Time Well Spent: Honda Civic 1.8i VTEC SE Plus Auto

WORDS:Mike Humble

The Civic SE Plus 1.8 Auto
The Civic SE Plus 1.8 Auto

I will make no bones about the fact I adore the British made Civic, not everyone’s cup of tea for sure with its sci-fi facia and slightly pedestrian image, but my own experience of them has been positive. After running the previous models 2.2 diesel, I appreciated the tidy handling and punchy performance along with the well equipped specification and its “stand out from the crowd” styling. The latest models have credible road manners and much improved interior build quality.

AUTOBRITANNIA.NET has tested the Tourer and 1.6 diesel models of the current generation previously and again, both models stuck a chord for driver enjoyment. We recently had the opportunity to try out a petrol auto version in SE Plus trim with the 1.8 VTEC petrol unit that puts out 142Ps of power with 174Nm of torque. The gearbox is a typically standard affair with 5 forward gears and paddle shift function from the steering wheel with selectable sport mode and traction control for when the going gets slippery underfoot.

The auto SE+ comes in at £22.355 which on face value is more expensive than the equivalent Focus or Astra and is very much chasing after the Golf customer. This is no bad thing as the current Civic has a definite premium feel about it with very tight shut lines and superb paint finish on the outside with quality feeling trim on the inside that gives the impression it’s designed to go the distance. Thanks to Honda’s engineering prowess and just like the aforementioned Golf, you kind of know the Civic is going to be a dependable and reliable investment.

For your money you get 17″ alloy wheels, front fogs, cruise control, park sensors, reversing camera, DAB tuner and remote power folding door mirrors – as you can see, the Civic SE+ is well-appointed so buyers should not feel short-changed. The low slung driving position is easy to fine tune, most of the controls are well placed and the seat, despite lacking a lumbar adjustment, is supportive and well padded. You feel cocooned in the driving seat but it’s not cramped, in fact – there’s plenty of leg and headroom for front and rear occupants. The driver’s seat has plenty of height too if required.

Interior is roomy, very well made and nicely equipped. Climate, cruise, D.A.B and parking sensors with camera come as standard kit
Interior is roomy, very well made and nicely equipped.

Most of the trim feels of very high quality although some plastic especially on the lower part of the dash hard and smooth to the touch. The dual zone climate control works very well featuring a quiet fan and a rapid demist function that literally works in seconds, but the buttons are very small to use when on the move at speed or on bumpy roads. The steering wheel mounted buttons operate the trip computer and radio functions but you need to have a flick through the handbook to acclimatize yourself to the car – I found it confusing and awkward to pair my phone to the audio unit.

Getting out about finds the Civic generally very smooth and refined in urban environments and the engine is whisper quiet at low speeds at when sitting in traffic. The lack of low speed vibration is worthy of mention, and when idling in neutral you almost think the engine has switched itself off. The steering nice and light with a dash of feel at the rim and the brakes are pretty much perfect – Honda even fit a traditional lever type handbrake that was powerful and held the car on any gradient without pulling the lever from the floor.

Generally, the Civic auto is a very smooth operator that just gets on with the task in hand, and like I mentioned, around town the Civic is relaxed and refined. Sadly, it changes very quickly once you leave the Borough boundary and press on harder. To make swift progress requires the throttle pedal to be mashed into the carpet, and even then it seems to feel underpowered. Using “Sport” mode just makes the car hold on to the gears for a longer and when the engine reaches its upper limits, it takes on a rowdy raucous tone that’s not pleasant on the ear.

As a consequence, fuel economy suffers and after a weeks worth of mixed driving, I struggled to top 34mpg. Having previous experience of the same engine in manual form, it seems nothing more than the gearbox not being suited to the car. Drive along in a normal manner and the car behaves fine, but if you want that little bit of vim and vigour in a family hatchback when you twitch your right foot, the Civic SE+ 1.8 auto is not the car for you. The kickdown time is slow and after it does shift a ratio, it takes a long time to go up a cog once you back off the throttle – almost clinging onto the gear if you like.

The 142Ps 1.8 revs freely but the five speed "Slaughter-Matic" gearbox is slow to respond is does not mate well with the engine. Its noisy and thirsty when rushed but very smooth when around town or when cruising.
The 142Ps 1.8 revs freely but the five speed “slaughter-Matic” gearbox is slow to respond and does not mate well with the engine. Its noisy and thirsty when rushed but very smooth when around town or when cruising.

What it needs is the same ratios as the manual, ie: a six speed transmission as the standard five speed ratios feel too high for comfort. It’s especially noticeable when joining a fast road from a junction and made even worse when the “Eco” programme is switched on. Re-selcting the cruise control after being baulked in traffic or exiting a roundabout brings no real progress and in a couple of occasions made me feel worried about looming traffic from behind. The only resolve was to hit the gas hard to pull away and maintain progress – it all feels very wrong.

At least the gearbox is smooth, quiet and jerk free in its action and high speed motorway cruising in relaxed and refined at all times. As per the Civic norm, the handling is predictable with loads of grip and virtually no body roll even during a speedy turn-in. The ride comfort is very commendable, the odd bump thump at low speeds can be noticed in the cabin, as can tyre noise on rough surfaces, but generally very good indeed – especially with a couple of passengers on board. Civic also has excellent headlamps but as mentioned before on other Civic reviews, the clocks can reflect in the windows on very dark roads.

Rear end styling is not to everyone's taste but the tailgate reveals a long, wide and very low cargo bay. Not an inch of space is wasted for passenger, oddment or luggage space.
Rear end styling is not to everyone’s taste but the tailgate reveals a long, wide and very low cargo bay. Not an inch of space is wasted for passenger, oddment or luggage space. Rear visibility is not brilliant but parking sensors and a reverse camera come part of the package.

The car is also very practical and clever in the use of space thanks to a flat cargo bay and Honda’s “magic” rear seats. The seat bases lift up and lock in place to allow items to be placed across the floor which would otherwise be too awkward or wide to get into the boot. Once the cushion is re-located back, there is ample room underneath for squashy type hand luggage or the stowage of valuable items. In the boot itself, there is a useful storage area hidden under a robust false floor and other hide-away holes are found under the front centre armrest, in the spacious felt lined glove-box and the decent sized door pockets.


So to sum up, the Civic has lost none of its practicality and remains a well made five door hatchback with brilliant design touches, rock solid build quality and an impressive paint finish. Rear end styling and visibility still remains to be a topic for discussion but if you are looking for a spacious, well made British family hatchback, the Civic ticks many boxes and is bound to remain popular with brand fans

It’s an enjoyable and relaxing car to drive, if you drive in a relaxed manner that is. Should you have a heavier right foot and like a little excitement on the move, I would not recommend the automatic option and stay with the manual. The auto feels sluggish and stressed when hurried – which is a real shame for those who can only drive an automatic, and a massive polar opposite and let down for those who know the Civic manual models well… a shame!



Model: Honda Civic SE Plus 1.8 Automatic

Price: £22.355 (£22.855 as tested with optional paint)

Produced By: Honda Manufacturing UK Swindon

Engine: 1.8 i-VTEC 16 valve petrol
Gearbox: Five speed electronic auto with paddle shift
Power / Torque: 142Ps / 174Nm
Performance: Max not quoted 0 – 60 in 11.5 seconds
Economy: 44.1mpg combined (34.6mpg on test)
Co2 Output: 150G/km
VED Banding: Band F

Points of commendation: Stylish – Very good build quality – Some clever design touches – Good handling and ride compromise – Well equipped – The epitome of practicality – Intelligent cargo bay design – Refined when cruising – Feels like a premium car – Good reputation of dealers and customer care – Built in the UK.

Reservations: Awful gearbox – Sluggish performance – Needs a dash of colour inside – Some switchgear fiddly to operate – Noisy and thirsty when pushed on hard – Expensive compared to some rivals – Rear visibility could be better – Reflections from dashboard noticable when driving at night.

For more information on the Civic CLICK HERE

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