The Civic was still Australia’s favourite Honda 10 years ago, though today it is (predictably) outsold by the Japanese brand’s two SUVs, the CR-V and HR-V.
Its 2019 sales closely match those of 2010 to keep it in the top six of its segment, even if the Honda Civic took a bit of a showroom whack last year like most small cars.
Here we have a 2020 Honda Civic VTi-S sedan, which sits one place above the base VTi and costs $24,790 before on-road costs, $200 less than its hatchback equivalent.
It’s usually backed by a five-year warranty, though comes with seven years under a current promo offer, and basic servicing costs are a reasonable $299 a go. Although, the distance intervals are shorter than average at 10,000km, and there are extra charges on top of the basic price for things like air and cabin filters, and brake fluid, each which may apply on top depending on the service schedule.
Early 2019 saw some Civic sedans upgraded with a Honda Sensing safety pack, though the VTi and VTi-S missed out – leaving them without useful features including autonomous emergency braking, forward-collision alert, lane-departure warning, lane-keep assist, and auto high beam.
There’s Honda’s camera-based LaneWatch blind-spot monitoring system, low tyre pressure warning, a multi-angle rear-view camera and proximity sensors front and rear, but the VTi-S’s active safety line-up leaves it exposed against the identically priced Mazda 3 G20 Pure sedan and similarly priced Toyota Corolla Ascent Sport sedan.
Those models offer the majority of the features both standard and missing, and more in the case of the Mazda.
The Civic can’t be accused of lacking space for the money, though. At 4662mm long, it’s just 2mm longer than a Mazda 3 four-door but is more effectively packaged.
Whereas the knees of those scaling 5ft 10in or higher start to get uncomfortably close to the front seatbacks in the 3 and Corolla, they’ll be appreciating the leg room in the Civic. The scalloped outboard seats and excellent forward vision (no peering around the front headrests) complete the Honda’s back seat as an inviting place for passengers.
They also get a fold-down armrest with two cupholders, a single seatback pouch, and door pockets that can take small drink bottles and other small items. Rear ventilation is absent, though.
The rear doors also feature harder plastics than the front doors, which isn’t uncommon in the segment (even the VW Golf does it), though it is still an annoying cost-cutting measure.
Up front, higher cabin sections receive soft materials, while key touchpoints such as the front door armrests and centre console armrest share a fabric covering. There’s a smooth headlining and the interior is constructed with absolute solidity.
Close the doors (a satisfying thunk) and boot lid (no tinniness) and you’ll further appreciate the Honda’s outstanding build quality.
Some cheaper/coarser plastics are still a bit too obvious, especially the VTi-S’s steering wheel boss and gear lever knob. The plasticky steering wheel buttons are also indicative of generally average switchgear tactility.
Honda’s infotainment system struggles to lift the cabin’s game, too. Although it ticks the Easy To Use box, the display size (7.0 inches) and graphics are well off the pace of the segment’s best displays.
At least Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard to give owners the option of a more contemporary presentation based on their respective smartphone operating interfaces. There’s a decent sound from the audio for this pricepoint, too – clear, if slightly one-dimensional.
There’s more than one place to store a smartphone in the front cabin, with the tray hidden below the centre console (with USB and HDMI ports) best for the front passenger as it’s awkward to reach for the driver.
Storage in the Civic is generally excellent. And there’s bigger-than-average boot capacity of 525L.
Gooseneck hinges aren’t ideal, though there’s a very wide aperture – which makes it easier for loading items such as a chunky pram. And while the boot space tapers towards the rear seats, fitting several large bags is possible. Those seatbacks also split fold 60-40 via release pulls in the boot.
Comfortable front seats with plenty of manual adjustment contribute to a great driving position that feels quite sporty (or perhaps I’ve just sat in too many SUVs of late).
The chequered-flag seat stripes are also a nice touch, if a little incongruous considering the VTi-S’s drivetrain – a combination of 104kW/174Nm 1.8-litre four-cylinder petrol engine and CVT auto.
Getting out of junctions or getting underway from traffic lights can be a quick yet smooth process, and the engine is fine when driving around at low speeds. But start to ask for more acceleration and the response is lacklustre.
This is a common characteristic of CVTs, though the transmission’s case isn’t helped by the engine’s measly maximum torque – compounded by the fact it’s produced way up at 4300rpm.
All Civics above this VTi-S gain a 1.5-litre turbocharged four-cylinder that produces 127kW and, more importantly, 200Nm – delivered between 1700 and 5500rpm to make it a better all-round performer, if still dulled somewhat by a CVT.
There’s a Sport mode for the auto, activated by flicking the gear lever, and this lifts revs to make the engine feel a little friskier at lower speeds, though acceleration remains lethargic on the open road.
Going against Honda petrol-engine tradition, it’s also not one you want to rev too high as this brings an intrusive drone.
Our main test day – with a mix of driving – brought indicated fuel consumption of 7.1 litres per 100km, with the figure climbing well into the 8.0s with further suburban driving. Official fuel consumption is listed at 6.4L/100km, which would be the preferred real-world figure as a trade-off for the 1.8-litre’s limited performance.
The Civic deserves a great engine and gearbox (not including the sensational Type R hot-hatch), as it’s otherwise a terrific car to drive.
Ride quality is superb, with the Civic VTi-S rolling along on fat 16-inch rubber and with a graceful springiness that never morphs into bounciness over big bumps thanks to expertly tuned dampers – which only need one bite of the cherry to keep vertical body control in check.
The Civic is biased towards comfort, but its chassis provides assured and predictable handling on curvier roads, its suspension remaining compliant at higher speeds and on broken-up bitumen, and with good tyre grip in the wet. Tyre noise becomes more noticeable on coarse-chip surfaces.
The steering feels sufficiently direct for this sedan’s positioning, and the (middling) weighting is consistent from lock to lock.
So, there’s a great maturity and solidity to the way the Civic drives, and it makes for a great substitute for the sorely missed Accord Euro – while actually offering more interior space than that former mid-sized sedan.
The Civic, however, is more convincing in model grades higher than this VTi-S, where there’s more substance both under the bonnet and on the equipment list.