Why in the world would Honda offer the 2021 Honda Civic RS sedan in a segment that is two things – contracting and hatch-focused? That’s a relevant question we’ll try to answer here after spending a week behind the wheel of what, on paper at least, is a strong offering.
Civic sedan sales are low. In fact, less than 20 per cent of all Civic sales constitute the conventional ‘four doors and a boot’ layout. Makes sense, too, I guess, when you consider the flexibility of the hatchback design, and the fact that this segment is heavily influenced by style.
You could, of course, argue that all segments are to some degree, but hatchbacks have always been hugely affected by styling and design. Not all sedans are created equal, though, and as we’ve seen with the Mazda 3 sedan, in some sense they have had a resurgence, certainly in terms of style. The Civic sedan is hardly an ugly car either, and plenty of people reckon it’s more stylish (read: less edgy) than the hatch.
If you’re of my vintage, and plenty of you are, any time you had access to a Honda that was remotely sporty was an exciting new vehicle release. The mid ’90s into the early 2000s was a golden period for the brand. The Civic and Integra, for example, in the ’90s were genuinely aspirational cars. Plenty of young enthusiasts cut their motoring teeth behind the wheel of a Honda. You could argue that Honda traded on that – a little lazily perhaps – for a while too, but its recent offerings have certainly started to recapture some of that mojo.
Styling, as we know, though, and as we always state, is subjective, so let us know what you think in the comments section below. Furthermore, those that covet functionality as well as style will be looking to whatever practicality the sedan might bring over the hatch if they are to buy this variant.
Some of that practicality comes from the boot space – a whopping 519L – which is impressive for a small sedan. The hatch gets 340L in the rear space, so the margin is large. The smaller aperture at the opening of the boot lid leads the charge for those that prefer a hatch, but the 60:40 split-fold seats are useful for longer items.
The cabin is likewise, and given it’s a Honda this probably surprises no-one – it's spacious, comfortable and practical. Any buyer who needs to use the second row regularly will find plenty of room for adults, and the seats are comfortable on longer drives, too.
The front of the cabin gets a huge storage bin in the centre console, cupholders and bottle holders, and useful storage for wallets, keys and smartphones. As we tend to write regularly about Honda, there is a surfeit of clever, accessible storage space throughout the cabin.
The Civic is yet another example of excellent use of the available space, in the sense that it is well designed and well laid out. The one exception is the half-hidden location of the USB ports for your smartphone. Most of us found it fiddly to access.
The Civic sedan range is priced smack bang in the middle of the competition – starting from $23,590 for the 1.8-litre VTi before on-road costs. The RS we’re testing here gets the 1.5-litre engine and starts from $34,090 before on-road costs. Our pricing and specification guide details the full range and key features.
|2021 Honda Civic RS Sedan|
|Engine||1.5-litre turbocharged petrol four-cylinder|
|Power and torque||127kW at 5000rpm, 220Nm at 1700rpm|
|Fuel claim combined (ADR)||6.3L/100km|
|Fuel use on test||8.2L/100km|
|ANCAP safety rating||Five stars|
|Warranty||Five years/unlimited km|
|Main competitors||Mazda 3, Toyota Corolla, Hyundai i30|
|Price as tested (excluding on-road costs)||From $34,090|
Standard features for the RS are solid including auto LED headlights with LED DRLs, a rear-view camera, front and rear parking sensors, keyless entry and start, electric driver’s seat, automatic headlights, automatic wipers, 18-inch alloy wheels, and a 10-speaker audio system. It’s also got a space-saver spare, which is fine around town, but worth taking note of for rural buyers.
RS does get Apple CarPlay and Android Auto – which work neatly – but you have to access them through a 7.0-inch touchscreen, which does feel small against the competition now. There’s no native satellite navigation (not something I tend to use now thanks to smartphone mirroring), but it does get digital radio. While the omission of satellite navigation is a minor one, it might not suit buyers who want to avoid eating into their data provision.
The 1.5-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine makes 127kW at 5000rpm and 220Nm at 1700rpm, and really is the choice in the regular Civic range. Typical of a Honda engine, it loves to rev, and does so effortlessly up to redline, delivering usable power across the range. Like most modern cars outside of the real hot versions, this RS doesn’t sound raucous or make its presence known in a traditional sense, despite the fact that it is actually quite snappy.
Although the Civic sedan might appear on paper to be on the heavy side, it didn’t seem to us that the engine was ever working hard. Against a fuel claim of 6.3L/100km on the combined cycle, we used 8.2L/100km over our week of testing.
Back to the cabin quickly, it’s a comfortable and, to be frank, premium place to be. The imitation leather seats are sculpted and positioned well within the cabin, there’s plenty of light and forward visibility, and the electric driver’s seat allows you to get into a comfortable position. I like the fact that you can drop the seat right down into the floor to deliver at least the feel of sportiness, even if the RS isn’t the hottest Civic available.
Some of the materials are starting to look a little dated, but it’s not a major issue that detracts from the overall presentation of the cabin. Once the door is closed, as is Honda’s want, the cabin is insulated and quiet. That remains the case even when you’re rolling over poor surfaces or coarse-chip country roads. Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tyres are a quality offering in this segment and pricepoint – another inclusion worth noting.
What is very much apparent, given the space and quality of the cabin, the space of the boot, and the way the Civic sedan remains unaffected by any road surface, is the fact that this car punches well above its weight in terms of long-haul touring. If mum and dad have two teenage kids, and there’s only one car in the family, the Civic is an option that will deliver strongly, no matter what sort of drive they are undertaking.
The infotainment and driver’s screens are at the point where the competition has skipped away, and they are in need of a refresh. The systems work, and they are reliable and easy to decipher, but bigger, clearer screens, more contemporary graphics, more dynamic displays and extended functionality have started to define the small-car segment. It’s time for Honda to get on board that train.
Some testers aren’t fans of the Honda LaneWatch system, which activates a camera on the left side when you hit the indicator, and you can deactivate it when you choose to. I don’t have an issue with it, though, and find it a handy safety feature. It’s something you definitely get used to in any case.
There’s no manual option, and the CVT is fairly inoffensive in the way it works either in traffic or on the open road. Crucially, though, it’s smarter not to consider the RS a sports sedan in the truer sense, given there’s nothing that is especially sporty about it. You could argue that a Honda with an RS badge deserves more grunt and ability, but if you don’t approach the car thinking that it is sporty, you’ll have what you need.
So, while it’s not sporty per se, it is a fun thing to buzz round in. Throttle response is sharp and immediate, and the engine keeps swinging up to redline. The availability of peak torque at just 1700rpm doesn’t hurt things here either. If you do head for a twisty road, though, you’re likely to find the outer reaches of the way the engine and CVT work together. I’m not sure buyers in this space want that anyway, but it’s a point worth noting.
What is interesting is the fact that elements beyond just the chassis itself, such as the grip, the suspension tune, the steering response and the balance, lend themselves to the demand for more power. The Civic sedan is at all times beautifully balanced, responsive and sharp. The grip delivered by the aforementioned Pilot Sports is excellent even on damp surfaces, and the balance between the handling and bump absorption is excellent.
The Civic is covered by Honda’s five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty, with services required every 12 months or 10,000km. The first five visits within the capped-price scheme cost $297 for basic servicing.
After a week with the RS sedan, I’m left appreciating what it can do and how easily it can do it, but lamenting the gap between RS and Type-R. There could be a much shorter step between the two if Honda wanted, and there’s some space between the two that could be filled by nudging the RS performance envelope closer.
I do think the sedan provides a credible alternative to the hatch, and for mine I prefer the styling. In short, then, the small-sedan segment isn’t quite on the wane yet. Thanks to Mazda and Honda, it still offers a viable alternative.