Time Well Spent: Honda Civic 1.6 i-DTEC

Words: Mike Humble – Images: J Lawler

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The UK built Civic is a car that I´ll confess… I like it a lot. For sure the styling has always been for conversation and the “brand” image tends to conjour up an images of velcro fastened slippers and a bottle of TCP in the medicine cabinet – but believe me when I say, its unfounded and unfair – on a personal level I have lots of experience and Civic mileage under my belt!

A good friend of mine commented on the civic as “Honda´s car for the nineties” and he wasn´t referring to the decade either. A “spirited” whizz round the block left him dumbfounded at just how clever and snappy this quirky five door hatchback really is – he has subsequently gone onwards to purchase an ex demo diesel. As with all things in life, not everything is perfect and AUTOBRITANNIA.NET discovered this recently when we tested the 1.8 petrol automatic version. It was very much a brilliant car let down by a rather average (bordering on awful) driveline, so when the opportunity came along to try out the top of the range EX with the British made 1.6 litre i-DTEC engine the smiles came back once again.

This diesel engine – UK built along with the car itself must surely be one of the best kept secrets in the automotive industry – it really is remarkable. It has the ability to transform any Honda car into an entertaining, refined and capable vehicle. Even when transplanted into the CR-V – a car that’s somewhat more portly and less svelte than the Civic, the compromise of refinement, performance and economy is still quite amazing. But getting back to the Civic, no matter how good the engine may be, it sits smack bang in a true gladiatorial arena where only the fittest survive, long serving metal such as the VW Golf and Ford Focus slog it out to the death with vehicles like the Vauxhall Astra bringing up he UK front – unless it´s selling on cost alone, anything in the class has to have its USP.

The punchy 1.6 diesel is mean and green. There is 120Ps and 300Nm to keep you out of trouble - its quite refined too!
The punchy 1.6 diesel is mean and green. There is 120Ps and 300Nm to keep you out of trouble – its quite refined too!

Despite its cubics, the 1.6 i-DTEC packs a decent punch of both torque and outright BHP with credible class topping emissions too. It´s also a whole lot more refined than the 2.2D engine of old (no longer offered in Civic but still available on CR-V) and unlike some smaller diesels that only have a powerband as wide as Sophie Ellis-Bextor´s ankle, the i-DTEC pulls with linear vigour. From 1200rpm to right round the dial the strength to get out of trouble is instant in almost any gear – only when you are heading towards the red-line does the engine sound harsh to the ear… but that’s the laws of physics, you can only quieten a diesel so much. But unlike rival engines (VW especially) the 1.6 diesel warms up extremely quickly – perfect for emissions and economy.

On paper, you get 120Ps of power with a useful 300Nm wallop of torque which is only 50Nm less than the older 2.2 diesel version. The green credentials are just as handy too – 98G/km with lower spec models with smaller diameter wheels being even lower at just 94G/km. So theres good power and emissions, so how about performance? Well, Honda claim a standing start to 60 mph comes up in a whisker over 10 seconds – our own testing pretty much confirms this too, but we were particularly impressed with the mid range pulling power. So long as the revs are kept just over 1000, the Civic diesel pulls strongly in virtually any gear, its six speed gearbox is well matched to the engine and the change quality is a short throw and quite precise in lazy or hurried action.

As we have come to expect, its a good drive and well equipped. Cool blue mood lighting to the front door pockets is neat and snazzy - only the fiddly head unit remains a pain... its very complicated until you get used to it.
As we have come to expect, its a good drive and well equipped – only the fiddly head unit remains a pain… its very complicated until you get used to it.

The EX Plus trim pretty much ticks every box for required bells and whistles. You have all round power windows, keyless entry and ignition, leather upholstery, adjustable lumbar and bolster support for the driver, all media type infotainment with Sat-nav and DVD player, dual zone climate control and HID headlamps with power wash. It’s a very well equipped car, but that said, the asking price is £26.460 which is seriously in VW Golf regions in terms of cost. But there again, the Civic does feel like a premium car thanks to an impressive build quality which is reflected in the lovely paint finish and rock solid feeling interior. Anyone considering the car is bound to be able to negotiate an element of discount – we would never read too much into the manufacturers recommended retail price… as with any new car.

As mentioned in the last Civic roadtest, the ride is great and the chassis is superb – everything you would expect of a Honda. No complaints from the communicative steering either… spiritied jockeys will love the poise, balance and steering feedback – it really is that good. So there we have it… a damn fine car that more than made up for the disappointing petrol automatic version recently tested, its stands out from the crowd and performs with style and talent – we like it a great deal!

SINGLE SENTENCE SUMMARY:

A superb showcase of design and engineering, a viable antidote to the Astra, Focus or Golf

Model tested: Honda Civic 1.6 i-DTEC EX Plus

Produced by: Honda Manufacturing UK Swindon

Price On the road: £26.460

Equipment Highlights: 17″ alloys – Keyless entry – Leather trim – Dual Zone climate – Audio head unit with bluetooth, Sat Nav, DAB & Vehicle computer – Power folding mirrors – auto leveling HID headlamps – Cruise control – Rear view camera with all round parking sensors – Ambient lighting to front door pockets.

Engine: 1600cc diesel in-line four transverse 120Ps & 300Nm of torque
Gearbox: 6 speed manual
Brakes: All round discs with ABS EDB & EBA lever park brake
Suspension: All round coils with anti-roll bars
Luggage Capacity: 467 seats down to 1368 seats up
Fuel Economy: 76.3mpg (claimed) 64mpg on test
Emissions: 98G/km Co2

THE HIGHS: Cracking engine – good economy – Smile inducing chassis – Good ride comfort – Very impressive build quality – Good motorway refinement – Excellent use of available space – Magic rear seats simple yet clever adding even more practicality – Blue neon lighting to front doors looks classy – Front seats very supportive and body hugging – Feels every inch a premium class car – The promise of nice dealers and reliable mechanicals.

THE LOWS: A bit dark and gloomy inside – Head unit audio system and sat Nav fiddly and complicated to work around – Rear visibility could be better – Quite expensive in this trim level – Styling open to debate.

AUTOBRITANNIA.NET RATING – 8/10

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