Now into its tenth generation, the all-new Honda Civic once again delivers radical styling blended with engineering finesse. The result is a car that restores Honda to the sharp end of the C-segment where it can genuinely rival the big players. A petrol-only (for now) range may be seen as a brave move by some, but this 1.5-litre VTEC will make many rethink their approach to diesel.
In the Metal:
There is little doubt that the exterior styling of this latest generation Honda Civic is going to divide opinion. Whereas the radical looking eighth generation evolved into the sharper Mk IX, this all-new model is a significant departure.
Up front, there is a family resemblance to the Honda Jazz, with a touch more influence from the NSX sports car. The bonnet is low while the front bumper is very sculpted and has a sporty look dominated by large air intake designs that serve only an aesthetic purpose. It has clearly been influenced by the higher-performance Type R version that has already been revealed in prototype form.
The new Civic has less of a hatchback appearance in profile and more of a fastback shape, with a C-pillar that extends into the rear hatch. The new car is longer, wider and lower than its predecessor, and these increases add to the whole new look. However, it's around the rear of the car that is the most challenging part of the new style. Like the front bumper, the rear has two large vent-like designs incorporated. Finished in a contrasting black, they do help to break up the design. Then there are the centrally-mounted twin exhausts that signify the presence of the more potent 1.5-litre engine. Somewhat reminiscent of the Volkswagen Golf R32 and Renaultsport Clio 182, it fits in with the aggressive styling. If these don't float your boat, you can opt for the optional Prestige Pack, a €4,000 extra, but it also adds a leather interior, heated front and rear seats and chrome exterior detailing.
The hatchback still has a large rear window that is bisected by a small wing, but it is thinner than before and is less noticeable in the rear view mirror. In fact, visibility from the driver's seat is quite good. Even though the hip point has been lowered by 35mm, the dashboard and scuttle are set low too, while the A-pillar is thin enough to offer a reasonably unobstructed view when pulling out of junctions. Boot space is up to a generous 478 (depending on whether you have those central exhausts or not) and rear passenger head- and legroom are very good.
Ergonomically, everything works well from a driver's perspective. The nicely-sized steering wheel offers plenty of adjustment in both height and reach while the pedal box has plenty of room to rest your left foot on longer drives. Like the HR-V, there's a raised gear selector that, for most people, will place it just at the right spot. Sitting atop the centre console is a seven-inch Honda Connect colour touchscreen. It's simple to use and reacts quickly to inputs, but being semi-free-standing and not sitting flush with the rest of the dashboard gives it a bit of an aftermarket look. A digital instrument display also mirrors many of the same functionality and can be controlled via steering wheel buttons.
At the peak of this new model's development Honda had a third of its entire research and development staff working exclusively on it. That's how seriously Honda's approach (and investment) to the new Civic has been, and it shows. Among the changes is the reintroduction of an independent multilink rear suspension setup. Go for the €2,200 GT Pack upgrade and you'll get, amongst other items, adaptive front and rear dampers that further enhance the ride quality. Though the car is just fine without.
At lower speeds the Civic feels nice and compliant over bumps and the variable ratio electrically assisted steering provides plenty of lock. Along winding roads at a brisker pace there is still little in the way of body lean in the corners, yet the ride never feels too stiff. As you pick up speed the power steering also adapts and even over fast flowing mountain roads with tight hairpin corners there's very little arm twirling needed.
With 182hp on tap the 1.5-litre turbocharged petrol engine isn't lacking pace. Just like other VTEC engines it's happy to rev, but peak torque of 240Nm arrives at a useful 1,900rpm, so you won't need to keep the revs up to clip along at a healthy speed. The clutch isn't overly light and the six-speed manual is lovely to use and feels precise in its action. Honda says that this engine can return a combined 5.8 litres/100km. We only managed to get to the low sevens during our limited time in the car, though much of that was spent exploring the more 'spirited' side of the Civic's driving characteristics. While it won't ever match the diesel (which arrives in 2018), it does still return relatively good levels of fuel economy given its performance.
What you get for your Money:
For this new Civic, Honda has restructured its specification grades, which see this 1.5-litre model come in an 'S Design' version as standard at a price of €28,550 for the manual model, to which either a GT Pack or Prestige Pack can be added at an extra cost of €2,200 or €4,000 respectively.
Standard equipment includes Honda's Sensing suite of safety equipment. This includes Collision Mitigation Braking, Forward Collision Warning, Lane Keep Assist, Lane and Road Departure Warning, Intelligent Speed Limiter, Adaptive Cruise Control, Traffic Sign Recognition and, if you opt for the automatic transmission (a €1,600 premium), Low-Speed Following. Other features include LED headlights, satellite navigation, 17-inch alloy wheels, reversing camera, rear privacy glass, leather multifunction steering wheel and gear knob and dual-zone air conditioning.
The GT Pack adds the adaptive dampers, keyless entry and start, an upgraded speaker system, heated front seats, a sunroof and Blind Spot Information including Cross Traffic Monitor. Alternatively, buyers can choose to add the Prestige Pack, which in addition to deleting the centre-exit twin exhaust adds a leather interior, heated front and rear seats, chrome door handles and grille and interior illumination.
Visually, the new Honda Civic might not appeal to more conservative buyers, but on the other hand, it should score well with younger buyers who, over the last number of years, have become disinterested in Honda's range. Leaving aesthetics aside, the new Civic is a cracking car to drive, delivering real-world performance and refinement in spades. Add to that a variety of specification choices and plenty of technology at a price that will make it that bit harder to ignore.