Back in January, Honda announced updates to the 2020 Honda Civic hatch. Chief among them was the addition of safety technology to more models in the range, pushing what was an already impressive small car even further into the consideration set.
Recapping some of those changes, the brand added Honda Sensing active safety technology from the VTi-LX, which brings with it AEB, lane-departure warning and assist, active high-beam headlights and adaptive cruise control to the VTi-L and RS. However – and this is the interesting decision – the entry-grade models (VTi and VTi-S as tested here) didn’t get those updates.
Our test VTi-S also uses the naturally aspirated 1.8-litre engine rather than the turbocharged 1.5-litre engine on the higher-grade models. Still, with typical Honda build quality, cabin ergonomics and storage, and ride quality, there’s no doubt the VTi-S is an appealing small hatch.
Further, with the recent price rises in the compact segment that sits below small cars, there’s even more reason to look at a larger platform, even from a budget perspective. Including the Type R, Honda offers six grades in the Civic hatch range, with our VTi-S sitting one above the base VTi.
Pricing for the automatic as tested starts from $25,490 before on-road costs, and around $29–$30K on the road depending on your location.
Subtle redesigns to the front and rear bumpers signify that this is the revised Civic, and there’s a new front grille, as well as body-coloured accents within the bumper vents.
Inside the cabin, there is a revised instrument panel, but the big – despite being small physically – change is the addition of a volume dial. Fantastic that Honda listened to the feedback…
The other bugbear – and it’s another minor one – was the lack of a conventional button to change the fan speed for the HVAC system. The old way of accessing a touchscreen within the menu system is now gone, thankfully.
You’ll know that we rate the Honda Civic strongly here at CarAdvice for its comfort and practicality, and it’s no secret that Honda is now genuinely back in the swing of things after a few years in the development wilderness.
If you’re like me, Hondas were aspirational cars, with the obvious appeal of the proper hot versions, but also the quality and luxury that came without the European price tag.
Now Honda is back at its rightful place at the table fighting it out with the segment heavyweights. Further, despite the popularity of the brand’s SUV stable, the Civic represents a real and credible alternative.
Some other noteworthy standard features include: LaneWatch blind-spot monitoring system, low tyre pressure warning, a multi-angle rear-view camera, and proximity sensors front and rear.
The LaneWatch system especially is clever, and you’ll be left wondering what you did without it, such are the smarts with which it functions. Mirrors are good – a live image is better.
The 16-inch alloy wheels are attractive, and the overall style has softened somewhat over time. The Civic was a little controversial when it was first released, but it’s aged nicely, especially given the conservative styling of some of the major competition.
From inside the cabin, the quality with which Honda designs and executes a cabin shines through. The leather-trimmed steering wheel might be the first thing you notice, but the subtle changes elsewhere, along with the level and usability of the storage, quickly become apparent.
The 7.0-inch touchscreen isn’t as big as some in the segment, but it’s clear and responsive, and didn’t falter during our week of testing. Close the door and there’s that feeling of insulation that signifies premium, and the seats have a low-slung, sporty feel to them.
There’s more than enough adjustment, of course, but if you want to get down low into the cabin, as many Honda drivers will want to do, you can.
The aforementioned volume dial and the HVAC control revision removed the only real annoyances in what is an exceptional cabin. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are both standard, and CarPlay worked faultlessly for us on test – another feature that is non-negotiable in this day and age.
There’s room for adults into the second row, even with taller occupants up front, further pushing the case for the small-car segment over the tighter compact segment below it. If you use the second row regularly, you’ll appreciate the flexibility that the Civic offers, despite the lack of air vents or power outlets.
Sure, space is at a premium in any car, but power-hungry occupants will miss out on a provision to charge their devices – and how much space do a couple of USB outlets really consume?
Storage has always been a strong point, and if you’re a city dweller who can only afford one car in the household, or a family looking for a flexible second vehicle, the Civic caters to both cleverly.
The centre console storage bin is massive compared to other vehicles in this segment, and it easily caters to the daily needs like phones, smaller handbags, wallets, keys etc.
The boot space is likewise impressive, with 414L on offer if the second row is in use. We liked the roller cover – in place of a hinged hard lid – which you can store out of the way if need be.
Just about every manufacturer has gone turbo-crazy of late, with good reason – power and efficiency. Honda has chosen, with this grade, though, to plug away with an older, naturally aspirated four-cylinder. The 1.8-litre makes 104kW and 174Nm, which are both adequate but not spectacular. It’s mated to a CVT.
What’s most interesting is the engine and gearbox combo seems at odds with the inherent balance and quality of the Civic’s chassis.
As you’d expect (demand?) from Honda, the Civic feels like it errs on the side of sporty – sharp, responsive steering, balance through corners, and a near-perfect match between ride comfort and handling ability.
The engine and gearbox, though, can’t match those traits despite being efficient and decent around town or on the highway.
The Civic is excellent around town – easy to manoeuvre, plenty of visibility, it’s comfortable and quiet, and the steering is sharp – and it cruises easily on the highway, too.
You could argue that if you haven’t tested the 1.5-litre turbo, you won’t know what you’re missing anyway, and that’s a fair point. It feels solid, too, well engineered, and the kind of car you’ll be sampling well into the 10-year capped-price servicing time frame.
Honda claims 6.4L/100km on the combined cycle, and we used 7.1L/100km after a 150km highway run. Around town, specifically, that figure went up to 8.2L/100km, which isn’t horrible by any means, but is put in its place by the best-in-segment Corolla Hybrid, for example.
While we’ve written at length here about the merits and detractions of the CVT, this is by no means one of the worst, or even close to that. In fact, it’s quite unobtrusive around town, and while there is a ‘Sport’ mode, we didn’t bother with that aside from a quick test.
There is some engine noise entering the cabin if you ask the engine to work right up to redline, though.
Honda’s standard warranty for the Civic is five years/unlimited kilometres, and you’ll need to visit your service centre every 12 months or 10,000km. Honda Australia routinely runs special offers on longer warranties, but at the time of testing, it’s the five-year cover.
Capped-price servicing extends out to 10 years or 100,000km.
On the surface pricing looks tight, with the first seven services $299 each and the eighth $330, but Honda lists the price of things like cabin filters, brake fluid and transmission fluid on top of those initial pricepoints, so it pays to confirm what's required with your dealer depending on the service interval.
As Jez noted in his review of the sedan in this specification, the Civic shines brightest higher up in the range, which of course adds money to the equation.
There’s no doubt, though, that the excellent chassis and general ability on offer deserve a more competent engine and gearbox. A 1.5-litre turbo across the range maybe?
If you’re on a budget, though, and the VTi-S fits into that budget, you’ll be driving a high-quality small hatch that’s built like a tank, is useful and flexible around town, and delivers on that Honda promise of premium build quality without the sky-high price tag.