DSC_1039_editedIAIN ROBERTSON

 

From not having been a fan of its hatchback iteration, Iain Robertson was more than pleasantly surprised by the outstanding practicality of the Honda Civic Tourer, although there are still enough quirky elements of the car to rail about.

 

Believing that I cannot be alone in my detestation of the current Civic model, despite the fact that a bodice-ripping, 290bhp Type R variant will soon be on sale, it has taken me a long time to build up the courage (which you can translate into ‘desire’) to put its estate car into focus. In fact, I feel particularly sorry for Matt Neal and his British Touring Car Championship team that ran a pair of the stretched Civics in last year’s racing series. Familiar with Honda successes in the past, the Touring model proved to be moderately competitive, by winning a couple of rounds of the 30-race championship. Yet, it summoned all of the effort and consummate driving skills of both Neal and Gordon Shedden to end the year in the midst of the final reckoning.

 

Again, I cannot be alone in feeling that Honda has missed the bus on that score too. Race wins can and do equate to showroom sales and Honda does well not to ignore the facts. The current generation Civic is subjectively one of the ugliest cars presently on sale, giving the hateful Nissan Juke, the BMW Mini joke and the fairly intolerable Subaru XV, all of which appear to have been smacked by the ugly stick, a serious run for their money. The previous generation Civic was, at least, a gem of a car, somewhat smaller than most of its rivals, its edgy design being a modernist approach and not slap-happy like its follow-on model.

 

However, the latest iteration has created an opportunity to devise a load-lugger, for which some died-in-the-wool Honda owners must surely be most grateful. Even though their average age bracket is probably 74 years, complete with blue hair, even they will rail at the plug-liness of the base hatch. It is a surprisingly spacious family car. Follow the receding profile of the side windows and you might not believe it but the load area is quite tall, pleasantly boxy and eminently useful, not least because the floor panel, in typical Honda style, is split-level and drops to reveal an even more capacious load area and that is before folding forwards the rear seats to extend the deck length further still.

 

Apart from some ingenious detailing at the ‘business end’, which also includes the incredibly smart way in which the rear occupant seats can be erected to make maximum use of the floor space, the rest of the car is just like the regular Civic. The dashboard layout, which operates on three different planes and includes digital, as well as analogue instrumentation, remains as confusing as ever. Okay. Familiarity does build but, even after a week’s usage, I remained slightly ill at ease with the various displays.

 

Honda is not alone in making the rear half of its popular model appear to be significantly more spacious than the front end. By limiting the rearward adjustability of the seats, the resultant driving position is both cramped and in uncomfortable proportion for anyone over six feet in height. There is just about enough adjustment in the steering column, although my knees were forced to splay around the column to avoid connecting with the steering wheel rim. This sort of arrangement ought not exist in a model that purports to be European-biased.

 

Bear in mind that I drive the smallest Skoda of them all, a Citigo, as my regular mode of transport. I am very comfortable at that car’s controls, so why is the much larger Honda so badly laid out?

 

On the engineering front, the test car is powered by the all-new, 1.6-litre i-DTEC turbo-diesel engine. Impressively smooth, it develops a moderate 117bhp, matched to a substantial 221lbs ft of torque, which ensures a strident pull in any of its six forwards gears. Although the EX Plus trim level increases the CO2 emissions rating to 103g/km, at least it is zero-rated for VED in the first year and subsequent years demand a payment of just £20. Its fuel economy carries a stated 72.4mpg on the Official Combined cycle, a figure that I found very difficult to emulate, although returning around 62mpg was not a bad result after a week’s worth of mixed conditions motoring. It is equipped with stop-start technology and a push-button starter. There is also an ECO button which seems to enhance very little of the driving experience.

 

Its performance envelope is not as broad as I might have hoped for and, while it will despatch the 0-60mph benchmark in a fairly zesty 10.2 seconds, while not sounding in least bit strained, its mid-range urge is not as brisk as I felt it ought to be. It never falters, or feels as though it is struggling, but it is simply not as willing as it could be and reaching its reported 121mph top speed does entail a delay period, in the Good Lord’s waiting room, which is, in some ways, most appropriate.

 

As the Tourer has a broader range of requirements to satisfy, its rear suspension layout is slightly different to the hatchback versions and a three ways adaptive damping system (Dynamic, Normal, or Comfort settings) allows a degree of adjustability. While the Dynamic does create a bit of skipping on give and take road surfaces, I found that the Comfort setting was more than adequate for most driving needs. Body roll is well-controlled and the ride is very smooth. In fact, it can iron out some of the bumps that you can see but not necessarily avoid, which means that, to begin with, you clench your teeth in preparation but eventually settle into a realisation that the nasty is not about to happen. There is a bonus. Zero toothache.

 

Sadly, the steering is not as communicative as it should be. Feeling over-assisted, its turn-in to bends feels slightly remote, while lateral crosswinds can upset its composure, which suggests that all of the aerodynamic shaping of the car’s profile is not that proficient. The brakes are easy to modulate and deliver strong retardation, helped in no small way by the general grip of the chassis. Nose dive under hard braking is negligible.

 

As EX Plus is the top trim level, it is inevitable that the Civic Tourer is well-equipped, as it needs to be at £27,960 on the road. Dual-zone climate and adaptive cruise control, auto-on lamps and wipers, a rear-view colour camera and in-dash screen, which also contains the Bluetooth information, stereo controls (replicated on the steering wheel rim) and sat-nav system are augmented by a comprehensive lane control, blind-spot recognition, cross-traffic monitor, an all-encompassing crash mitigation and forward collision warning system.

 

There are many excellent features incorporated within the Civic Tourer but I could not help but feel that the vast majority of potential buyers would not care less about them. I used to like Honda and I have enjoyed driving many of the firm’s models over the years but there is something about the Civic that simply does not engage with me. I would like to think that the superficiality of its styling was the only reason but I would be wrong. It is simply not as likeable a car as it should be.

 

When Soichiro Honda, the founder of the company, died he left a tremendous legacy. Honda remains an independent vehicle manufacturer, even though many critics over the years have suggested that it would be a short-lived pleasure. The biggest issue for me, having been fortunate enough to meet the great man, is that I am convinced that, without his leadership and fingers in every pie, the company is slightly rudderless. Its once attractive design stance has been lost. Whether a return to Formula One will improve its fortunes remains to be seen.

Conclusion:   Apart from my personal view of the Civic’s design, I can find no real fault with the car. The Tourer is well-built and well-equipped. It is frugal to live with and delivers on most counts to the class average. However, it is now very expensive and I do question its value for money. It would work as a company car and there are enough business fleets that swear by the Honda brand but the Civic Tourer just leaves me slightly cold.