Ireland is the first European country in which the new Honda Civic has been launched. We took the 150hp diesel version for a drive on typically wet and rutted Irish roads to see how it compares to its rivals.
In the Metal:
While the shape of the new Honda Civic is growing on me, and it does look more modern than the car it replaces, I can't bring myself to say that it is good-looking. It's modern and technical in design, which is in keeping with the 'lead by engineers' mantra Honda likes. It is a colour sensitive shape, though we spotted some great-looking alloy wheel options in the latest brochure.
Honda explained that the split rear screen with an integrated spoiler has been retained in the interests of aerodynamics, while the lower part of the window makes reversing safer. Despite all that and other improvements to the rear end design we'd rather a shape that didn't have the potential to obscure the lights of a following car.
It's often the case that, following a car's international launch on fabulous foreign roads, we get into it in Ireland and are disappointed. The opposite was true in the case of the Honda Civic. Even on flooded, cold, rutted and off-camber roads in and around the launch venue in Cavan the Civic's chassis shone through as a bit of a gem. It helps that the steering wheel is divine to hold and the six-speed manual gearbox is as satisfying as they come.
But the way the Civic tackles an interesting road is a bit of a revelation. The steering is direct and feelsome and there's loads of front-end grip. Turn in is sharp and the car holds its line faithfully while remaining flat and unruffled. Competent cars we've become used to, but here's one that is actually fun to drive.
The 150hp diesel engine undoubtedly helps. Its low-down torque makes it easy to keep up a decent pace without attracting attention and it powers out of corners smoothly.
What you get for your Money:
The official price list shows that the new Honda Civic will be sold in SE, ES and EX guises, with most buyers opting for ES. That adds a rear parking camera, Bluetooth, cruise control, auto wipers and lights, dual-zone climate control, retractable door mirrors and a few other bits and pieces to the SE's already quite generous specification.
Acknowledging that some Irish buyers may be put off by the 2.2-litre capacity of the only diesel option in the range, Honda has priced it to compete with what it believes is the best-selling Volkswagen Golf TDI, the 1.6-litre Edition-R with 105hp. Despite the size of the Civic's engine it easily sits in Band A for road tax, thanks no doubt in part to standard stop-start.
Future plans for the Civic were revealed by Honda, though not in too much detail. The most important additions will be a new 1.6-litre i-DTEC engine putting out 120hp. That'll arrive at the start of 2013. Not long after we expect to hear more about a new range of turbocharged direct injection petrol engines and a new dual-clutch gearbox. Sounds like the making of a few interesting performance derivatives, Type R included.
There's no arguing with the generous specification and practicality of the new Honda Civic. However, this first drive on Irish roads served to reveal that this is one of the few cars in its sector that you'd take out for a spin, just for the sake of it - especially in 2.2-litre diesel format.