Practical but pricey Civic faces uphill battle
Honda's 1.5 Sport puts up a brave fight in a sedan segment that sometimes battles to excite buyers
Look carefully and you might spot it. It’s a subsegment of sedans occupying the dreaded space between the Toyota Corolla Quest market so beloved of Uber operators and the aspirational BMW 3 Series league.
Dreaded, because this in-between segment has become the proverbial red-headed stepchild of the motoring market, as buyers shun it mostly in favour of SUVs and hatchbacks. Life is an uphill battle for sedans such as the Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra and Mazda3 that trickle out of showrooms in modest numbers, which is why VW and Ford aren’t even bothering to launch their latest Jetta and Focus here.
The Civic continues to battle on despite selling fewer than 20 cars a month, and Honda recently endowed it with a mild midlife update to try to spark some consumer interest.
The 10th-generation Civic is one of the better-looking sedans and externally shows no signs of ageing, with its sporty coupe-like profile and low, wide stance. Those claw-shaped tail lights are distinctive too.
As part of a subtle makeover, the car has a redesigned grille and a bolder three-dimensional bumper, while new black-coated 17-inch alloys give more swagger to the 1.5T Sport model.
Inside, the cabin finishes have been refined for a more contemporary textured look, and the digitised flair is provided by an 18cm infotainment touchscreen and a digital instrument panel.
The digital infotainment menu is easy to navigate and has all the requisite connectivity including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. There are physical buttons for the climate control, which is better than having them hidden in a digital labyrinth. Also, the touchscreen buttons have been replaced by more convenient hard buttons and also a volume control knob.
The R474,700 Civic 1.5T Sport comes standard with a decent level of kit, including leather upholstery and a Walk Away Auto Lock feature as part of a smart-key system.
Safety comprises the usual ABS brakes and stability control, along with six airbags, but it’s only the range-topping R507,600 Civic Executive model that has driver-assist features such as adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist and a blind-spot camera.
As before, this Honda is offered with a choice of two petrol engines: a normally aspirated 1.8 with outputs of 104kW and 174Nm, and a 1.5 turbo that packs 127kW and 220Nm — it’s the latter on test here.
All versions are available only with a CVT belt-drive transmission. I found the turbocharged performance to be reasonably eager both in urban and freeway driving. I have no problem with the power delivery, which comes on song quickly with no discernible lag and with less of a slipping-clutch effect than some transmissions of this genre.
The gearbox is better than previous-generation CVTs and has programmed steps to give it a more natural driving feel.
There’s more of an issue with refinement, and despite Honda adding more sound-proofing as part of the Civic’s latest upgrade, it fails to muffle the characteristically loud CVT drone when the revs climb. It isn’t necessarily a deal breaker, but I think it’s noisier than a car in this price range should be.
Wind and road noise are well-muted though, and the Civic has a solid feel that breeds an all-round premium vibe.
Honda has nailed the ride quality too, and the car ambles very comfortably over urban roads. The Civic has a longer wheelbase than its predecessor, which ride bumps and ripples without feeling fidgety.
The handling is very tidy too, and the chassis is capable of handling a lot more power, as is proven by the 228kW Civic Type R — though to nitpick, I find the steering action a little too light.
The Civic’s grown in size with every new incarnation and this latest version is as large as the first-generation Honda Accord. It gives this car one of the roomiest cabins in the segment, with comfortable seating for a family of four or five.
The boot is large too and contains a full-size spare wheel. Flip-down rear seats expand the cargo hold to accept bicycles and other accoutrements of an active lifestyle, giving this sedan similar loading practicality to a hatchback.
It’s an impressive package that blends striking looks with great space, decent performance and most of the bells and whistles you’d need, even if the CVT’s droning mars the refinement somewhat.
The Civic’s biggest problem, and that of its rivals from Mazda and Hyundai, is that its pricing nudges the territory of premium German cars such as the A3 and 1 Series. Brand cachet counts for a lot, and in this price range buyers tend to be looking more at Audi and BMW badges.
Type: Four-cylinder petrol turbo
Type: Continuously variable transmission (CVT)
Type: Front-wheel drive
Top speed: 200km/h
0-100km/h: 8.3 secs
Fuel Consumption: 5.9l/100km, 100km (claimed); 8.2l /100km (as tested)
LED headlights with daytime running lights, auto headlights, electric mirrors, electric windows, leather seats with heating in front, 18cm touchscreen infotainment system with Bluetooth, smart keyless entry with engine start-stop button, walkaway auto lock, dual-zone climate control, aluminium pedals, tilt and telescopic steering wheel adjustment, six airbags, rain-sensing windscreen wipers, ABS brakes, vehicle stability assist, parking sensors with rear-view camera, hill-start assist, 215/50 R17 tyres.
Warranty: Five years/200,000km
Service plan: Five years/90,000km
Lease*: R9,118 a month
*at 10% interest over 60 months no deposit
Honda Civic 1.5T Sport
WE LIKE: Styling, space
WE DISLIKE: Price, CVT can drone noisily
VERDICT: Roomy alternative to premium Germans, but the badge may not carry the weight of the price
Motor News star rating
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Economy * * *
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Hyundai Elantra 1.6 Turbo Elite Sport, 150kW/ 265Nm — R436,900
Mazda3 sedan 2.0 Astina, 121kW/213Nm — R470,800