptionally sharp, precise steering and bucketloads of grip, even in the wet.
If we had one gripe it would be the car’s styling. Like most new cars, it seems a little too fussy in places, though this is entirely subjective, of course. On the whole, if you’re looking for a practical family hatchback that is also lots of fun to drive, you have our blessing to go forth and purchase this one.
Model tested: Honda Civic 2.2 i-DTEC EX GT Manual
Engine: 2.2-litre diesel
Acceleration: 0-62 in 11.5 seconds
Top speed: 130mph
Emissions: 115g/km CO2