Like a lot of you, I struggle with the fear of watching car reviews. I dread the endless teasers preceding the globe's glittering motor shows. I close my eyes when driving down Auckland’s "Green Mile" of car yards. “Why?” Those of you ask who don’t know the fear. It’s because I’m terrified that I’m going to buy yet another car.
I create meaningless justifications in my head, “Well the fuel light's on, so probably better to just buy a new one and get a free tank of petrol” or, “Well it’s going to need a service soon and there’s a faint rattle from the boot – better get rid of it”. I know these are ridiculous. I know they make no sense. I need help. I’m embarrassed when people find out I have traded in for another new car. So, with that in mind, I made the decision to buy the latest Honda Civic and just not tell anyone (bar my fiancé of course).
I’ve owned a Mazda RX8, Swift Sport, BMW 118i, Astra RS-V and now a 2017 Honda Civic NT – all in the space of 3 years. I’m getting worse. The RX8 was on the verge of breaking down, the Swift gave me tinnitus after a 2-hour drive and while the Astra was a great car, I just didn't love it. There was something missing. Something the BMW and Mazda had (the only cars I’ve owned that I regret moving on) and now it is fortunately something that the Honda also has. A spark. Something that makes you feel special when you drive it – it’s more than a machine, it’s an extension of yourself.
I’d previously never considered the new Civic when I was looking to replace the Astra. It seemed to garner good reviews, but its 1.5 turbo engine was well down on power and torque compared to the Astra RS-V and my BMW. It couldn’t possibly be as good, I'd convinced myself. Well, on a whim (which seems common for me with cars) I decided to go and check out an ex-demo. Fair to say, I was impressed almost immediately. The sedan sits low to the ground, with an angular exterior design that translates better in the flesh than in photos - there is a real presence about it. Particularly with the LED headlights and in the superbly named “brilliant sporty blue” paint. It was once inside in the cabin that I noticed a real step up in quality from the Astra. It was an interior more akin to my old BMW - something I missed dearly. The driving position was fantastic, low, comfortable, and sporty and the quality of the materials were very impressive. Simple things like deep center bins, good cup-holders, plenty of storage and a neat shelf for your phone, really demonstrate that Honda have thought about things. The leather seats are supple (heated in the front) and the overall packing of the car seems excellent when you compare it to the likes of the Mazda 3. There is plenty of rear seat space as well as a decent sized boot. The fact that this impressed me sent alarm bells ringing inside my head - I have no kids, so this shouldn’t matter to me. But already, I’m already making justifications.
In terms of equipment, it’s got everything you need and plenty more. The only things I would have liked to see would have been ventilated seats (only heated are available) and perhaps Rear Cross-Traffic Alert, although the 3 different reverse cameras do cover what’s behind you rather well. The integrated camera on the passenger wing mirror is fantastic when changing lanes or merging and while the infotainment system is average in terms of UX, it gets the job done just fine.
So, with the exterior appealing to me (those lights!) and the interior reminding me of the BMW I pined for, it was time to take the next step and get this thing on the road.
The second I pulled out of the dealer, I felt sick. I knew how this was going to go. The weighting of the steering was excellent, the directness was something of a revelation after coming from the Astra. I put my foot down and whilst I was not thrown back in to my seat, the progress was smooth and reasonably exciting. That excitement peaked about 15 minutes into the test drive, when I realised I had it in 'Eco' mode the whole time. I’ve never owned a CVT before and while it’s not a transmission that would ever be my first choice, the Civic's is not bad at all! It doesn't get in the way of what I want to do and it’s never jerky, loud or annoying. I don’t even think about it, which is how it should be with a good automatic. The power on tap out of the 1.5-litre turbo is average on paper, but in practice it’s actually quite zippy. Linear, predictable and quick enough for New Zealand roads, with 0-100 taking around 7.5 seconds. So, while acceleration is acceptable it’s the ride and handling that are the real standouts here. There’s a degree of body roll, but the quick rack and direct steering really only added to my nausea and the smile on my face (my fiancé was not smiling at this point).
Honda’s Sensing suite of safety features seem to work well for the most part, with only the Crash Alert system seeming to take issue with how I pull up behind cars at lights. Aside from that, the other systems seem to get on with business in the background and the parking sensors don’t drive me to the edge of sanity, like those in the Astra.
So, as you can imagine, I ended up buying the Honda Civic NT (NZ spec). But you know what? I’m okay with it. Like I said at the start, it has that something that only my Mazda and BMW have had. I feel a connection with this car, and it’s gotten under my skin (in a good way). I feel like this is going to really go the distance (6 months at least). It’s been a few months now and most of my circle still don’t know I have it. The endless questions of “why?” and comments of “another one!” are things I’m not yet ready to face. For now though, the Civic is my little secret and it’s a secret I’m thrilled to have.