ROAD TEST: Honda Civic VTi-LX hatch rekindling fine sporting memories
CONFIDENCE is rising at Honda.
There have been some lean times at the famed Japanese manufacturer during the past decade, dogged by the financial crisis and natural disasters, but the marque is well and truly up the comeback trail.
The new Civic hatch follows successful recent Honda introductions like the HR-V and revamped CR-V.
While those two tap into the ever-popular SUV market trends, this new Civic possesses the sporting essence for which Honda became renowned.
Sitting atop the range, our test machine had all the technical fruit with a starting price of $33,590 before on-roads.
Nothing is missing from the VTi-LX variant.
Modern external appeal flows inside, with cruise control and reversing camera, 17-inch alloys, auto lights and wipers, digital radio, dual-zone air-con, seven-inch infotainment screen with Android/Apple mirroring, sports pedals, leather trim, body kit and heated front seats and satnav with live traffic updates.
This is also the only Civic model which gets all the slick active driving aids, like autonomous emergency braking, lane-keeping assist and, for the first time, adaptive cruise control with low-speed follow.
Honda has just upped the ante on its its warranty, which has been extended to five years and unlimited kilometres.
Capped price servicing is available for the first 10 maintenance intervals, where the average price is $283. Servicing is required every 10,000km or annual, and that price is about middle of the field after considering the extra costs for brake fluid and filters.
It will also run on standard unleaded.
Plant your right foot and it immediately rekindles passions of old.
This was what Honda used to be about. With a 1.5-litre turbo four-cylinder its the far more exciting choice in comparison to the naturally aspirated 1.8-litre donk in the base models.
The acceleration and steering response is confident and predictable, although keen drivers will scoff at the continuously variable automatic transmission. While many wouldn't notice the difference, those who really enjoy their time behind the wheel bemoan the growing phenomenon of CVTs ... and Honda doesn't have a standard auto in its range.
They are the primary choice for most marques nowadays as they deliver fuel efficiency and they're inexpensive. Disadvantages are that they are often slow to respond and can be noisy.
Compared to the sedan the hatch has an improved focus on cornering over compliance, and it certainly feels adept when pushing hard. You can make use of the steering wheel mounted paddles and explore the turbocharged punch. Sitting lower than the previous generation Civic, it feels more attuned to driving dynamics and there is excellent peripheral vision courtesy of small A-pillars.
Operationally everything is simple, and the touch-screen easy to operate.
One frustrating aspect is the climate control has to be accessed via a button below the screen. You need to wait a couple of seconds for the options to arrive - it's cumbersome compared to quick access of standard buttons and dials.
Fuel-wise the Civic proved managed close to the official figure from Honda, about seven litres for every 100km, which lives up to small car expectations despite being a turbo with a sporty personality.
There's a lot going on with the hatch. Distinctive sharp edges ensure it stands our in the carpark, and while some find the styling too busy others love the modern lines.
Creasework and contours are everywhere you look, but it's inside where major improvements have been achieved with dimensions which are 30mm wider and 130mm longer than its predecessor. Rear passengers will appreciate the extra space, which verges on medium-car size more akin to a Camry or a Mazda6. Boot space is a reasonable 410 litres (the sedan is about 100 litres bigger), while there is an annoying step created when the rear 60-40 folding seats are dropped which can make loading gear like boards and bikes difficult.
Lovely turn of speed with some impressive turbo punch, not enough to throw you into the seat-back but ample at the ready when you summon the power.
There are a lot of external lines, a typically modern Japanese design.
MAZDA3 SP25 ASTINA $33,490 plus on-roads
A long-time favourite that is good to drive, and features a bigger engine with a "normal” six-speed automatic.
HYUNDAI I30 SR PREMIUM $33,950 plus on-roads
The new model is an impressive little performer with outstanding equipment.
TOYOTA COROLLA ZR $30,020 plus on-roads
An under-rated performer although short on technology in comparison to the Honda.
Honda delivers a solid all-rounder with the Civic hatch.
Designed to cater for those chasing a more emotive driving experience than the sedan, you can manage daily activities with ease and also have a little fun when the time arises.
AT A GLANCE
HONDA CIVIC VTi-LX Turbo
WARRANTY 5 years/unlimited kilometres
CAPPED SERVICING $283 over 10 services, intervals are annual or 10,000km (good)
SAFETY 5 stars, 6 airbags, autonomous emergency braking, lane-keeping assist , adaptive cruise (excellent)
ENGINE 1.5L 4-cyl turbo, 127kW/220Nm, FWD, CVT auto (punchy)
THIRST 6.1L 100km (pretty good)
SPARE Space-saver (not our preferred option)
BOOT 410 litres (ok, sedan is about 100L bigger)