Good: very economical, spacious, good to drive
Not so good: divisive styling inside and out
Last month we reviewed the spectacular new Honda Civic Type R and it'll officially go on sale in Ireland later this year. Sadly, only a lucky few will have the wherewithal to buy such a high performance hatch. Instead, Honda Ireland should be doing all it can to ensure it's prominently seen as the brand's halo model. It should be paraded around the dealers at peak footfall times and prospects should be taken out for a spin by suitably experienced salesmen.
Then, once back in the showroom it'd be a cinch to seal the deal on what most buyers want anyway - a diesel Civic hatch. But those that still hanker after a little of the Type R pizazz would do well to check out the new Civic Si model reviewed here. It's differentiated from its lesser brethren by gloss black 17-inch alloy wheels, a mesh front grille, rear privacy glass and a prominent body-coloured boot spoiler; it costs a modest €2,400 more than the entry-level diesel version.
And there is no running costs penalty either. The 1.6-litre i-DTEC diesel engine emits 98g/km for low road tax, while the official fuel consumption figure of 3.7 litres/100km (76.4mpg) is astounding. What's more, with no attempt at economy at all we averaged 5.7 litres/100km in our week of mixed driving (49.6mpg). The engine is a little 'gravelly' at times and there's a minute flat spot at low revs, but other than that it has plenty of go.
Indeed, it's well-matched to the revised chassis, which turned out to be a bit of a surprise. It's never uncomfortable over bumps or potholes (if a little jiggly over some surfaces) yet it's remarkably tied down. So the body remains resolutely flat through fast cornering and yet it's supple enough to soak up camber changes and mid-corner bumps without an issue. Indeed it deals with atrocious road surfaces particularly well. The steering is direct and moderately communicative (and the steering wheel rim lovely to hold) while the six-speed manual gearbox a real treat to use. The only black mark against the Civic in terms of driving is brakes that don't seem up to much more than average use. They soon begin to fade and the pedal feel is vague.
But of course, we realise that not many buyers will care about all this, and there's more to like about the Civic than frugality and distinctive styling. That unique body shell hides a remarkably practical interior and boot. The latter is very large for the class, holding 477 litres with all five seats occupied, second only to the Skoda Octavia by our estimation. Inside, though, rear legroom is on a par with the Skoda and the Civic comes with a unique party trick - 'Magic Seats'. The rear seat bases hinge from the back and cleverly latch in place creating a space that could accommodate seriously bulky items that most C-segment hatchbacks could only dream about carrying. The floor is almost flat too, though the rear of the centre console does intrude a little on legroom for the middle occupant in the back.
Up front, the dashboard appears to be an odd and semi-futuristic design that doesn't immediately appeal, but with familiarisation it works really well and the quality is top notch. Fitted to this test car is Honda's new touchscreen infotainment system, called Honda Connect, which looks good and is pretty slick in operation. It's standard on all cars from Sport grade up, which is one on from the entry-level Comfort specification. As part of the upgrades for 2015 Honda Ireland has added more equipment so even the base versions come with City-brake active, Bluetooth, 16-inch alloy wheels, climate control, remote audio controls and LED daytime running lights.
Along with the touchscreen system, the Civic Sport, starting at €23,695, adds a rear parking camera, cruise control, auto lights and wipers, front fog lamps, a leather steering wheel and electrically folding door mirrors. Above that is the Si version reviewed here and then the Civic Executive at €29,395, which justifies that price with leather upholstery, Garmin satnav, a panoramic glass roof, upgraded stereo and heated seats.
For low mileage drivers the 1.4-litre i-VTEC petrol engines are cheaper than their diesel counterparts, though there's less choice in the line-up, reflecting less demand for petrol power, and if you really must have an automatic Civic then the only option at the time of writing is the €27,895 Civic 1.8 i-VTEC Sport Auto. We expect an efficient new dual-clutch auto to become available with the 1.6-litre diesel engine in time.