Honda Civic 1.6 i-DTEC first drive

Honda CivicAlthough Honda is the world’s largest manufacturer of combustion engines, everything from garden equipment to outboard motors, to motorcycles to cars and many more including a new F1 engine,

it was only 10 years ago they introduced their first diesel engine, a 2.2-litre four cylinder unit initially for their Accord range. This engine then went into their CR-V off-roader and latterly into the Civic C-segment range.

However a 2.2-litre diesel engine has not triggered the much needed sales both from retail and fleet buyers across Europe because of its relatively large capacity at a time when most volume manufacturers are down-sizing engine capacities to reduce CO2 emissions, improve fuel economy and lower taxes.

Finally Honda has developed a much needed 1.6-litre, four cylinder turbodiesel engine and it has immediately improved the sales potential of the British built Civic five door hatchback in Europe. This engine will also go into the future Civic estate and will become an option in the CR-V range later this year.

Like the Civic itself, the new engine is built at Honda’s Swindon factory where lack of demand from the recession hit European markets in recent years has hit production and in turn reduced the headcount of employees. The Civic has to compete for sales in the C-segment against the Ford Focus, Vauxhall Astra, VW Golf, Toyota Auris, Hyundai i30, Kia c’eed and even the Audi A3 Sportback and BMW 1 Series. It’s a tough price sensitive market sector where discounted prices are rife and low CO2 emissions, good fuel economy and low tax costs are the key issues for sales success. 58% of new car sales in the C-segment are for diesel powered models.

With annual UK sales of only 20,000 units a year, the British built Civic underperforms with that total being only a quarter of UK Focus sales, a third of Astra and Golf sales and less than the BMW and Audi premium brand competitor models and about the same as Toyota/Hyundai/Kia C-segment models. The new 1.6-litre diesel should now give demand for the Civic a huge boost and the Civic itself now has a higher competitive profile thanks to its success in Touring Car racing.

Honda CivicThe new all-aluminium, lightweight1.6-litre, 118bhp, four cylinder turbodiesel engine offers impressive credentials with headline CO2 emissions of 94g/km which in the UK means no VED road tax, company car drivers will pay only 13% Benefit-in-Kind tax and the official Combined Cycle fuel consumption figure is 78.5mpg. On my week long test drive using all types of roads and driving conditions the Civic 1.6 i-DTEC ES variant returned 62.3mpg, short of the official figure but still impressive in real-life conditions. And the performance is not shabby either with a top speed of 129mph and a zero to 62mph acceleration time of 10.5 seconds.

The price is not off-putting either with the Civic 1.6 diesel starting at £19,575 for the SE model rising to £20,780 for my test ES version and rising to £23,585 for the top of the range EX variant. The Civic range still offers 1.4 and 1.8-litre petrol engines and the 2.2-litre diesel with prices from £16,995 up to £28,990 but you can really forget about all other power units now even if you are a retail customer, the new 1.6-litre diesel is the engine of choice by a long way. Yes the 1.6-litre diesel unit costs around £1,225 to £2,600 more to buy than the 1.4/1.8 petrol units and £900 less than the 2.2-litre diesel but for most average/high mileage drivers the 1.6-litre diesel offsets the extra costs over the petrol units easily with better fuel economy and lower taxes and wins in every way over the 2.2-litre diesel. It’s also the nicest and most flexible engine to drive as well, although a shade noisy on cold start-up.

It’s the flexibility the new Honda 1.6-litre turbodiesel offers that scored highly for me. With 221lb ft of torque from 2,000rpm, it felt strong and responsive right through the rev range and rarely needed to exceed 3,000rpm. It didn’t require numerous changes down the six-speed gearbox to get the engine to respond for brisk overtaking, push the throttle and the power was there. Even with the ‘tall’ sixth gear ratio there was plenty of torque not to need to change to fifth gear to accelerate from mid to higher range speeds, even when the engine was in ECO mode setting, where I left it all the time because there wasn’t a need to do anything else. The engine is so flexible that even at 35mph the car was happy to bowl along in top gear making it fuss-free and economical driving. The 62+mpg test drive figure was no soft-footed driving from me, just the usual stop and start commute acceleration and dawdle plus 70mph motorway cruising. With a bit more care I’m sure 70mpg is possible. The engine really impressed me, so did the really slick six-speed gearchange.

I have delivered in the recent past my comments about other aspects of the latest generation Civic but I will recap the main points. The softer suspension settings recently adopted have gone a long way to improve the ride quality and only the worst of the ripples and potholes now intrude on ride comfort. Unfortunately the electronic power steering, although tuned for sharper response, is still as dull as ever giving virtually no feedback to the driver. Although light, so it’s easy to manoeuvre at low speeds, its lacks the ability to weight-up at mid to high speeds so it provides little communication as to how much cornering grip there is from the front wheels.

The edgy sports styling of the five door hatchback Civic with its coupe silhouette side profile has grown on me over the years and after the latest updates it looks less radical. It is distinctive and that is appealing. However the low roofline means headroom, especially in the rear and through the front doors, is very tight for six footers. The rear seat legroom is also stingy which is a shame because the boot and load area is huge for a car of this size with 477-litre of boot space with the rear seats in place and 1,378-litres with them folded down. The rear split seats fold down really easily so that is a bonus, however the rear tailgate with its split rear windows does nothing for rear visibility.

Honda CivicThe front interior is twin cockpit style and still very futuristic in design. The controls are well laid out and easy to use once the driver is familiar with their location and the instrument panel lights which change from blue to green to prompt ECO driving is useful rather than intrusive.

As for specification, the mid range ES I tried just about meets requirements. It is not as comprehensive as competitor Korean brands but by no means does it look or feel under-specced. The equipment includes most things people expect for a mid-range level including electric windows and door mirrors, air conditioning, front, side and curtain airbags, cruise control, automatic wipers and lights, daytime running lights, front fog lights, Bluetooth, six speakers, rear view camera, 16-inch alloy wheels, leather steering wheel and gear knob and alloy foot pedals. A spare wheel is not included and parking sensors would have been an advantage but you get those with the EX spec.

The latest Honda Civic remains good in parts, except for the new 1.6-litre turbodiesel engine which excels in this segment and that now ensures that customers, retail or fleet, should give it serious consideration when buying or leasing a mid-sized family/business car.

MILESTONES: Honda Civic 1.6 i-DTEC 5-Door ES manual. Price: £20,780. Engine/transmission: A new 1.6-litre, four-cylinder, all-aluminium turbodiesel, 118bhp, 221lb ft of torque from 2,000rpm, new 6-speed manual gearbox. Performance: 129-mph, 0-62mph 10.5 seconds, 78.5mpg, (62.3mpg on test), CO2 94g/km, VED road tax £0, BIK company car tax 13%. Insurance group: 16. Dimensions/capacities: L 4,300mm, W 1,770mm, H 1,470mm, boot/load space: 477 to 1,378-litres. For: Brilliant new responsive turbodiesel engine, good real-life fuel economy, low taxes, slick gearchange, huge boot, clever folding rear seats, improved ride comfort, well priced. Against: Limited headroom, stingy rear seat legroom, restricted rear visibility, lifeless steering, no spare wheel. Miles Better News Agency

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