Honda messed up.
Back in 2010 their UK built, base model Honda Civic hatch hit the Aussie market with a price of over $32,000 or almost $35,000 if the buyer wanted an auto. When comparing to the perennial market leading Toyota Corolla hatch, Mazda's hero 3, or the up and coming Hyundai i30, all of which could be had for less than 25K for similar equipment, there was little wonder why it was a flop. Sure, the Gen 8 Civic was well built and drove nicely (and the crazy Type R was an absolute pearler!), but for someone wanting an easy driving daily commuter the Toyota, Mazda and Hyundai just made more sense. Honda lost a ton of sales as a result.
Fast forward to today, and Honda have made amends with their 9th generation Civic hatch. Having learnt from their mistakes, pricing came down to a more affordable low-20s entry level. Even at that price there were no compromises to equipment. The late 2013 model featured here is a base VTi-S automatic and comes standard with cruise control, leather steering wheel, single-zone climate control and rear view camera. Bluetooth phone and media streaming, MP3, iPod connectivity, USB and auxiliary audio inputs feeding through a 6 speaker stereo keep occupants entertained. The stereo sounds good, but audiophiles may want an upgrade.
Aesthetically there are improvements over the previous generation's faux-spaceship design. The styling is a little more conservative and a little more muscular, but still a little polarising. This is not your typical Hyundoyota 3.
Inside, the dash is split into two, with a digital speedo and media screen on the top half and a rev counter, fuel and temperature gauges below. This double decker design takes a little getting used to, but works well. The media screen's view can be alternated between trip computer, radio station/music information, rear view when in reverse, and a home screen which allows the driver to upload a customisable wallpaper via the USB port. Gen Y'ers will love it!
A unique point of difference are Honda's “Magic Seats”. The rear seats can be folded down to create a completely flat floor from the boot to the cabin and frees up plenty of space. Alternatively, the seat bottoms can be folded upwards to create a huge storage area behind the front seats. This is ideal for transporting tall items such as plants or large screen TVs. With the seats up, the 400 litre boot still has above average space.
On the road, the car feels nimble and handles corners nicely, although the steering is light and somewhat numb. The seating position is high – it's not like driving a truck, but it does detract from any sort of sporty feel the brilliant chassis may offer. The too-small-for-modern-cars 16” wheels clad in 205/55/16 rubber grip the road nicely, and the standard traction control and ESP mean that the car is always under control and its occupants are safe.
With 104kw, the Civic can't claim to be a rocket ship, and it's not. Struggling up hills or while overtaking, the left paddle shifter located behind the chunky steering wheel needs to be flicked back a couple of times to drop gears and let the 1.8L engine spin smoothly to its 4,300 RPM torque peak. The engine has a nice, throaty roar in the upper rev range, but the bark does not match the bite.
Honda claims a combined fuel economy cycle of 6.5l/100km. Add at least another litre per hundred for real-life applications. In heavy traffic, expect consumption in the high-9s. It's a frugal car, but does slurp premium unleaded.
Another Honda novelty is the green Economy button located on the dash. Honda says this helps to improve fuel economy by sending less power through the air conditioning unit and remapping the throttle. In real life, this dulls the driving experience and gives minimal fuel savings. Don't bother.
Service intervals are every 10,000kms and Honda offers capped price servicing. As with most Hondas, they are built to a high standard and rarely need attention in between services.
Due to their blunders with the Gen 8 spaceship model, Honda still haven't recovered sales-wise as people have started moving to other brands. This means is that they are missing out on what the newest Civic has to offer. It has its short comings, especially when it comes to power (or lack thereof), but this is a hidden gem which deserves a serious look.