The updated Honda Civic offers some good points, but doesn't prove a standout performer in the competitive small car class.
The Honda Civic has been primped with a minor facelift, a range rethink and a lower entry price as a means of boosting the struggling sedan's sales in 2015.
In July this year Honda added the budget-focused, manual-only $18,490 plus on-road costs Civic Vi – giving the Japanese brand the cheapest small sedan from a mainstream maker in Australia, undercutting the Holden Cruze (Equipe: $19,890), Ford Focus (Ambiente: $20,290), Hyundai Elantra (Active: $20,990), Kia Cerato (S: $19,990), Toyota Corolla (Ascent: $20,740) and Mazda 3 (Neo: $20,490).
Despite our best efforts, Honda Australia was unable to provide one of the new base models to test. But the rest of the range also saw changes, with new equipment and sticker prices across the line-up, and we recently spent some time in the VTi-L model.
As part of the update, the price of the most luxury-focused model in the range rose from $23,290 to $26,290, adding a bunch of new items including leather-trimmed seats, rear parking sensors, electronically retracting side mirrors and new-look 16-inch alloy wheels.
That price jump put the VTi-L on par with the existing VTi-L Nav model, which, you guessed it, had satellite navigation as standard. But with this update the sat-nav has been axed despite Honda adding a new 6.95-inch touchscreen media system across the range (excluding that new cheapie, the Vi).
In the context of its competitors, the Civic VTi-L sedan is one of the only circa-$26K model without navigation – you get it in the equivalent Kia Cerato S Premium, Holden Cruze SRi Z-Series, Hyundai Elantra Elite and Mazda 3 Touring. You need to spend $32,990 for a Focus Titanium sedan with nav and the $30,990 Toyota Corolla ZR is the only variant in that line-up with map assistance.
That new media system isn’t the same unit used in the recently launched Jazz and Odyssey models, but it is a simple thing to use despite its menu system being a little clunky, with small touch points and information readouts that can require some searching for. One example is the tiny EQ readout in the top right corner.
We’ve complained about the screen being easily marked by grubby fingers in other recent Honda reviews, and the same situation is apparent in the case of this new unit in the Civic sedan range. Thankfully, the Bluetooth connectivity is simple and quick to re-connect, and there are twin USB inputs for charging/sourcing music from different devices.
Perhaps the most impressive element of the infotainment unit is the reverse-view camera, which, while not as high resolution a display as we’ve seen in some of its South Korean rivals, offers three view modes (normal, wide and top-down).
The interior is otherwise a mixed bag.
Hard plastics dominate the dash and doors, while the single-zone digital climate control and blue-dominated instrumentation make the cabin feel more clinical than classy. The grey ruched leather finish on the seats could be something you’ll either love or loathe.
One thing we noted was the fit and finish of our test car, which didn’t meet Honda’s usually impeccable standards. The dash cluster, for example, had a plastic edge with some daggy bits, and there were even some uneven finish lines.
Rear-seat leg and toe space is exceptional, though taller occupants will feel cramped for headroom despite the otherwise comfortable rear seating. The outboard rear seats offer ISOFIX child restraint points, but there are no rear air vents.
The storage offered throughout the cabin is above average, including large rear door pockets, twin map pockets on the seatbacks, big front door storage and large cupholders. The rear seat’s flimsy fold-down armrest with cupholders is the only real downer.
The boot of the Civic sedan is large, measuring 440 litres and hiding a space saver spare wheel.
While the exterior of the car you see here may look decidedly sportier, that’s due to its prominent body kit and large rear spoiler - extras that are actually part of a Modulo sports kit that can be optioned for $3500.
Indeed, the actual update saw little change in terms of the Civic’s styling, with only a slightly revised grille and two new colours added to the palette.
It drives no differently to the car that went on sale in 2012 despite yearly updates since the current-generation Civic sedan's introduction.
The engine remains a 1.8-litre four-cylinder, with the same outputs of 104kW and 174Nm, which is available solely with a five-speed automatic transmission in VTi-L guise.
Fuel use likewise goes unchanged, with claimed consumption of 6.7 litres per 100 kilometres – though we saw 7.7L/100km over a range of disciplines including freeway, country road and city driving.
The engine – as is Honda’s penchant – likes to rev hard, and it does feel sluggish in the lower rev-range but picks up pace as the engine spins faster. There’s an Econ mode that is best left for urban driving in heavy traffic, as it takes a lot out of the throttle response and can make it feel even less sprightly.
The five-speed auto does its thing quite well, never stumbling or fumbling with gears, and holding on to the right cog to enable the engine to build momentum up hills.
The Civic sedan has always been a decent thing in terms of its road manners, and little has changed there.
It rides over bumps well, only jiggling slightly at low speeds (due in part to its 16-inch alloy wheels with 205-aspect 55-profile tyres, which can throw up some road noise on coarse road surfaces), and remaining notably more comfortable and composed at higher speeds.
It feels grippy at the front end, and its light steering lacks some feedback but inspires confidence during turn-in. The steering also has nice weight to it through bends, and returns to centre naturally upon exit. In a perverse way, it is quite fun to chuck into a set of twisty corners. Perhaps that Need for Speed-style body kit got the better of me.
Honda offers a three-year, 100,000km warranty on all of its cars, and the Civic sedan is covered by a capped-price service program that requires it to be taken in for maintenance more regularly than many competitor products. While many makers insist only upon yearly visits, the Civic’s six-month intervals (or 10,000km, whichever comes first) may frustrate buyers. At least the servicing is reasonably priced, averaging $515 per annum over a five-year period.
In summary, the updated Civic sedan fails to shine brightly in a busy small sedan segment. But if you insist upon a Honda Civic sedan, we’d suggest a lower-spec, more affordable version – such as the $23,290 VTi-S – could offer a better buy.