The Honda Civic remains an enduringly popular model for the Japanese brand and, now into its ninth generation, the small car that is older than the Volkswagen Golf and not far behind the Toyota Corolla has racked up more than 20 million global sales since 1972.
Honda’s latest Civic range was released from the outset with the hatchback – arguably its most famous body style – a far cry from the previous generation that saw Honda Australia notoriously import the Civic hatch from England years after the sedan with price tags that made the Volkswagen Golf look like strong value.
The Honda Civic hatch is again shipped from its production plant in the UK (the sedan comes from tariff-free Thailand), though this time its pricing is more palatable – starting from $22,650. Choices remain limited for the hatch, however. Where the Civic sedan is offered in five trim levels, including a hybrid version, the hatch is either a VTi-S base model or higher-spec, auto-only VTi-L.
It’s a fairly steep financial leap to the VTi-L, too, which starts from $29,990, and that will be a tough ask for those buyers wanting their Civic hatch to have notable features such as cruise control and Bluetooth (either connectivity or audio streaming, though the former can be added as an accessory option).
For those that can stretch beyond $30,000 once on-road costs are added, at least the Honda Civic VTi-L compensates with significantly more features than the Honda Civic VTi-S.
In addition to cruise and audio streaming, the Civic VTi-L includes a rear-view camera, foglights, rain-sensing wipers, dual-zone air-conditioning, electrically retractable side mirrors, sporty aluminium pedals, heated seats, one touch power windows front and rear, leather steering wheel and leather appointed seats.
The cloth seats in the base Civic hatch may not feel as luxurious, but there’s no question of their comfort.
Honda has also put some effort into furnishing the Civic hatch’s cabin with a good selection of materials and plastics that are soft to the touch, mixed – inevitably at this price point – with harder surfaces.
The design has an element of space-age modernity to it, as did the previous Civic hatch, though there are some familiar ergonomic issues – the worst of which is the high-set digital speedo that can be easily obscured by the top of the steering wheel.
Rear vision is also poor, hindered by an integrated tail-light/spoiler design that dissects the back window.
The deep dashboard creates a sense that you’re quite a long way back in the car, though at least the driver-oriented centre stack is within reach. Its buttons are also in easy sight because Honda continues to use large, capped type as if it’s acknowledging its average buyer is likely to be myopically challenged.
There’s good space for adults front and rear, though the cabin particularly excels at practicality.
There’s a wealth of storage spaces, but the Civic hatch’s trump card is again its so-called Magic Seats. Based on the clever, flexible seat-folding system first seen in the Honda Jazz city car, the 60/40 split rear seat cushions can be folded upwards to create an alternative cargo area easily accessed via the rear doors (which open via hidden handles).
Simply pulling a lever on the seatbacks then allows the whole rear seat to collapse into the rear footwell to create virtually flat rear cargo space. Not quite the stuff of abracadabra, but certainly impressive.
If the rear seats are in use, the Honda Civic hatch’s deep boot is still decently sized at 400 litres (50L more than a Golf’s boot, for example) and includes a luggage net.
It’s convenient mentioning the Volkswagen rival here because there are aspects of the Civic that are worthy of comparison to the German brand’s excellent hatchback.
The rolling refinement of the Honda Civic is a good match for the Golf; it’s a quiet car whose supple ride is also Golf-like, absorbing the surface irregularities of churned city streets or deteriorating country roads.
Combined with a steering wheel that feels sportily sized and offers linear progression from lock to lock, and a manual gearshift that is one of the best in the segment, the Honda Civic is a pleasant if not exactly rewarding car to drive.
It’s competent on twisty roads but the steering lacks feel and the base model’s 16-inch tyres have more limitations than the Civic’s chassis, leading to understeer early on.
The ride and handling is admirable, though, considering the Civic still employs a torsion-beam rear suspension layout when its best-in-class rivals (Golf, Mazda3, Ford Focus) all employ more expensive and more sophisticated multi-link set-ups.
The engine isn’t the most flexible unit, however. A lack of low-end torque is something of a Honda trait, and there’s no bucking the trend here with just 174Nm of torque, produced at 4300rpm, not helping driveability.
There’s some compensation in the way the 104kW 1.8-litre four-cylinder revs smoothly and crisply, though, and you’ll get more out of it with the slick six-speed manual than the five-speed auto even if the manual’s ratios aren’t as closely stacked as might have been expected. It’s also not ideal that the engine requires premium unleaded as a minimum fuel. Officially the Honda Civic hatch will use 6.1 litres of 95 RON per 100km (or 6.5L/100km for the auto); after our week-long test of mainly commuting with some freeway and dynamic driving thrown in, the trip computer recorded average fuel use of 9.4L/100km.
The Civic does attempt to help you save fuel – whether you like it or not – with a gear indicator in the manual model and Eco Assist that comprises light bars next to the digital speedo that glow green, bluey-green then blue to indicate whether your driving behaviour is, in order, good, okay or bad from a consumption point of view. Drivers can also press a green ECON button on the dash to retard throttle response.
For small car buyers looking for a spacious, well built and cleverly practical hatch, the Honda Civic has much appeal.
Honda’s rate of progress seems to have slowed of late and the Civic hatch doesn’t feel like a major advance over its predecessor – leaving plenty of areas for improvement for the 10th-generation model. And unlike the sedan, the hatch’s pricing/equipment set-up that sees the entry-level model falling short on some key standard features and the only other variant being expensive doesn’t help matters.