The new-generation Honda Civic sedan is a key element in the brand’s comeback plans for Australia. Sales have ebbed of late, but hopes for a comeback are high.
For one, few small-car nameplates have such brand recognition, and while the last Civic sedan model didn’t offer much beyond being trustworthy transport, this new one is a different story.
Here we test the ‘sporty’ variant, called the Civic RS. It’s no track-tearing Type-R, but it has the sort of aggressive body enhancements that Australian buyers gravitate towards — body kit, black grille, aggressive wheels, alloy pedals and a (naff) RS badge on the back.
We generally don’t spend too much time on exterior design, and we won’t go against type here, save to say that the Civic’s hatch-type design polarised our Melbourne office. Safe and predictable it isn’t…
Priced from $31,790 plus on-road costs, the RS is the second most expensive Civic sedan variant (behind the $33,590 VTi-LX), which makes it $1800 more than a Mazda 3 SP25 GT. Interestingly, the properly hot 152kW Hyundai Elantra SR is just around the corner, and will be a similar price as well.
One of the Civic’s big stories is the new engine. Entry cars retain the familiar 1.8-litre normally aspirated petrol, but the higher-end models such as the RS sport a new 1.5-litre four-cylinder unit with a turbocharger. Welcome to 2016, Honda.
Outputs are a very respectable 127kW and 220Nm, both at 5500rpm, which makes for a fair upgrade over the 104kW/174Nm base unit. For comparison, the normally aspirated Mazda 3 SP25’s 2.5-litre naturally aspirated unit makes 138kW/250Nm.
The Civic’s engine is matched as standard to a CVT automatic with paddle-shifters — not your typical sporty choice — sending torque to the front wheels. There’s also a VW-style Auto Hold anti-creeping function, as well as a modern electric parking brake.
It’s a good little engine, with eager rolling response giving it plenty of pep around town, while at higher speeds and heavier throttle loads it remains refined. In typical Honda style, it’s at its best when carrying higher revs and not running in the doughy Eco mode.
It’s not all that sporty, though, belying the ‘RS’ badge and the bright red starter button. The CVT is amenable and refined in normal driving, but lacking crispness in corners, either in Sport mode (which just adds revs) or when working through the stepped ratios via the paddles.
Claimed fuel use is 6.0 litres per 100km, though on test we managed 7.9L/100km, which is actually not bad for the class.
Dynamically, the Civic RS is a big step up over the previous sedan. Its electric-assisted steering is light, but very immediate from centre, while the body control and road-holding is well resolved. Hat tip to the new all-round independent suspension system and the stiffer chassis. It darts into corners and feels composed though them.
The ride is a little taut, but never jarring or overly brittle, though the 17-inch wheels fitted with 215/55 tyres send a little excess road noise into the cabin.
On the subject of cabin, the Civic’s interior is a high point. The dated, slab-like old Civic’s dash has been replaced with something sleek, modern and driver-facing like a BMW.
Standard equipment levels are high, including soft and high-quality leather seats with heating, a LaneWatch blind-spot camera, reversing camera, front/rear parking sensors, climate and (regular) cruise control systems, auto headlights and wipers, a sunroof and a 10-speaker 452 watt audio system with sub.
The main fascia includes a 7.0-inch touchscreen that you can swipe, and which hosts Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as DAB+ digital radio. The user interface takes a few minutes to acclimatise to, but once you’re up and running, it’s excellent.
Ahead of the driver is a slick digital speedo and tacho, flanked by fuel and temperature gauges. Buttons on the well-trimmed steering wheel allow you to scroll through the trip computer easily enough. That odd volume control switch is not so desirable, though.
Typically of Honda, the cabin’s practicality is second-to-none, with a large two-tiered centre console, a hidden storage area behind the fascia with USB port, big door bins and more.
General build quality is unsurprisingly good, and though there are some hard plastic surfaces, these are more than offset by the lovely silver highlights and soft leather padding that extends to the door and centre console cover.
The only really notable omission is an integrated satellite navigation system, though many people will argue the CarPlay’s phone-based map integration is adequate. If you want conventional nav, you’ll need to go the range-topping VTi-LX.
Some of said VTi-LX’s safety features, such as adaptive cruise control and collision mitigation, would be welcome because $32k for a small car is not cheap, and you can get it on the $6000 cheaper, and larger, Skoda Octavia Ambition.
Th rear seats are as just as impressive as the front; beautifully trimmed and supportive in the base. Legroom is outstanding considering the 2700mm wheelbase is about par for the class, with ample space for tall adults, though headroom is impinged upon by the sunroof. You get two ISOFIX anchors and full-length curtain air airbags.
At 519 litres, the boot is bigger than a Commodore, while little levers flip the rear seats down for through-loading. The only downer is the space-saving temporary spare wheel under the boot floor.
From an ownership perspective, Honda Australia advertises how much each service will cost you: $281 per visit up to 100,000km (aside from $310 at 80,000km). Kudos for the transparency, but this figure isn’t overly cheap, and the intervals are short, at 10,000km.
Honda Australia also offers a three-year/100,000km warranty, and excellent resale value is typical of the brand.
There is no doubt the new Honda Civic sedan is a big step up on its predecessor, and across the board represents formidable competition to the Elantra, Mazda 3 and Corolla. It’s great to see, and the arrival of the hatch version in early 2017 will be most welcome.
However, whether the Civic RS, which doesn’t do much to earn the racy badge, is the best variant, is a tougher question to answer. If you can go without the leather seats and sunroof, the $27,790 Civic VTi-L variant with the 1.5 turbo engine is there for the buying.
Click on the Photos tab for more 2016 Honda Civic RS images by Tom Fraser.