The Honda Civic has seen a return to form for the Japanese brand, but the VTi-S hatchback is losing ground to rapidly-improving rivals.
Honda Civic. A name that is recognised globally like Toyota Corolla or Volkswagen Golf.
The badge has been around for a long time – over 40 years – and is up there with the greats in terms of heritage and popularity around the world.
However, these days Honda's products have been a little hit-and-miss when compared with the increasingly competitive new car market, though the 10th-generation Civic was a return to form for the Japanese brand when it first launched in sedan guise last year.
Fast forward to 2017, and now there is also the choice of the five-door hatchback body style – an important move considering the buying public's preference for hatches over sedans.
Here on test, we have the 2017 Honda Civic VTi-S hatch, which is one rung up the ladder from the entry-level VTi, starting at $24,490 before the obligatory on-road costs.
Our tester's Rally Red solid exterior paint is a no-cost option, though metallic and pearl hues command a $575 premium.
Standard equipment from the base model up includes LED daytime-running lights, cruise control with speed limiter, a 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, two USB inputs, a HDMI port, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, an eight-speaker sound system, single-zone climate control and a digital driver's information display.
All models also come with dual front, side and curtain airbags, a rear-view camera with three viewing modes, ABS, electronic brakeforce distribution, brake assist, traction control, a tyre deflation warning system along with two ISOFIX child seat mounts for the outboard rear seats. The Civic sedan and hatch range wear a five-star ANCAP safety rating.
For an additional $1100 over the base VTi grade, our VTi-S adds 16-inch polished alloy wheels, integrated door mirror indicators, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, front and rear parking sensors, keyless entry with push-button start, along with the company's LaneWatch mirror-mounted side camera system.
However, to get active safety features like autonomous emergency braking (AEB), blind-spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning and lane keep assist, you need to spend at least $33,590 for the flagship VTi-LX specification – which is a shame considering a growing amount of competitors feature some of these systems as standard, or at least as a cost option.
In terms of direct competitors, the Thailand-sourced Civic VTi-S hatch competes with the likes of the Hyundai i30 Active (from $20,950), Mazda 3 Maxx (from $22,890), and Toyota Corolla Ascent Sport (from $21,210).
It's worth noting the Civic comes exclusively with a continuously-variable transmission (CVT), where most competitors charge extra for automatic shifters.
The design of the hatch largely mirrors that of the closely-related sedan from the B-pillar forward, which is no bad thing at all. Up front the new Civic's wide and low aesthetic gives it an aggressive and sporty stance, while the slim headlights with slim LED daytime-running lights lend a somewhat premium look.
At the rear is where the differences are more apparent, with the hatchback adopting a more fastback-style rump compared with its sedan counterpart, along with fake vents in the bumper, a roof-mounted spoiler, and a split-pane rear windscreen set up.
This reviewer prefers the more sleek style of the sedan body, and the somewhat over-styled rear end continues to divide opinion in the CarAdvice office. However, it ain't the ugliest thing on the road. Our tester's red and black colour combination is quite eye-catching, too.
Inside it's very much more of the same, with the driver greeted by the familiar digital instrument display, 7.0-inch touchscreen, and relatively simple dashboard layout with limited buttons and rotary dials.
The Civic gets the tick of approval in terms of interior design, though the execution isn't as convincing in some areas – with a large amount of hard, scratchy plastics in the middle and lower sections of the dash and doors.
However, occupants are well-catered for at the frequent touch points, with fabric-trimmed inserts in the doors to accommodate elbows along with similar trims for the centre armrest up front.
The front doors are trimmed with squishy plastics up high, though rear passengers get hard plastics instead – whereas the new Hyundai i30 treats both front and rear passengers to more yielding door finishes.
Up front the cabin feels airy and spacious, though the low-slung seating position gives occupants the feeling of being in a more sporting vehicle. Front occupants get fairly supporting seats with plenty of adjustment, though the seat base can feel a tad flat over longer journeys.
The 7.0-inch touchscreen features both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring technologies, which is great considering native satellite navigation isn't available on any variants bar the top-spec VTi-LX.
When not using the projection software, the Civic's infotainment system features a fairly basic interface, the design of which brings back memories of Windows 98. The positioning of the USB input also left us scratching our heads – it's hidden in a small cubby underneath the transmission tunnel.
Hopping into the back, comfort for rear passengers is also pretty good, though the hatchback's sloping roofline means taller people may be tight for headroom. There is a fold-out centre armrest with cupholders, but there are no rear air vents.
In terms of rear legroom, the Civic offers adequate space, even behind a taller driver. The aforementioned limited headroom for those of above average heights, however, could prove uncomfortable over longer journeys – but kids and shorties should be perfectly happy in the back.
Behind the second row of seats, the hatch's luggage area measures an above-average 414 litres – which beats the Golf (380L) and i30 (395L), though cannot match the volume of the Peugeot 308 (435L).
The load area is nice and square, while the large opening makes loading larger items that little bit easier. However, the weird cargo blind – which is literally a thin piece of vinyl that slides from the left side to the right – looks like a bit of an afterthought and feels flimsy.
Meanwhile, under the bonnet resides the 1.8-litre naturally-aspirated four-pot shared with the VTi, which develops relatively modest outputs of 104kW at 6500rpm, and 174Nm of torque at 4300rpm.
The CVT does a good job of keeping the engine in the power band, helping the Civic's 1289kg tare mass get up to most speeds at a reasonable pace without much noise.
However, push your right foot a little harder on the throttle, and the lack of power becomes more apparent, with the 1.8-litre unit turning more fuel into extra noise rather than pace – and the thrashy engine note isn't particularly enjoyable. When switching from drive to reverse, or vice versa, the CVT can also exhibit the kind of hesitation associated with dual-clutch transmissions, taking an extra split-second or two to start moving after throttle inputs.
On the road the Civic hatch emulates the more dynamic characteristics of its sedan counterpart, while also providing a well-sorted and comfortable ride.
The sharp steering is nice and light, meaning drivers will find tight city streets and shopping centre carparks a cinch, though it does lack a bit of feedback. It's impressive though, just how light and nimble the Civic feels.
In terms of ride quality, the Civic's suspension is firm enough to feel a little sporty, though damped to cosset passengers over lumps and bumps with limited fuss. The Civic can be a little sharp over larger imperfections, though it's never uncomfortable.
What isn't so accommodating, however, is the tyre roar over rougher surfaces. While wind noise and engine noise is kept to a relative minimum once at speed, the loud and droning roar from the tyres isn't very pleasant particularly on coarse roads like country highways, and feels a cut below more refined rivals like the Hyundai i30 and Volkswagen Golf. Loud thuds from larger road imperfections are also heard in the cabin.
Fuel consumption isn't too bad, though. During our time with the car we managed an indicated 7.7 litres per 100km, which included mixed conditions, though favoured city driving.
It's 1.3 litres higher than Honda's 6.4L/100km claim, though still a respectable real-world figure nonetheless.
Honda recently introduced a five-year, unlimited kilometre warranty across its new car range, along with 100,000km of capped-price servicing.
Scheduled maintenance is required every 10,000km or 12 months, whichever comes first, and each visit costs between $284 and $312 plus consumables depending on interval. You can look up pricing here.
It can't match the seven-year/unlimited kilometre warranty of the Kia Cerato range nor the lifetime capped-price servicing program of Hyundai's i30, though it now pips most Japanese rivals like the Mazda 3 and Toyota Corolla.
As an overall package, one cannot deny the new Honda Civic is a much more competitive offering than the model before it. It blends dynamic handling and reasonable value for money, while also wearing the brand's strong reputation for reliability.
However, in an age where active safety features are becoming standard in more and more mainstream vehicles, and competing mainstream marques like Hyundai, Kia and Volkswagen continue to chase premium packaging for affordable pricing, the Civic already seems one step behind.
In no way are we saying this isn't a good car – it most certainly is and definitely deserves to be on your shortlist if you're in the market for an affordable small hatch – however, at this price point there are too many recently-launched and upcoming players in an ever-competitive segment that offer more tech and refinement for the Civic to be a standout.
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