Ever since a brief drive of the latest Civic at last years S.M.M.T test event at the Millbrook proving ground, I had been looking forward to spending a little more time with Honda’s answer to the Focus. My own personal experience of the Civic was pleasurable, I ran the previous model as a company smoker a few years back and armed with its powerful 2.2iCDTi engine, many thousands of trouble-free miles flew by. The latest version of the Swindon produced Civic which answered many of the criticisms I noted with my own example, has turned a the slightly weird but wonderful Wiltshire car into a credible alternative to all of its mainstream rivals.
Now into its 42nd year of production, Honda have sold over 17 million Civics worldwide with every model earning an enviable reputation for reliability and customer satisfaction
This recently introduced (Feb 2014) estate version known as the “Tourer” is much more than a roomy version of a Civic. The whole transformation of this new vehicle has been completely designed, engineered and researched by the UK team at Honda UK in Stratton St Margaret near the industrial metropolis of Swindon. Now into its 42nd year of production, Honda have sold over 17 million Civics worldwide with every model earning an enviable reputation for reliability and customer satisfaction. Their showrooms are generally known for being straight talking and square dealing outlets with the brand enjoying an enviable trend of customer loyalty.
The current model as mentioned addressed many of the outgoing cars drawbacks. The interior plastic texture for example, is a Gulf apart from the outgoing models slightly hard and scratchy feeling – an unfortunate side effect for extensive use of recycled materials. Civic Tourer now feels pretty much up to standards with mainstream alternatives – nothing squeaks or rattles inside and the upper part of the dashboard and door cards are of very high quality feel and look. Its pretty much the same story on the outside too with impressive shut lines and pleasing styling. The Milano red paint looked every inch zesty and sporting, this allied to a two-tone effect on the nose with black detailing to the grille makes the car look smart and youthful.
Youthful being the operative word here as the Civic unfairly sports a pedestrian and Murray Mint kind of image in the motoring world. Now… this is a real shame as the Tourer looks fresh and very stylish indeed from almost every vantage point. The odd triangular looking front door handles have given way to a more traditional looking affair but the handles for the back doors are still blended into the window surround – a design cue that first came popular with the Alfa Romeo 156. Privacy glass features in the rear saloon and the narrowing effect of the D post window works really well. One or two observers remarked that rear view from a 3/4 aspect shows an almost Volvo type image – not bad thing either as this is after all a load hugging Honda.
Overall, the car is nicely styled and visually balanced with some pleasing design touches such as the satin effect alloy roof bars, Shark fin aerial and deep front spoiler with splitter type air dam that hugs the floor. These all add to what I reckon to be an eye candy kind of car. One thing is worth a mention though, the deep front bumper runs the risk of contacting high kerbs or stray objects in the road. Two tone 17″ alloys with ultra low profile add a little panache to the Civic and I didn’t think it would be such a head turner either. A pair of complete strangers and one of my neighbours have remarked about the car, one asking how good it was the other saying how smart it looked in red. So that’s the exterior covered… does it impress inside?
The familiar snug driving position remains as does the digital speed readout but analogue dials now feature for fuel, revs and temperature. The calibration on the dials are a little garish on the eye but straightforward to decipher on the move. Its digital computer and speed readout is prone to reflecting both in strong daylight and in the windscreen at night. Also, there are some reflections evident in the side window – nothing to be regarded as dangerous or serious… more of a mild annoyance. The leather clad stubby gearlever falls readily to the hand while the steering wheel rim is chunky and just the right diameter, drivers will appreciate the decent reversing camera and the traditional lever type handbrake.
Heating and ventilation comes in the form of a standard fit dual zone climate control system that works rather well, though the buttons are a little fussy and small to operate. Good sized air vents and a reasonably quiet fan enable a good airflow through the cabin but rear occupants don’t have their own vents like some rivals have. Most passengers will have no problems with the Civics comfort and space. The leather seats look sporting with the driver’s side being adjustable for height and both front chairs featuring two position heating – both are comfy even on the longest of journeys. Rear passengers fare very well too with plenty of leg and headroom on offer. The bench is firm but there were no complaints about the comfort from occupants – a work associate of 6ft 3inches tall found no problems getting comfy in the back.
Over 640 litres of cargo space is there for your delectation and the false floor in the boot is almost large enough to double as a toddlers paddling pool… drop the seats and you have almost 1700 litres at your disposal – way ahead of the rivals!
In fact… the back seat is all rather clever actually. Not only does is split fold down flush to the floor with one hand and one action unlike some rivals, the bench cushion also swings upwards in a cinema kind of fashion and easily locks into place. This is ideal for odd loads and more practicality is demonstrated by the way the rear doors open to almost 90 degrees. Not only that but there is even more space underneath the cushion once lowered for temporary storage of items such as shopping or squishy bags. And if that isn’t enough, the luggage area is just as well thought through and clever in execution. Over 640 litres of cargo space is there for your delectation and the false floor in the boot hides a deep tray almost large enough to double as a toddlers paddling pool though I doubt Honda would recommend this. Remove the sliding load cover and drop the seats and you have almost 1700 litres at your disposal – way ahead of the rivals!
A well thought out cargo bay, credible equipment levels that includes a reversing camera and boasts a comfortable interior with clever rear seats and imposing looks – the Civic Tourer is ticking all the boxes, so what’s it like on the road?
The 1.8 VTEC engine offers plenty of urge… but you do have to use all of the available power to get the best from it – sadly at the expense of fuel economy. Refinement and isolation from vibration around town and on the urban roads is quite impressive, so much so that you often fail to notice the “stop start” has activated. In true Japanese petrol fashion the engine adores to be revved but sadly lacks that all important bottom end torque when you really need it. Throw on some coal though and the engine sweetly runs all the way round the dial – albeit noisily but once cruising at any speed the refinement is pretty good – there is more than average tyre noise though. The steering is pin sharp and thanks to some reduction in assistance – has enough feel for most spirited drivers but crosswinds are slightly noticeable and it feels a touch flighty on motorways.
The adaptive rear damping (an industry first) makes the Civic Tourer an enjoyable drive
Press on hard through the twisty bits and it wont disappoint you. Theres plenty of grip from the Bridgestone Touranza working well with communicative steering and a well damped chassis. The adaptive rear damping (an industry first) makes the Civic Tourer an enjoyable drive although tyre and suspension noise are both noticeable on fast rough roads. Low speed ride comfort is sportlingly firm but not too overbearing, add a few passengers and it almost becomes quite placid. No problems with the brakes either, plenty of anchorage, feel and progression at the pedal – everything you would expect of a well-engineered car like a Honda. So far as driving enjoyment goes, there is only one real fly in the ointment – driving the car in economy mode is a bit tiresome.
Following the change-up reminder light to the letter gains you little progress in busy traffic and sees top gear selected way too sooner than you would like. The eco setting also varies the throttle pedal response and as a consequence you find yourself burying the pedal into the floor mat. Motorway driving in eco with the cruise control activated is very frustrating after a brake application – switch the cruise back on and it seems to take forever to rebuild speed. But of course this is all in the name of economy, but being green shouldn’t make you red with anger surely? Issues aside, the Civic Tourer is a very clever and talented car of which I thoroughly enjoyed – It’s not cheap but its bound to beat most of the rivals hands down in reliability and residual stakes – two key areas that matter the most in a crowded cut throat marketplace.
The Humble Opinion:
One of the nicest looking things to hail from Swindon since Melinda Messenger. It’s a very sweet driving, good looking car that with a tweak or three could not only match but eclipse the very best of the rest and not only is the Tourer class leadingly spacious, it’s a drivers car too. This is being proven in the new BTCC racing season in the capable hands of Matt Neal and its bound to make spirited potential customers sit up and take notice. More hard-hitting advertising about the products rather than the brand culture messages or cute robots will sell more cars and go some way to appealing to the younger buyers, a sector Honda unfairly miss out on but at the end of the day… its a damn fine machine!
AUTOBRITANNIA RATING: 8/10
MAIN STATS: Honda Civic Tourer SR 1.8 iVTEC
Production Facility: Honda Motor Europe Ltd Stratton St Margaret Swindon
Price As Tested: £24350
Engine / Transmission: 1.8 16v i-VTEC petrol with Stop Start – 6 speed manual.
Power & Torque: 142Ps & 174Nm.
Economy: Govt Claimed – 44.1mpg (39.9mpg on test)
Co2 & V.E.D: 149g/km – Tax Band F
Suspension: All round coil independent with selectable adaptive rear damping.
Brakes: All round discs with ABD EBD & traditional lever type park brake.
THE HIGHS: Smart looking – Spacious & practical – Free spirited engine – Comfortable & supportive seating – Superb urban refinement – Simple but ingenious rear seat folding system with class leading cargo space – Good build quality – Enviable reputation for reliability and residual values – Able chassis – Good equipment – Very appealing to the younger family driver.
THE LOWS: Blue rinse brand image – Thirsty when hurried – Instrument reflections at night – Info / tainment system looks out of place and is very complicated – Expensive when pitted against some rivals – Eco mode takes all the fun away – Interior needs a splash of colour – Some minor switchgear could be better placed – Tyre noise at speed – Suspension a bit vocal on ruts and pot holes.