The Mk10 Civic is the biggest single-model development in Honda’s history. Bigger, cleverer and as sharp to drive as a Focus? We’ll let them have two out of three…
New is potentially the most overused adjective in the automotive lexicon, used to put a gloss on something that’s merely refreshed, tweaked or preened. But the tenth-generation Honda Civic has earned the right to play the new card repeatedly; the exterior, platform, cabin and engines are all box-fresh, and what little remains is updated too.
The amount of new in this Civic is a reflection on the current state of the mid-sized hatchback market. Ford facelifted the Focus last year while Golf and Leon have emerged from their mid-life scrub-up too, but all three offer varying combinations of quality and driving pleasure that eclipsed Civic Mk9. To sort that out, Honda has devoted additional resources to the project – the Civic is the largest single model development in company history – and right from the off they are talking big about this car being a great drive, not always something you’d associate with the big H.
Before you get there though you’ll find it hard to miss the exterior. It is significantly bigger than the old car, with an extra 30mm in the wheelbase, 130mm of length while also being lower and wider too. If the tape didn’t tell a different story you’d swear it was almost Accord-sized.
There’s a step-change in style too, abandoning the aero look of the old car for something a little more conventional. In Sport trim it’s heavy on the aggressive detailing too, even going as far as a centre-exit exhaust that cuts a little from the rear load space. The CR-V-like nose ties it in to the family while its lines are more sharply defined; it’s a face you’ll remember if not necessarily dream about.
Inside there’s a mixture of non-threatening looks mixed with some clever design. In a show of commitment to the sporty theme the hip point has been lowered by 35mm, which in turn means the much-loved Magic Seats are magic no more, but you’re sat in a much better position as a result. Under-bonnet rejigging results in a lower bonnet, and slimmed A-pillars improve the view out too.
Sport trim brings with it flashes of carbonfibre across the dashboard, but broadly speaking it’s sensible shoes in here. There’s a TFT screen in place of the speedometer and rev counter which is crisp and clear, flanked by two conventional gauges that riff splendidly on 1980s games consoles.
There’s plenty of typical clever Honda thinking in here too; the centre cubby is massive, the rear load cover unfurls from the side rather than behind the seats and there’s a neat little cable tidy for the connectivity ports. All small details but indicative of considered thought. The quality is up at the right end of the spectrum; Golf still rules here but Civic is jostling with the other key players.
That bigger body justifies itself on the space front. The boot might be a solitary litre bigger than the old one at 478 litres but it’s still comfortably bigger than anything bar the outsized Octavia, and a wider aperture makes it easier to use too. When it comes to inserting passengers, only rear headroom is a minor quibble; legroom in the back is impressive and up front all shapes will fit even with a sunroof fitted.
Beneath it all lies a brand-new body structure, which as well as being 16kg lighter than the old one is also more than 50% stiffer in torsional rigidity, impressive for a bigger shell. The suspension is a brand-new multi-link set-up at the rear with updated MacPherson struts up front, while motion comes from two fresh powerplants; a 1.0-litre three-cylinder and the 1.5-litre four-cylinder tested here, both employing VTEC and turbocharging – but don’t get any Type R ideas just yet.
Until next summer the 1.5-litre is the quickest Civic you can buy, with the VTEC and turbo combining to offer up 180bhp and 1771b ft.
We were reminded several times that these were pre-production cars but that bodes very well for the real thing; the four-cylinder is quiet and smooth on startup, revs cleanly and happily round to 6500rpm (with a delightful turbo whine past 6000rpm which sadly may be engineered out). Best of all though is that like any good example the Civic’s motor is pleasingly linear, the torque coming in smoothly above 1500rpm but still offering a good reason to rev it out if you’re in the mood. The six-speed manual is textbook Honda-slick, and overall refinement is already of a high order, pre-production or not.
Which leaves only the big question: is the tenth Civic really a great drive? With a few caveats thrown in – chiefly that our drive was brief and not on UK roads – the answer is certainly yes. If you’ve stepped out of a Focus you might think you’ve forgotten to take your winter gloves off, but aside from the steering lacking the last degree of feedback the Civic is genuinely good fun.
The keen engine makes it easy to string bends together while the suspension, in standard mode, is taut without becoming fidgety – if anything it’s best left like that on anything other than flawless asphalt. Small road imperfections register on the inner ear but don’t disturb and, when you start to press on, the Civic is clearly at home; there’s little pitch or roll, turn-in is positive and the whole thing feels composed. Ultimately there are one or two slightly sharper rivals, but the Civic can now be considered a car that is worth being driven with vigour rather than patience.
The Civic has changed tack to satisfy a broader audience, and there’s no doubt that being a global car has shaped the end result. Gen-ten continues the Civic’s position as one of the most space-efficient cars in the class, added to the welcome boost in refinement, quality and driving appeal. It might not have enough about it to knock out the biggest hitters in the segment, but with the right pricing the Civic will convert a few non-believers to the Honda way of thinking.
Honda Civic 1.5 Sport
Price: £21,000 (est)
Engine: 1498cc turbocharged petrol 4-cyl
Power: 180bhp @ 5500rpm
Torque: 177lb ft @ 1900rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual, front-wheel drive
0-62mph: 8.5sec (est)
Top speed: 135mph (est),
On sale: Now (deliveries March)
Different, better, but not the best