Is the 2017 Honda Civic as good as it looks? We flew over to Spain for a first drive of this important new entry in the highly-competitive family hatchback sector…
When the original, iconic Honda Civic was launched in 1972, it measured just 3.55m long and 1.50m wide. Fast forward to 2017 and the all-new 10th generation Civic is a different beast at a metre longer and 30cm wider.
After quirky-styled recent Civics, the new model now looks very grown up and is up against formidable opposition including the Ford Focus, Volkswagen Golf and Vauxhall Astra, so it has to be good.
Longer, lower, lighter and wider than the outgoing model, the new car’s dramatic styling certainly sets it apart. Sleek and sporty, it’s arguably one of the most distinctive cars on the market.
A low roofline, sculpted profile, spoilers and other aerodynamic aids, plus Honda’s new corporate nose, contribute to an aggressive stance.
Inside, the cabin is spacious, while the new driving position is another obvious difference. The driver’s seat is now 35mm lower than the previous generation, creating a more sporty, involved feel.
Visibility is good, though the rear hatch and large spoiler mean your rear-view mirror outlook is more panoramic than full screen. Generally, the cabin has a conservative feel and there’s an extensive use of black plastics.
Up front there’s plenty of space for driver and passengers, front and rear, plus loads of storage spaces and cubby holes.
The new Civic boasts especially impressive legroom at the rear, even with tall people up front. However, we’d say that back-seat passengers 6ft 2in or above might struggle
for headroom – a casualty of the sleek roofline.
The good news continues when you open the rear hatch. Inside, there’s a class-leading 478 litres of storage, plus a hidden underfloor compartment (on all but S, Sport and Sport Plus models) offering additional capacity.
Finally, the rear seats split 60:40, there’s a low sill height and a wide boot opening. Job done.
As ever with Honda, it’s what the eye doesn’t see that’s just as important. There are numerous technical developments including two new VTEC turbocharged petrol engines, both boasting lively performance and decent fuel economy – a 1.0-litre three-cylinder and a 1.5-litre four-cylinder (a 1.6-litre diesel will follow later in 2017).
The smaller of the two petrol engines produced 129PS, emits a low 106g/km of CO2 and is capable of a claimed 55.4mpg. This little engine effectively replaces the old 1.8, claims, Honda, which is a remarkable feat.
Meanwhile, the 182PS 1.5-litre unit can return 46.3mpg and emits 133g/km of CO2.
We tried both engines, each available with six-speed manual transmission or a CVT auto box.
The punchy 1.0-litre engine is very capable and refined for its size, Yes, there’s the familiar thrum of a three-pot, but unless you try to drive it like a hot hatch, it’s refined and will happily whiz around town or country lanes, or cruise on the motorway.
However, if you prefer a little more power and prefer a more relaxed drive, then the 1.6-litre unit might be more to your liking.
The six-speed manual has a suitably short throw for sporty shifts, while the automatic is one of the better CVTs around. However, if you floor it, especially in the smaller engine, it will rev a little eagerly, but if you have a smooth driving style the CVT in the 1.5-litre unit is especially rewarding.
Priced from £18,235 for the entry level 1.0-litre in S trim, the range is topped by the £27,480 1.5-litre Prestige CVT.
Honda expects a 70/30 split in sales of the 1.0-litre and 1.5-litre, while 60% of buyers will opt for the manual over the CVT.
The new Honda Civic drives well. It’s no hot hatch (you’ll have to wait for the hardcore Type R version later in 2017 for that), but it is spirited and can be hustled around country roads if you so wish.
The steering is light and direct, while the ride is smooth. We haven’t driven it on British roads yet, but judging by our experience of a shorter distance on a rougher road in Spain, we’d say the ride is on the firm side. The seats are comfortable though.
The Honda SENSING suite of safety and driver assistance technologies with collision mitigation systems such as emergency braking, lane departure warning and lane keep assist are standard across the range. Honda is rightly confident the new car will gain the full five-star rating when assessed by independent crash testers Euro NCAP.
Staying with technology, inside the cabin there’s a simple feel, clutter-free feel. the conventional dials have been replaced by a TFT screen in the binnacle ahead of the driver, which can be customised to show everything from speed and fuel economy to sat-nav and media.
The centre console is dominated by a clear new 7-inch touchscreen display on which you can access the latest version of Honda Connect with infotainment and connectivity systems integrated with both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
It couldn’t be said that Honda has gone over the top with personalisation options, but subtle customisation is available. Customers have a choice of two optional exterior styling finishes – Black Line and Orange Line.
The Black Line and Orange Line add a front chin spoiler, side skirts and rear diffuser, as well as mirror caps in either black or orange. Orange Line also includes interior accents across the dashboard in the same vivid colour.
A choice of 17-inch and 18-inch alloy wheel designs can be specified, while a sporty tailgate spoiler is also available in body colour or Tuscan Orange.
That said, the standard black alloys, which are standard except for the entry level car, look cool and the car looks especially good in blue, black or white.
And finally, choose a new Civic hatchback and you’re buying British because Honda’s huge plant in Swindon is a global production for the car. For instance, US-bound Civic’s have been rolling off the production line since late 2016.
Verdict: The new Honda Civic is a class act. Boasting distinctive, radical styling and plenty of tech, it’s rewarding to drive, spacious and safe. A welcome addition to the hotly-contested family hatchback scene.