Honda Civic 1.0 VTEC Turbo review
New Honda Civic has divisive styling, but to drive it is to love it.
Neil Briscoe
Neil Briscoe
Pics by Dave Humphreys

Published on June 20, 2017

Good: balanced chassis, engaging to drive, terrific engine, high quality, roomy.

Not so good: styling looks odd, economy only average.

While our man Matt Robinson has been off flinging the new 320hp Honda Civic Type R around the race tracks of Europe (lucky swine...), I've been stuck here at home, testing out the regular Civic 1.0 on suburban roads, on the school run, on shopping trips, on the sort of journeys that a compact family car will actually have to do. I'll leave the v-max runs and apex clipping to Matt (git...).

Thankfully, it turns out that the Civic 1.0 is really rather good at this sort of stuff and, better still, it does it all with the sort of aplomb and sense of enjoyment that makes everyday tasks just that touch more pleasant. Which, for a family-friendly hatchback, is certainly no bad thing.

Now, to address immediately the pachyderm hiding in the corner - the Civic's styling. Both the 2005 and 2010 Civics, with their space-age looks, created opinion as split as their bisected rear windscreens. Some loved, some hated. For this new generation, Honda has retreated somewhat to a more conventional style, yet still the Civic's design seems a little ill at ease. It's almost as if it was designed for a totally different car, and then cut and squeezed onto the Civic's chassis. It's not actually ugly, but the combination of that lantern jaw and those massive, protruding tail-lights is a touch jarring. Oddly, it nearly looks worse in the plain black of our test car, and actually the Civic benefits from being painted a stronger, more strident blue or red.

Still, as the saying goes, when you're sitting in it, you don't need to look at it and the Civic has a genuinely excellent interior. Although there are one or two hard plastic panels inside, overall quality is very good indeed, and while the all-digital instruments don't look as handsome as they do in a Volkswagen Golf's 'Active Info Display', the Honda's electronic instruments do come as standard, and they're sufficiently clear and easy to use. The front seats are also very good, comfy and supportive and without the sensation that one gets from a lot of Japanese cars that the backrest is too narrow.

We were driving a high-spec Premium model, so that means you get the seven-inch Honda Connect infotainment system, whose menu and graphical layout isn't the slickest, but it does come with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, so you won't have to interact with the car's own system too much. More significantly, all new Civics come with the Honda Sensing safety package, which includes autonomous emergency braking, lane keeping assistant, 'Road Departure Mitigation' (which can actually brake to stop you running off the tarmac), radar-guided cruise control, traffic sign recognition and, as options, a blind spot monitor, rear crossing traffic alert and a 180-degree reversing camera. It's a comprehensive set of safety kit and Honda is to be commended for making most of it standard fit.

Equally impressive is the engine. Honda is a little late to the downsized turbo party, having stuck for longer than most with its more traditional petrol engines, and their high-revving VTEC variable valve control systems. By Honda standards, this new 1.0-litre turbocharged triple makes its peak power at a relatively low 5,500rpm, but you can still wring it out to closer to 7,000rpm for a little more of that classic VTEC style. Thanks to the tiny turbo, it makes a useful 200Nm of torque too (30Nm more in this manual version than in the optional CVT automatic) so there's good low-down lug, a pleasant mixture of three-cylinder warble and quiet cruising. In fact, the Civic is very refined in general, with tyre and wind noise both kept well under control.

The six-speed manual gearbox must come in for some praise too, as - although it's a little longer in the throw than is traditional for a Honda shift - it still has a lovely, positive, mechanical feeling to it that is absent from the gearchanges of many rivals. It's a little point of connection that reminds you that you're in charge of an actual vehicle with moving parts, not a digital simulacrum. 

It's a shame then that the 1.0-litre engine isn't quite as frugal, overall, as we'd like it to be. Driven reasonably gently, it can return its official consumption figure of 4.8 litres per 100km, but up the enthusiasm, or confine it to urban mileage, and that figure rapidly climbs to more like 7.0 litres per 100km, which is about a litre or so higher than we'd be happy with. 

Perhaps, though, some of that was down to some old-fashioned enthusiastic driving, something that the Civic positively encourages. The steering is a little short on feel, but it's light, direct, accurate and kind of goads you into enjoying it. Better still is the balance of the chassis. Although there can be an occasionally stiff-knee sensation to the ride quality, for the most part the new Civic really does glide along, not making you feel distanced from the action, but instead giving you a sensation of being deft, balanced, and enjoyable. Through a series of corners, it has the kind of response and reward factor that is normally the preserve of high-end hot hatches (that Type R again...) and we think that the class handling champ, the Ford Focus, might actually have to pass over its crown. The new Civic really is that good.

It really is that practical too. The back seat is spacious, with plenty of legroom, and the boot (holding 478 litres seats up, 1,267 litres seats folded) makes some compact estates look parsimonious with their load space. 

That base price of €23k looks a little high in relation to most rivals', but then the Civic offers more kit as standard, and its most basic engine (this 129hp 1.0-litre) is more powerful and more sophisticated than that offered by those with a sub-€20k price tag.

So yes, I'm jealous Matt got to go off and fling the Type R around with such abandon. I'm sure he's got a big, silly grin plastered right across his face, and he feels like a proper tyro Touring Car driver. That's fine. Honestly. I'm more than happy with my 1.0 Civic. I really am.


Tech Specs

Model testedHonda Civic 1.0 VTEC Turbo Premium
Pricingfrom €23,750; €30,150 as tested
Engine1.0-litre turbocharged three-cylinder petrol
Transmissionsix-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Body stylefive-door hatchback
CO2 emissions110g/km (Band A4, €200 per year)
Combined economy58.8mpg (4.8 litres/100km)
Top speed203km/h
0-100km/h11.2 seconds
Power129hp at 5,500rpm
Torque200Nm at 2,250rpm
Boot space478- to 1,267 litres
Euro NCAP ratingnot yet tested
Rivals to the Civic 1.0 VTEC Turbo