It's a car that stands out from the pack, but does the Honda Civic VTi-LN have the goods to take on this competitive segment?
You can never really accuse Honda of being conservative with its styling. While it may not be universally loved, the Honda Civic Hatch certainly makes a design statement and stands out from the crowd.
From the outside, it's impossible to mistake the Civic Hatch for anything other than a Civic Hatch. The sharp lines up front feature horizontal grille slats with built-in fog lights, while the front parking sensors blend in nicely to match the headlights, which feature LED daytime running lights.
The smart 17-inch alloy wheels feature a polished finish, while the wheel arches are clad with contrasting black plastic protectors. Privacy glass for the second row comes standard on the VTi-LN.
The rear is equally as adventurous with a two-tier hatch door that features a built in spoiler and rear window wiper. A shark-fin antenna finishes off the rear design.
With a starting price of $22,150, the pricey Japanese car doesn't really stack up as a value proposition. Further up the range, on the other hand, the Civic range offers more equipment - but is it better value?
The top-specification Honda Civic VTi-LN hatch tested here is priced from $31,090 (before on-road costs and only with an automatic transmission) and comes loaded with standard equipment.
Some of the standard kit includes: Folding wing mirrors, automatic headlights and windscreen wipers, dual-zone climate control, keyless entry and start, auto-dimming rear-vision mirror, leather seats, front seat heaters, full electric adjustment of driver and front passenger seats, stability control, satellite navigation with traffic monitoring, six speakers with two USB ports, six airbags, front and rear parking sensors and 17-inch alloy wheels.
Inside the cabin the design looks a bit cluttered, but is fairly straightforward once you have the time to check out the placement of buttons and features.
The top portion of the dashboard caters for the digital speedometer readout, while to the left there is an LCD screen that shows the time, cabin temperature and radio information.
Beneath that is a 7.0-inch colour touchscreen infotainment system that controls audio and satellite navigation controls. And, beneath that are the controls for cabin temperature.
The steering wheel feels meaty, sits nicely in the hand and features both tilt and telescopic adjustment. But, if you're anything like me, it's almost impossible to find a position for the steering wheel that doesn't visually impede the speedometer.
The infotainment system is easy to use and the sound system quality is great, featuring six speakers. One thing that gets frustrating is the lack of a knob to adjust volume. Volume can only be adjusted by pushing one of two buttons on the infotainment screen and can be tricky to do while on the move. Sure, you could also use the steering wheel controls, but there are times where they don't react quick enough to reduce volume.
Both front seats are very comfortable and feature seat heaters that can be adjusted to two levels. The rear seats feature two ISOFIX points and also offer Honda's brilliant Magic Seat functionality. They can fold totally flat, or, alternatively, they can be folded vertically to offer the entire body of space between the back of the first row and the folded portion of the second row. They can also be folded in a 60:40 configuration.
Legroom is good and commodious enough for a couple of adults, but three would be a tight squeeze. There are no air vents in the second row, but it's not too much of an issue, given the strength of the air conditioner.
Cargo capacity comes in at 400 litres, which is good for this segment. That space increases to 1130 litres when the second row is folded flat.
Powering the Civic Hatch is a 1.8-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder petrol engine that produces 104kW of power and 174Nm of torque.
In this specification, the engine is mated to an ancient five-speed automatic gearbox. Fuel consumption sits at a combined 6.6L/100km and requires at least 95RON premium unleaded petrol.
The engine is a disappointing match for the Civic Hatch. It feels inadequate for a car that weighs a little over 1300kg. It produces its peak torque and power figures north of 4000rpm, which means you almost literally need to stand on the throttle to have the car move with any enthusiasm off the line.
In fact, it's so lacklustre that, with four passengers on board, traffic gets away from you even with the throttle buried deep. This also makes it touch-and-go when you need to get through an intersection in a hurry.
The same goes for overtaking, which needs to be planned out with a firm helping of throttle well in advance of the event.
The Civic Hatch features an 'Econ' program which makes the drive even dicier, thanks to adjustments to fuel delivery and air conditioner cycling. After a short stint we realised that this needs to be off most of the time to have any sort of response from the engine.
The five-speed automatic gearbox is actually quite a good unit, but is hampered by the engine. It does, however, come with paddle shifters if you ever feel the need to go for a sporty drive.
Arguably, the best part about the Civic Hatch is actually its ride quality. It soaks up bumps nicely and copes well with things like speed humps, corrugations and tram tracks. Likewise, the electrically-assisted steering offers plenty of feel and feedback while driving.
An annoyance during our time with the car was an additional plastic lip at the bottom of the front splitter. It would prematurely bottom out on driveways and speed humps — even those that didn't feature a steep rake.
Honda offers a capped-price servicing program, which covers the Civic Hatch. Servicing occurs every six months or 10,000km and is priced at $298 per service for the first 100,000km. This is in addition to a three year warranty, 100,000km warranty.
The Honda Civic Hatch represents a brand that seems to be stuck in first gear — if you exclude recent successes like the HR-V. The Civic Hatch is a great car let down by average pricing and a subpar engine.
We'd love to see Honda get up in Australia and kick some more goals — it's certainly been a long time between drinks. Honda has signalled its intentions for the Civic, but don't expect any movement on this front until the end of 2017.
Click on the Photos tab to see more images of the Honda Civic VTi-LN by Tom Fraser.