I’ve officially spent too much time in SUVs. How do I know this? Because getting into the very low-slung 2020 Honda Civic VTi-LX hatch, I nearly put my back out.
Clearly, I take for granted how little effort is required to hop into jacked-up land yachts, and so my week with the Civic took some adjusting. By the end of my time with the car, I had perfected a neat squat-and-duck manoeuvre that made me look like I was simultaneously horse-riding and sheltering from a hailstorm.
But once inside the top-spec variant of Honda’s smaller passenger car – the more popular sibling of the larger Accord – you’ll likely find it works hard to make the fall from great heights worth your while.
Leather-appointed seats with heating and electric adjustment (but no lumbar support), dual-zone climate control and an electric sunroof all contribute to a cabin that’s comfortable and accommodating.
The trade-off for the low-to-the-ground seating position is that head room is ample, even for the tallest of passengers, with sunken seats removing any sense of claustrophobia you might feel in other small cars.
As it should – this is the second-most expensive Civic you can buy, short of the jazzy Type R performance number that takes the Civic’s fairly pedestrian styling and imbues it with some sporty pizzazz, plus a powerhouse 2.0-litre turbocharged engine and manual transmission, for an extra $20,400 before on-road costs.
Otherwise, in lieu of the cool aero kit and high-performance turbo engine the Type R receives, the Civic is – well – a fairly run-of-the-mill vehicle, especially in the white shade of our test car. It’s certainly, in my opinion, more attractive than the sedan, but don’t expect to be turning any heads.
The VTi-LX on test here is priced from $35,790 plus on-road costs, which makes sense on paper based on the equipment list, but in person can feel like a fair amount of money for a car that lacks any semblance of X-factor (but maybe that’s just me).
For $1000 less, you can get yourself into the RS warm hatch that shares the same engine, offers sportier looks, but misses out on a sunroof, or you can save $200 before on-road costs by switching to the sedan body.
All in all, the Civic VTi-LX is priced reasonably for its segment, which includes the Hyundai i30 hatch, the Kia Cerato hatch and the Mazda 3, all of which offer non-performance, top-spec variants for $34,220, $29,340 and $37,590 before on-road costs, respectively.
The Civic is powered by a 1.5-litre, four-cylinder turbocharged petrol engine that sends power to the front wheels via a continuously variable automatic transmission.
It’s a remarkably polished package whether at low or high speeds. I found the steering to be effortless, accurate and not too light, and power was delivered evenly, even in stop-start traffic.
Whether you’re slamming the brakes on because you’ve misjudged a traffic light, or putting your foot down because you’re about to miss your turnoff, the Civic remains cool as a cucumber.
I was also pleasantly surprised by the ride quality. I certainly expected such a low-slung car to send me straight to the chiropractor, but it actually possessed a sleekness that absorbed any jarring reverberations.
As a result, I found the Civic rode well over more difficult road surfaces without wobbling, wafting or sacrificing its engaging, occasionally sporty on-road feel.
What does take some time to get used to is the fact you’re so low to the ground, you can feel like you’re closer to the gutter than to your fellow drivers. This makes visibility a challenge, too. It’s hard to get a view over your surroundings and sides, although rearward visibility is actually quite adequate.
Thankfully, this is where front and rear sensors and Honda’s LaneWatch technology (both standard from the VTi-S and up), plus a reverse camera (standard on all grades), kick into gear.
LaneWatch is activated when you indicate left, and throws up a kerbside view from a camera mounted under the left mirror. I find it particularly handy for spotting cyclists and pedestrians, or anything that might be small enough to disappear in a blind spot.
My only complaint is that it can override the satellite-navigation screen at fairly crucial moments, but otherwise it’s a feature I came to rely on.
|2020 Honda Civic VTI-LX hatch|
|Engine configuration||1.5-litre, four-cylinder turbocharged petrol|
|Power and torque||127kW at 5500rpm, 220Nm at 1700–5500rpm|
|Transmission||Continuously variable automatic|
|Drive type||Front-wheel drive|
|Fuel claim (combined)||6.1L/100km|
|Fuel claim on test||8.9L/100km|
|ANCAP safety rating||5-star (tested 2017)|
|Servicing costs (12 months/10,000km)||$1805 for the first five visits (individual costs may vary based on distance driven)|
|Warranty||Five years/Unlimited km|
|Main competitors||Hyundai i30, Ford Focus, Kia Cerato, Mazda 3|
|Price as tested||$35,790 excluding on-road costs|
The VTi-LX spec boasts the lowest quoted fuel economy of all the Civic grades, offering a claimed 6.1L/100km for combined driving. I rushed around town all week, averaging 50km/h overall and recording 8.9L/100km as my final figure, which was more in line with Honda’s claimed urban consumption of 8.1L/100km.
I’m pretty sure if I employed some of my efficient driving techniques and got less fed up with Melbourne’s increasingly terrible traffic, the Civic would present as a reasonably economical vehicle.
One thing that irked me during my time with the Civic was the nonsensical layout of its dashboard.
For starters, the front air vents are placed unnecessarily high, so they hit your face with air rather than targeting your upper body. Not great if you’ve just perfected your hair.
Additionally, the digital driver display is slanted and sits behind a glass cover that isn’t flush with the screen, so it collects dust, and on particularly sunny days, the light hits it at the wrong angle and obscures your view.
I also had issues with keyless entry. Call me pedantic, but if the whole point of this feature is to save you scrambling in your handbag to find your keys, then it should work through a (fairly empty, fairly lightweight) handbag. Instead, I found I had to shove my bag right up against the door handles in order for my touch-unlock attempts to work.
Still, I loved the electric sunroof on warmer days and the 12-speaker sound system (including subwoofer) has serious chops – crisp and clear audio that cuts through any outside noise.
As for driver-assistance tech, the active cruise control is competent at braking and maintaining its speed, but the distance control can occasionally be thrown off by a nearby car in the lane next door, meaning it slows unnecessarily.
Additionally, the lane-keeping assist system will nudge you back into your lane when you veer out, but lacks a lane-centring function like some other top-spec rivals have.
The Civic scores five stars for safety from ANCAP (it was tested in 2017), and grades from the VTi-L and up receive Honda’s full Honda Sensing active safety suite, which includes Honda’s version of autonomous emergency braking – called ‘collision mitigation braking system’.
Overall, the Civic offers plenty of head and leg room in the front and rear, and is kid-friendly thanks to its ISOFIX points on the two outboard rear seats, with top tether points behind the seats, too.
For a car technically defined as a hatchback, the Civic’s 414L boot is a win, and could even accommodate three suitcases with some strategic planning. A neat retractable cargo blind is easy to stow away when required, and Honda has even managed to fit a space-saver spare wheel under the floor.
If you opt for Honda’s scheduled servicing on the Civic, you’ll be looking at just shy of $300 every 12 months or 10,000km, plus periodic add-ons like cabin filters and brake fluid as extra charges (on their own replacement schedules) on top. Honda’s five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty is also a solid safety net.
For me, it’s not as if there were anything crucial missing from the Honda Civic VTi-LX, aside from perhaps some emotional attachment.
I enjoyed the reliable behind-the-wheel feel and the amount of space on offer, but felt some of the driver assistance and safety technology could be more advanced, while some of the interior elements could perhaps be better executed.
While it’s not necessarily a segment packed full of options, I’d suggest browsing through the Civic’s two or three key competitors to see if they can offer a more up-to-date package with a little more X-factor for the same spend.
But if you do decide to buy the Civic, start working on your core strength now. You’re going to need it on the way down into the driver’s seat.