We’ve spent time in higher-spec versions of the new-generation Honda Civic sedan in the past, but this was our first chance to sample the most basic version, the 2017 Honda Civic VTi.
Because it’s the base model, pricing is everything – and the Civic sedan is pretty much on the money when it comes to its small car competitors, with a list price of $22,390 plus on-road costs.
There’s no base manual job like you’ll find in many competitors like the Mazda 3, so if you consider this car is offered exclusively with an automatic transmission, and against the equivalent Mazda 3 (Neo, $22,490) Toyota Corolla sedan (Ascent, $23,490), Hyundai Elantra (Active, $24,250), and Subaru Impreza (2.0i, $22,400), the Civic stands up as a brand-name bargain.
As you’d expect for this type of car in one of the most competitive segments of the market, the entry-level Honda small sedan comes decently equipped for the money.
There’s a 7.0-inch touchscreen media system with Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, and that screen also has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity. Bonus!
There is no satellite navigation, but you can use your phone for that by hooking up via the cleverly hidden 1.5-amp USB point in the storage area behind the console, and there’s a second 1.0-amp USB point in the centre bin between the front seats for charging.
There’s also a HDMI input and a 12-volt jack nearby, and there’s a neat little cable caddy that allows you to poke the cords up into the storage bin in front of the gear selector, which keeps things tidy.
The Civic VTi’s standard rear-view camera with three different angle views displays through the screen, but you don’t get rear sensors (they’re optional) or front sensors (unavailable in this spec). As for other safety kit, there are six airbags (dual front, front side, full-length curtains), but no autonomous emergency braking, even as an option in this spec.
The display also shows you what the climate control system is set to, but thankfully you don’t need to use it to control the air, as there are knobs below for that. The screen itself isn’t the greatest in terms of clarity and crispness, and the menus can be a bit fiddly at times, but at the very least the eight-speaker stereo system is decent.
There’s a bright, and quite pretty, digital speedometer and driver information screen in front of the driver’s eyes, with the option of seeing the trip computer, instant and average fuel consumption and phone/media controls.
It is kind of rubbish that you don’t get alloy wheels (the VTi is the only Civic in the range to suffer 16-inch steel wheels with plastic covers), and it – along with the VTi-S and VTi-L all have halogen projector headlights, which is particularly poo considering every Jazz, even the base version at $15,990, has LED headlights.
The steering wheel isn’t covered in leather, as you might hope. Instead, it is a plasticky unit that feels a bit coarse in the hand. The controls on the wheel include an electrostatic volume scroller, which is touchy and takes some learning, and no matter which Civic you’re sitting in, the controls don’t look as smart as they could: in fact, they look a bit cheap.
This spec also misses out on auto headlights – they won’t even turn off for you if you get out and forget! – and auto wipers. At least it has LED daytime running lights, and the tail-lights are LED, too.
Those shortcomings may be forgiven when you consider the space on offer, because the Civic is very spacious and quite clever in terms of storage.
There are decent door pockets with bottle-holders all around, while the massive, deep centre console box is brilliant: there are cup-holders in there if you need them (one is removable), and there’s space in there for your tablet, handbag or wallet and other junk. It’s huge.
There’s only one map pocket for those in the rear, but there’s a fold-down centre armrest with cupholders. The back seat has ISOFIX attachment points for the outboard seats and three top-tether hooks, but there are no rear air vents in the centre console, and that can be a problem if the weather is particularly hot (it was when I had the car – my sister and her kids didn’t appreciate boiling in the back).
The space on offer is good, though, with easily enough space for a six-foot occupant to sit behind a six-foot driver, even for a long period – there’s ample leg and toe room, and fine headroom as well. The bench is soft but not that supportive, and the front seats are comfortable enough, but not overly special in any way.
It certainly doesn’t feel quite as lovely in the cabin as the new-generation Impreza does: it’s a bit bland to look at, with its austere cockpit a showcase for plenty of grey on grey plastic – including some sections of soft-touch material on the dashboard and front door tops (the rears are hard plastic for easy cleaning), and while the fit and finish on our Thai-built test car was decent upon inspection, there were a few rattles at speed.
There are some other likeable elements to the cabin: the electric park brake saves space and adds convenience, though it isn’t the smartest because it doesn’t auto-apply when you put it in P. And there are auto up/down windows for the front doors, where you can’t get them in even the top-spec Mazda 3 (only the driver’s door is auto up/down in that car).
The boot is likeable, too: it has 517 litres of space, which is more than some cars in the mid-size segment, and the cargo hold features a large opening and is big enough for suitcases, a pram or golf clubs, with a huge space arrears of the wheel arches. The rear seats can be folded down in a 60:40 fashion using levers in the boot, but it doesn’t get any of the clever Magic Seat stuff like the HR-V or Jazz – they just fold down.
One thing we hate about the boot is there is no release button on the lid. It may seem trivial, but it’s a pain if you’ve got fists full of shopping bags and your car key, which has a button it, is stuck in the pocket of your skinny jeans. That key is one you have to put into an ignition barrel, as well – there’s no smart entry or push-button start here.
Being one of the cheaper Civics, it has a 1.8-litre four-cylinder petrol engine, not the perky 1.5-litre turbo four, and that aforementioned standard automatic gearbox, which in the case of all Civics is a continuously variable transmission (CVT) unit.
The engine has 104kW of power and 174Nm of torque, which is about average for this class, but because the Civic is on the diet-side for its segment at just 1261 kilograms (kerb weight), it is relatively perky.
It builds revs decently under medium-to-hard throttle, and gets away from the line pretty quickly as well. The CVT auto is pretty clever, too: it picks when you're driving a bit harder and adjusts its reactions accordingly, while the sport override mode makes it ever more eager to rev out; there’s no manual mode nor are there paddle-shifters for the driver to take control, either.
The drivetrain is mostly easy to live with, but the CVT can be caught out at lower speeds on occasion, sometimes causing the car to lurch when you’re being softer on the throttle.
As we’ve found in previous tests, the Civic’s steering is amazingly direct and quick to react on the straight ahead, and that means there’s not a lot of effort required around town when you’re parking. The accuracy of the steering is good, too, but it can understeer a bit in tighter bends due to the eco-focused Dunlop tyres despite holding itself fairly flat in the twisties.
You can hear the car’s Agile Handling Assist System – essentially brake-controlled torque vectoring – nibbling away at the front axle as you go through corners at higher speeds, and all in all it’s a decent handler, despite throwing up quite a lot of road noise on coarse-chip surfaces.
The ride, too, is very much inoffensive: its damping is quite soft, meaning the body can shuffle a bit from side to side over offset bumps, but it never feels uncomfortable or too unsettled. It rolls the top off big bumps, and doesn't crunch or crash over small sharp edges either.
Honda claims fuel use of 6.4 litres per 100 kilometres for the Civic VTi, and we saw exactly that over our time with the car, which – it should be noted – was mainly spent on the freeway (about 75 per cent of our time was divvied up between the M2, M4 and M7 around Sydney).
The Civic is covered by the Honda Tailored Servicing program, a capped-price plan that spans five years or 100,000km (whichever occurs first). Maintenance is due every 12 months or 10,000km, with the cost listed at $284 per visit before some consumables (brake fluid, air/pollen filters etc).
There is quite a lot to like about the 2017 Honda Civic VTi. It’s a great value offering, one that is inoffensive to drive and easy enough to live with. What it isn’t, is special inside, and while that’s an accusation that could be levelled at many small sedans at this price point, at least the Civic is more spacious and more thoughtful than most of its rivals.