JAPANESE CAR COMPANIES tend to keep schtum when they’ve screwed up on product, but Honda is taking a much more open approach with its admission that the existing Civic hasn’t quite cut the mustard. In fact, the firm devoted a third of its entire research and development workforce to the project to develop a tenth generation of the bread-and-butter hatchback that could appeal to drivers as well as, well, Honda’s relatively elderly faithful clientele.
CHASSIS – There are two main areas of significant change. First and foremost is the chassis, a ground-up redesign that does away with the old Civic’s torsion beam rear suspension in favour of a more complex multi-link setup. Honda originally plumped for the beam on grounds of cost and packaging; the result, project leader Mitsuru Kariya admits, was not a car that appealed to enthusiastic drivers. ‘O nee we decided to try to get back to the keen responses that have appealed to so many Civic drivers over the years,’ he says, ‘it was clear we had to go for a different suspension solution.’
Aside from the suspension configuration, the platform is built in an about-face way, with inner frame made before its outer frame, to help improve torsional rigidity. Throw in greater use of high-tensile steel and you end up with a substructure that is 16kg lighter than the chassis it replaces, but 41 per cent more rigid. The overall body’s resistance to flexing is up by 65 per cent, too.
ADAPTIVE DAMPERS – Honda believes it is scoring a major hit with mainstream buyers by offering selected new Civic models with adaptive dampers. Most likely to be available on the 1.5 initially, the adaptive dampers have two settings – “regular’ and ‘dynamic’ – and use three-axis body sensors to make judgements and then activate solenoids to control oil flow through the system, thereby adjusting the rate of damping. We’ve had a short drive of a Sport-spec 1.5 Civic already, and the difference was muted; body control does tighten up in ‘dynamic’, but only slightly. There is undoubtedly scope for more extreme settings, though.
ENGINES – Honda has resisted the trend for downsized, turbocharged petrol engines more than most, but it finally gives in with the new Civic, which gets either a 1-litre three-cylinder producing 129hp and 200Nm, or a 1.5-litre four-pot with 182hp and 240Nm. Those figures aren’t that remarkable on paper, but they are by Honda standards, and the spreads of torque – useable from less than 2000rpm in the 1.5 – will feel pretty alien to those used to VTEC normally aspirated engines that need working hard.
WHAT OF THE TYPER? – Honda’s efforts haven’t quite turned the Civic into a B-road weapon. But there’s enough to suggest that when the whole package is cranked up to make the next Type R, it has the potential to be both a road and track hero, with a longer wheelbase aiding cornering stability a more resolved and capable chassis and, one must assume, a bespoke setting for the adaptive dampers. Indeed, there seems little doubt that the next Type R will have a front-drive chassis that can cope with even more power. And this could explain why, when you suggest a figure of 345hp, Honda’s engineers only raise their eyebrows by the tiniest degree.