Overall rating: 3/5
Honda makes its first foray into the C-segment estate scene since the short-lived Civic Aerodeck of the late 1990s, but this market is a tougher place now than it ever has been. Will the rakish new Civic Tourer prove to be a hit?
In the Metal:
There are both good and bad points to the design, but overall the Civic Tourer is pleasing to behold. The sweeping roof and sculpted window lines do make for a handsome profile, even if it appears to be a bit under-wheeled from the rear three-quarters and the vertical crease at the back of the rear wheelarches looks out of place. The Tourer takes the mildly revised face of the five-door variant, featuring an updated front bumper with black trim, and the whole car is compact in size, which makes it hang together as a cohesive design.
Inside is much the same story - the quality of the materials used is perfectly acceptable and it's all well laid-out, with the twin-tiered Civic dash still looking fresh. The seats are particularly comfortable and the three main dials in the instrument cluster behind the chunky steering wheel are crisp and attractive. But the digital speed display is looking dated now, as is the satnav unit. It looks vaguely aftermarket and both it and the higher central dash screen feature primitive graphics that lag behind those of competitors. However, it wins marks in terms of rear leg space and much improved headroom over the hatch, and a huge, class-leading 624-litre boot (seats up, up to the luggage cover; it's 1,668 litres with the 'Magic Rear Seats' folded) with additional, impressive underfloor storage of 117 litres.
The 1.6-litre i-DTEC diesel engine will be the only unit of interest to most Irish buyers, we suspect, though it doesn't feel quite as quick as even its modest acceleration stats suggest. Yet it is super-refined, economical and clean enough to ensure low road tax, and with its 300Nm of torque much more flexible to drive than the petrol alternatives offered in some countries.
A six-speed manual gearbox is standard and it is as slick as you would expect from Honda. Refinement overall is excellent, with minimal wind noise and tyre roar, plus a decent ride. We drove top-spec cars fitted with the rear adaptive damper system (ADS), which adjusts the firmness of the back shocks through three settings: Dynamic, the sportiest; Normal, a balance of body control and pliancy; and Comfort, for the softest ride. There was noticeable difference between the three but the Normal setting was fine, and is presumably what non-ADS cars will feature.
The Civic Tourer seemed to possess a good chassis but unfortunately it was let down by one of the least feelsome steering set-ups we've encountered in a while. The steering is direct enough but totally devoid of any weight, synthetic or not, meaning you have next to no idea what the front wheels are doing. Sadly, Honda's team claimed this has been set-up for keener driving - something most Civic Tourer buyers probably won't be partaking in - but in our opinion it was well wide of the mark and let the rest of the car's dynamics down. We'll reserve final judgement until we drive a right-hand drive example in Irish specification.
What you get for your Money:
Honda Ireland hasn't actually disclosed its plans for the new Civic Tourer line-up, so we're taking a punt on it here. First of all, in terms of engines, we'd be surprised if the 1.4-litre petrol unit that kicks off the Civic hatchback line-up will be offered. The 1.8-litre may be, though clearly most buyers will go for the excellent new 1.6-litre i-DTEC turbodiesel.
It is expected that there will be three trim levels to choose from - SE, ES and range-topping EX (plus EX-GT on special order). SE models, if they mimic the hatchback's specification, should get 16-inch alloy wheels, LED daytime running lights, audio controls on the steering wheel, USB and aux-in connectivity, electric windows all-round, climate control plus the full range of active and passive safety systems. ES adds leather for the steering wheel and gearshift knob, alloy pedals, cruise control, dual-zone climate control, auto wipers and lights, electrically retractable door mirrors, Bluetooth, a rear parking camera and front fog lights. EX customers can luxuriate in a leather interior, heated front seats, satnav and an upgraded stereo system. The rear ADS is only for the upper end of Civic Tourer ownership in other countries, so it'll be interesting to see what Honda Ireland does with it.
In terms of its space, economy, CO2 emissions and general Honda reputation for reliability, the Civic Tourer looks to be a competitive package on the face of it. We've not rated it at this stage as the price is an unknown. For reference, the equally new SEAT Leon ST estate starts from €20,185 (though powered by a 1.2-litre TSI petrol engine), the Kia cee'd Sportswagon costs from €22,450 for a 1.4-litre diesel and the Ford Focus Estate starts at €23,085.
Some versions of the new Honda Civic Tourer will feature ADS - Adaptive Damper System. Apparently it's the first time that rear adaptive dampers have been used on a production car. We assume that means just on the rear. The driver can choose between Comfort, Normal and Dynamic modes, though the system adapts to the load being carried in the boot too.
Honda's new Civic Tourer looks pretty snazzy, is capacious within and has a super-clean, willing diesel engine that would be very easy to live with. Its refinement is good and you can option it up with a host of safety features too. The steering will quickly get on the nerves of anyone who is a remotely enthusiastic driver, which might not be the hammer blow to the Tourer's chances given the target market the car is aimed at. Honda looks to be heading out of the doldrums in 2014 and beyond, what with a 300hp Civic Type R, new NSX and a return to F1 all on the way, but we fear the Civic Tourer won't be the model to kick-start the revolution - as capable as it is. Its success in Ireland will all depend on how competitive the price.