Reclaiming its place in the spotlight – Honda Civic

Honda’s new Civic comes at a crucial time for the brand, bringing with it the sort of appeal that first made the model famous. Automan tests the car in Oman

Author: Raj Warrior  |  Photography: Elvis John Ferrao

Look at the C-segment and you will see a lot of hectic activity among brands – as they pull in the confluence of new consumer technologies and lifestyle choices to define their new offerings. After all the C-segment in general faces the challenge of a being in a very price and value conscious part of the market, while delivering the volumes that make mass manufacture so much a reality.

Honda’s Civic has been a definer of the segment and is now in its tenth generation. But what is really important is that the new generation is an attempt to address the issues that the brand had with the ninth gen car (over 2011-2015) . even in that short period the car actually underwent a rejig within the first 18 months due to complaints.

There is no such fear with this model. It launched at the end of 2015 in the US market and has already won the North American car of the year. At the launch event in Dubai, we were introduced to the car and its feature pack and our initial feedback was that the car had the potential to be a winner and from the results in the showroom over the past month, our assessment seems to have been endorsed by customers. And to our surprise the bulk of customers have seen the inherent advantage of going for the fully equipped versions.

The Civic launches into the market with two engine variants . The base engine across the LXi and EXi is the 2.0-litre i-VTEC engine with an output of 158hp @ 6500rpm (with a cut-off  at around 6,800rpm) and 187Nm of torque at 4,200rpm. The higher specced engine that comes on the RS is actually the smaller volume 1.5-litre turbocharged engine that offers 180hp at 6,000rpm and a higher torque of 220Nm along the band of 1700 to 5500rpm. The difference in torque is very evident and meshes well with the 7-notch CVT to the level that it really lives up to the RS tag in its appeal to a younger owner. The next bit of kit that has changed is the entire IP and centre console that is dominated by Honda’s new Android based tablet display that pairs quite effectively with either IPhone or Android phone for a pretty good smart phone interface.

The main advantages of the new design are a connect with the past models while they integrate new LED DRLs, projector lamps and a raciness that makes even the base LXi a great looking car. The proportions are broadly carried over though this car looks longer and slightly squatter than before, but the wheels are placed so as to give it a bit of dynamism. And the single biggest move is towards the new Honda fascia using the large horizontal member over the grille.

The interiors have also changed, with a roomier rear cabin and even more hideaways and cubbyholes. What we really liked was the centre console that now offers a two-tiered zone with the USB and interfaces stashed below and out of sight while providing a slot to run wires to the surface. So you can keep your phone in full view. Of course the interface is good, so you can really keep it out of sight and even use your phone’s voice control if required.

Additional features include a paddleshifter (in the RS) and a tap to shift feature that really overcomes the CVT’s inherent sluggishness. This CVT is far better than the generation we encountered in the early City and settles in with just a little tug at the pedal.

Features from larger cars have also debuted on the Civic including remote engine starter and Lanewatch. The former is really useful when you want to cool down your car before you get into it. We have yet to figure out how much of an advantage the Lanewatch on the far side is over having a traditional BLIS arrangement. Yes, you now see cars that would typically be in the far blindspot but it takes a while before you realise you still have a near blind spot that requires attention.

Driving Impressions

The 2.0-litre LXi unit that we were testing in Oman is as interesting as any of the higher versions. All that you lack are some of the feature pack like the larger displays and rearview camera and of course the Lanewatch that goes with the extra camera on the outside far mirror and the larger display.

The engine is peppy and spools in instantaneously, with a decent level of midrange torque although the maximum power is only 158bhp. With a curb weight of below 1250kgs, the Civic doesn’t have too much weight to haul. So you get the mass moving at a decent pace with the CVT that also carries programming to hold a higher ratio in order to do the sprint.

The car has a very European feel for an American made vehicle. The NVH levels are low and the chassis gives the feel of having undergone a major level of weight loss. You can actually sense the reduced unsprung mass and stiffened tarcking components. It translates into a faster turn in speed on curves and better steering feel all through the turn. The steering loads up pretty well and you can get more g-force on the lateral axis.

The RS is a different ball game, with its 1.5-litre turbo unit. The torque delivery is much more intense and occurs over a wider rev range so you get a far better sprint start and a better top end. And the provision of the paddle shifters is really handy as you can extract the most out of the little turbocharged unit.

The Civic RS is the delectable little cherry that you really want in this lineup. It isn’t as aggressive as the Type R and certainly offers better comfort and the handiness of an automatic shift.

We particularly like the dark on dark styling of the exterior and the intensity of the interiors. You can’t really stray too far from the Civic norm but the small touches count as does the available larger screen and the possibility of putting on a google map for navigation.

Verdict

The principal question we need to answer is whether the car really has moved ahead of the past generation, especially where it competes with other models in its segment. Most competitors have made the transition to cars that marry trendy technology, lifestyle choices and better production process to deliver in demand models. And the universe of competition has grown as well. Now the Elantra and Cerato join the Corolla and various European C-segment sedans. And we even have the Sentra from Nissan nipping on the heels. So the Civic has a tough job catching the customer’s minds and wallets.

Our recommendation is that the Civic has now grown enough to be a really effective option. The engine and geartrain are better than average, the cabin is now definitely at the top of class and the drive feel is almost European in its suppleness. But the real takeaway is that this American made car brings a solidness and reliability that may make it another signature model generation for the brand. The Civic is again an engineer’s delight.

About Raj Warrior
Raj Warrior is the managing editor of Automan Magazine and has been a part of the Middle East’s automotive landscape from the past 15 years. He has run top rung car magazines in India and Oman and is often referred to as the Automan of Oman. With a background in mechanics, mechanisms and software programming, he is able to visualise the intricate workings of the modern automobile and brings a mix of technical and lifestyle based assessment to his writing. He is also an avid Photographer, often shooting the cars and motorcycles he tests for the magazine. As comfortable on a motorcycle as he is in cars, Raj is driven by his love affair with all things on wheels and brings his passion to all his automotive ventures. Raj has chosen Oman as his home base because he loves the country, its friendly people and its great driving and riding roads.

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