The 2017 Honda Civic hatch has arrived. So what? It’s the same as the sedan, right? Just with a different butt?
Yep, a rear-end with a hatchback that opens up wider to allow easier storage of larger items, with folding rear seats to make it even more practical if you need it to be.
But there’s a more significant element to this version than there has been for quite a while, because unlike the previous Civic hatchback models, on sale from 2007 until 2016 and sourced out of the UK, this all-new version is built alongside its sedan sibling in Thailand.
Does that mean anything for consumers? A lower price – like-for-like, that is, there’s no base model manual anymore, and the company reckons it has added more equipment to even the base car.
There’s also styling similarity, which finally gives the Honda small car range the showroom floor cohesion it has badly lacked for more than a decade.
They aren’t identical – the hatch has a black grille across all models, where there’s a chrome finish on all but the RS in the sedan range, and all hatches have a body-colour roof spoiler, black hatch spoiler, and – obviously – a rear windscreen wiper.
The interior is different, too, with a ‘charcoal’ head-liner, a retractable cargo blind (Honda calls it a lateral tonneau cover, and unlike in most other hatches, it isn’t capable of holding any weight like the traditional parcel shelf – rather, it’s just there to stop people peering into your boot through the glass on the hatch), and luggage tie-down hooks are fitted as well.
We’re talking almost identical coin between hatch and sedan – so a five-model range that sees the base model VTi kicking things off at $22,390 plus on-road costs and ranging through to the flagship VTi-LX variant at a $33,590 plus on-roads ask. Only the second-from-top-model, the RS, has a price variation between the hatch and sedan (the hatch is $500 more).
The reason behind the RS costing more is that it features some unique extras in comparison to the sedan, including twin central exhaust tips, piano black side skirts, black front and rear lower spoilers, and a 12-speaker stereo with subwoofer.
And just like the sedan range, the hatch model’s two cheapest variants, the VTi and VTi-S, have a different engine to the higher-spec VTi-L, RS and VTi-LX variants.
The base engine is a 1.8-litre four-cylinder naturally-aspirated (in other words, not turbocharged), and it has 104kW of power and 174Nm of torque, while the higher-spec versions have Honda’s EarthDreams 1.5-litre turbocharged four-cylinder with 127kW of power and 220Nm of torque.
All Civics are front-wheel drive, and all have continuously variable transmission (CVT) auto gearboxes – we don’t get the manual models offered in other markets; people who want to take matters into their own hands will have to wait for the Civic Type R hot hatch.
It’s the same new-generation architecture underpinning the hatch model as the sedan, and there is little to separate them in the way they drive. That is to say, the Civic hatch is pretty darn good.
It was the RS model we spent most of our time in, and as we did in the sedan, we found ourselves questioning the extent to which this not-even-warm version of the Civic hatch deserves to wear a hallowed badge like RS… It doesn't get bigger wheels than a lower-spec version or the flagship, and nor does it have a distinct suspension tune or more grunt.
But that aside, for a regular, run-of-the-mill hatchback, the Civic is one of the most fun to drive models on the market.
The way it steers is the biggest talking point: the steering is really quick to react – if you make a mid-corner adjustment, it takes just a tiny bit of effort, where another small car may require a quarter turn of lock. It's a variable ratio steering system – it’ll adjust its response based on how fast you’re driving – and that means at low speeds it's easy enough to twirl, while on the highway it has more heft to it.
It isn’t the most involving steering in terms of feel and feedback, but the weighting and directness ensures it lives up to the brand’s “fun to drive” mantra for the Civic, while its taut suspension also means it feels secure on the road.
The suspension isn’t perfect – it can be a little droopy over potholes, falling into, rather than riding over them, but on the whole its firm-edged ride is reassuring, particularly in twisty corners. It sits nice and flat in the bends.
The engine is a fairly strong thing, offering good power and response under mid-throttle. The CVT makes it quite noisy, though, particularly at speeds up to about 60km/h when you’re on and off the go pedal. In other ways the CVT is quite good. It teams well with the turbo engine, and in sport mode it will hold the revs where they need to be to ensure you’re getting the most out of the 1.5-litre mill.
There’s plenty of coarse-chip road roar, too, and the Bridgestone Turanza rubber on the RS seemed louder than the Dunlop Enasave lower-spec 1.8-litre non-turbo VTi-S that we also drove.
This drivetrain was notably quieter, and while the turbo offers a bit more zest, this engine is perfectly suitable for the needs of a small hatchback buyer. The CVT gearbox, when left in D, will keep revs low, and that can mean it can feel a little slow under light throttle, but with a little more pressure, or shifted to S, it's certainly willing enough.
Seeing that this car is differentiated by its boot area, there is good news for buyers. The new hatch has a “class-leading” cargo hold of 414 litres, which makes it bigger than the Hyundai i30 (395L), Volkswagen Golf (380L), Toyota Corolla (360L), Subaru Impreza (345L) and Mazda 3 (308L).
The boot area is wide and deep, enough for a golf bag or four suitcases, according to Honda. And while it doesn’t have Magic Seats like the old Civic hatch, the new model features 60:40 split-fold seats that offer better usability than the sedan (and liberates 764L of space).
In the back seat, space in the hatch is virtually identical to the sedan – good for the class for legroom, a little tight for toe-room, and just good enough for headroom for a six-footer. The transmission tunnel in the middle seat area, though, may mean a bit of a battle for foot-room.
Storage through the rear cabin is fine – a pair of bottle holders in the doors, a pair of cupholders in the fold-down armrest, a map pocket – and up front there’s a big centre console bin, a shelf for devices in front of the gear-shifter (with a neat little slit for you to poke your USB cable through), and big door pockets. The space-saving electric park brake helps in regards to storage.
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. There’s no volume dial – we believe Honda is working on an update that will add one – and the electro-static sliding volume control on the steering wheel has been disabled: it’s just an up/down button now.
High-spec models have satellite navigation, but you can also use your phone. The USB port that connects to the screen is faster-charging 1.5-amp unit, and there’s a second 1.0-amp USB plug in the centre bin (charging only). There’s also a HDMI input and a 12-volt jack too.
Honda’s clever digital speedometer/driver info screen is crisp and clear, and while the menus take a little bit of learning, you’ll be sorted by the time you’ve got in and out of the car a few times.
Honda has a rear-view camera with a multi-angle display, and there are six airbags as standard (dual front, front side and full-length curtain) and it has a five-star ANCAP crash test score.
From the VTi-S model up, Honda has fitted its LaneWatch side camera (which shows up on the centre screen) which is very handy, although the brand's active safety suite, Honda Sensing, with forward collision warning, autonomous emergency braking, lane departure warning, lane-keeping assistance and adaptive cruise control is only available on the VTi-LX. That’s a shame, because some buyers might want that tech, and not be able to spend up near $34,000.
Honda offers a capped-price servicing program for the Civic, with both hatch and sedan models – no matter the engine – requiring maintenance every 12 months or 10,000km, just like the Mazda 3, and better than the Corolla (six months/10,000km), although the new Hyundai i30 has 12 month/15,000km intervals on most models (dropping to 10,000km for the SR twins).
Service costs over three years for the new Civic come to $843, which is comparable to those models – Corolla: $840; Mazda 3: $928, while i30 undercuts all at $777 for the 2.0-litre petrol engine. The warranty plan for all Honda models is three years/unlimited kilometres, and there’s no roadside assist included.
On the whole, the all-new Honda Civic hatch offers the practicality we’ve come to expect from the Japanese brand as well as convenience features and tech that see it among the best in class. It’s a good thing, worthy of putting on your shopping list.