What is it?
The sportiest Civic so far, if you don’t count the totally ballistic Type R.
The styling is even more in your face than the sedan, especially the view from the rear with those huge tail lights.
I’d love to know if the guy that signed off on this design was influenced in any way by the Swedes (you know who I’m talking about) who pioneered the use of overly large, elaborately shaped tail lights.
The RS model cranks it up another notch with the addition of a sports body kit, larger wheels and low profile rubber.
While the combined effect is certainly eye-catching, some might even say attractive – it’s not what we’d call describe as beautiful – at least not in the classical sense.
Note that although the hatch configuration adds a degree of practicality to the equation, don’t be fooled into thinking it has more to offer than the sedan – because the sedan is actually more spacious and has a larger boot – it’s a real step up in terms of size.
What’s it cost?
Civic now comes in five grades.
Hatch and sedan are the same price, starting from $22,390 for the entry VTi.
The VTI-S is one step up at $24,490 and gets some nice extras such as 16-inch alloys, LED repeaters in the mirrors, halogen fog lights as well as front and rear park sensors.
There’s also keyless entry, push button start and it locks itself when you walk away from the car.
A leather-wrapped steering wheel and Lanewatch round off the package.
Lanewatch as the name suggests uses a camera embedded in the passenger side mirror to provide a view of any traffic in your blind spot.
RS at $32,290 really lays it on with leather, heated front seats, LED fog and headlights, a sunroof, drilled alloy sports pedals, cool centre-mounted twin exhaust and impressive 452-watt premium audio with 12 speakers, including a subwoofer.
Standard features include cloth trim, climate air, cruise control, electric parking brake, rear view camera, Eco Assist and ECON Mode – plus a 7 in touchscreen, with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and 8-speaker audio.
The very latest advances in safety like automatic emergency braking however are reserved for the top of the line VTi-LX.
What’s it like to drive?
Depends which model we’re talking about.
VTi and VTi-S are powered by a 1.8-litre naturally aspirated four cylinder engine that develops 104kW of power and 174Nm of torque.
VTi-L, RS and VTi-LX score a 1.5-litre turbocharged job with 127kW and 220Nm of torque.
Both are hooked up to a CVT style auto with all that entails.
We drove the VTi-S sedan and later the RS hatch.
The turbocharged engine is clearly the choice, if you can afford the extra $3000 or so, but there is nothing shabby about the way the 1.8 performs.
Also, the extra power of the turbo comes at a penalty, because our test vehicle exhibited quite a bit of turbo lag – that’s the difference in time between pushing the accelerator and the car responding.
The CVT or Continuously Variable Transmission is designed to optimise the balance between power and fuel economy which it does by continuously altering the drive ratio.
It doesn’t have set gears like a standard automatic, at least in the lower grades.
Turbo models gain change paddles and simulated gears or steps as they refer to them, giving the driver greater control.
Changing gears manually also helps to hide the lag.
Tech heads will love the fact the instrument cluster changes colour letting you know whether you’re driving economically, or being a bad boy and putting the boot in.
Both hatch and sedan sit low, with a longish wheelbase and widely spaced wheels that give the car a real “planted”, secure feel on the road.
The addition of Agile Handling Assist, a form of torque vectoring, builds on this feel by selectively using the brakes to improve initial turn-in and overall cornering ability.
By applying the brakes to the inside wheels it helps the car to turn and reduces any tendency towards understeer.
That’s what happens when you arrive at a corner too fast and the front-wheels break contact with the road, pushing the car straight through the corner.
Performance around town is unremarkable, apart from the occasional bit of backlash from the transmission – but tyre noise ramps up quickly on coarse bitumen.
Out in the country the car puts away the kilometres easily, sipping lightly and dealing confidently with unexpected dips and bends in the road.
Sadly, even the RS doesn’t get satellite navigation, but it does come with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto allowing you to display Google Maps on the car touchscreen.
Turn instructions with arrows are even repeated in the central dash display.
Rated at 6.4L/100km we were getting a creditable 6.8 after 1200km of mixed driving in the 1.8 and 6.5 from the hatch.
In case you were wondering the hatch is actually 28kg heavier and the boot in the sedan is 20 per cent larger, at 519 versus 414 litres (with rear seats in the sedan that flip forward).
Nearly forgot. The USB ports are buried deep behind the centre console and difficult to access on the move, so be sure to connect whatever devices you need before moving off.
What we like?
- Striking looks
- Bigger than rivals
- Hugs the road nicely
- Stable at speed in corners
- Economical to run
- Comfortable spacious interior
- Laps up the kilometres
- 5-year unlimited kilometre warranty
What we don’t?
- No satnav
- Android Auto hit and miss
- Start button too bright at night
- No auto dimming rear view mirror
- Sluggish throttle response in Eco mode
- USB ports difficult to access behind centre console
- Low ride height could be an issue for older drivers
- Could bump your noggin on the receding roofline
- Advanced safety features confined to top of the line LX
The bottom line
Styling is a personal matter, but at least the cars stand out. Apart from the idiosyncrasies of the CVT and some turbo lag in turbocharged models the new Civic has a lot going for it.
Honda Civic RS hatch, priced from $32,290
- Looks - 7.5/107.5/10
- Performance - 7/107/10
- Safety - 7/107/10
- Thirst - 7.5/107.5/10
- Practicality - 7.5/107.5/10
- Comfort - 7/107/10
- Tech - 7/107/10
- Value - 7/107/10