Punchier Civic elevates Honda but CVT delivers the goods
As he explained in a recent report, Iain Robertson is a Honda fan but feels that he may have fallen out with the brand, although a further driving opportunity with the latest Civic model has reinforced his view that it is vastly improved.
With my ‘boy-racer’ days now somewhat behind me, while I am not the adrenaline-junkie I once may have purported to be, I can still enjoy, perhaps even revel in a pleasingly balanced motorcar possessing a modicum of ‘oomph’. In truth, my fascination for the ‘1.0-litre, triple’ engine technology that is proliferating at present remains undimmed.
Sadly, my recent drive of the Honda Civic in that form left me quite unmoved. I expected better, especially of Honda, a renowned exponent of the high-revving, enticing world of race-related technology. After all, Honda has its bikes and other power units to rely on for inspiration, which made the all-out-at-5,500rpm response of its one-litre unit somewhat distracting. The fact that the Civic’s power-to-weight ratio inhibits a vital performance edge disturbed me further.
Therefore, in this case, it is true to describe my response as being all about the engine. As a result, it was most useful to be able to sample the alternative 1.5-litre turbocharged, four-cylinder petrol power-plant in both 6-speed manual and CVT transmission forms. It is worth noting that a diesel version will be along soon. Developing 179bhp but being able to rev past 6,400rpm, which helps to make better use of fairly short overall gearing, its on-paper performance is sparkling.
A Civic thus powered will scorch from 0-60mph in around 7.9 seconds, topping out at a respectable 137mph, which I accept is purely academic in our market. According to the official blurb, its Combined fuel return is given as a believable 48.7mpg, as a heavy right foot on my part managed to maintain an eminently acceptable 43.2mpg in a two hours driving session. Although CO2 emissions are not the precursor they once used to be, 133g/km equates to £200 first year’s road tax, followed by £140 annually thereafter (or until the Exchequer feels like moving the goalposts again).
Described as a V-TEC engine, in manual gearbox form, there is none of the ‘camminess’ that used to come as part of the package during the V-TEC’s heyday. In some respects that is sad, as I used to love the sensation attached to the turbo-like, extra boot-in-the-back, under full-throttle acceleration. Of course, Honda has its exhaust emissions’ targets to attend to, which is the key reason behind the 1.0-litre being so (in my book) lethargic and unremarkable. Instead, a seamless wave of torque (177lbs ft available between 1,900-5,000rpm) wafts the Civic 1.5t towards the horizon, with each snickety-snick shift of the manual gearlever.
However, I did mention that I had driven the CVT alternative too. Interestingly, while it shares the power output of the manual, albeit peaking 500rpm above it, its torque figure is strangled (electronically managed) a tad to 162lbs ft, delivered across an even broader range of between 1,700-5,500rpm. The differences in raw performance are barely discernible, although the Official Combined fuel return is 2.4mpg worse (46.3mpg) and the CO2 rating takes a 6g/km hike to 139g/km, although the road tax situation is the same.
Compare the two models back-to-back, as I did, and the clear enthusiast’s choice will lie with the CVT. Yes, it is fractionally slower, losing almost 12mph in stated top speed, but it feels significantly faster on-road. It needs to be said that the CVT, re-engineered by Honda, which possesses a solid history with constantly variable transmissions, does not perform the flat-out drone of either its predecessors’, or rivals’, products. This is mostly due to the installation of seven ‘pseudo’ gear ratios, which is clever stuff for a transmission that does not have any!
Driven frugally, despite what the figures suggest, a Civic CVT should return a consistent 43-44mpg to most drivers and there is a decent reminder placed within the central dial of the instrument display to help the driver to monitor it. Select ‘S’ via the lever and a pseudo-manual ‘box results, which can be worked most efficaciously by the up and down paddles located behind the right and left spokes respectively of the steering wheel. Of course, there are the customary electronic safeguards to ensure that you incur no damage to either engine, or transmission but, fortunately, they do not dent the sheer driveability, which I have to inform you is excellent.
Naturally, auto-boxes of almost any description are ideal partners these days, when you take traffic snarl-ups, whether in town, or not, into account. The on-cost to businesses electing to place the Civic on their fleets amounts to a further £1,400 for the CVT, over the starting price of a 1.5t Sport model at £22,540. There are Sport-Plus and Prestige trim variants available for £2,865 and £5,010 extra cost respectively (in manual form).
To support my contention that the CVT is the better option, the abbreviated gearing of these intentionally less sporty Civics (because the ‘big-banger’ Type-R model is due soon) benefits from not having to remove left hand from steering wheel, or position left foot above clutch pedal, to effect manual gearshifts. Rather, all concentration can be directed at the quick steering (which is not as quick as it is on the 1.0-litre models), which enhances the driving proposition.
Talking of which, there is scarcely any torque steer to mention, although bump-steer (not pronounced) is almost inevitable on our poor condition roads. The new multi-link rear suspension, despite no longer benefiting from a double-wishbone front end, provides excellent deportment on almost any road surface, although depressing the semi-active damper button can introduce some waywardness and slight harshness that pimply-foreheaded youths might thrill too…even though they cannot actually afford to buy a new Civic, even at preferential PCP rates.
Conclusion: Choosing a new 1.5t Civic is simple enough. The price list is fairly uncomplicated and shows just three trim levels and two transmission offerings. The list prices are competitive, verging on ‘keen’, which should tempt the corporate sector into a new Honda. The 1.5t is significantly swifter than the 1.0t but also bolsters its character with delightful chassis behaviour and a relatively simply trim check. If you want leather, you pay more for it. There should be zero complaints on either dynamics, or performance fronts.