– Unique styling
– Cabin space and features
– Ride and handling
– A bit on the pricey side
– Could use a bit more power
– Distracting touchscreen setup
Having lost their way for the better part of this decade, Honda has been trying to make amends by going back to making “wow” products for the mainstream segment. The all-new Civic is a more interesting car than the one before it, but while the 2.0-litre model is going to be the mass-market offering, the RS is the turbo-engined top version that’s getting all the attention.
The Honda Civic is 105mm longer, 44mm wider and 19mm lower than before, giving the impression that it’s a much larger car. While the new form takes on a liftback profile, it is actually still a sedan. The oddly-shaped front and rear ends are the most controversial design elements, and we’re still not sure if we like or hate them, although we do like that Honda is trying new things. The RS is differentiated by its chrome trim blacked out as well as its fancier wheels and vestigial rear spoiler. Ironically, we peered under the rear bumper and saw proper dual exhaust tips, but Honda chose to hide them away underneath for no apparent reason.
Inside, the regular Civic gets black plastics with beige cloth upholstery, but the RS goes with an all-black scheme with faux leather upholstery. All Civics get soft-touch surfaces on the dash and front-door panels, although the rear cabin doesn’t get the same courtesy, with hard-plastic upper door sills. The regular model’s hard-plastic rear door inserts are replaced with padded ones on the RS, but otherwise the turbo model is similar inside to the regular Civic. All armrests are padded, but barely. Overall, the build quality is fine, but the door panels feel hollow and flexible.
There are some interesting storage ideas, such as a second shelf that hides your USB ports and phone charger underneath the centre-console smartphone shelf; but then there are odd ones, such as the gaping hole in front of the central multi-piece sliding armrest that does double-duty as a deep cubby or as cup-holders, but not both at once, as you have to fully remove the cup-holders to use it as a storage space.
At least the boot is big, although it does have a small opening so don’t expect to stuff large items there. Cabin space is great, with legroom and headroom almost at midsize levels in the rear. The front seats are decently bolstered, while the rear is a typical 60:40-split bench, with all the obligatory door pockets, cup-holders and seat-back pouches.
There’s a good amount of tech features in the top versions of the new Civic, the most obvious being the sizeable touchscreen on the dash and a full-colour LCD screen replacing the gauge cluster. The multimedia screen is clearly based on Android — yes, the smartphone software — so it can do stuff like drag-and-drop icons, change backgrounds and other things that my tech-savvy geek of a friend made it do. For less-techy people like us, the basic features are fairly obvious, but going deep into the system may be confusing. Features controlled via the capacitive touchscreen include navigation, channel selection for the average stereo, and the Bluetooth phone and audio.
The good dual-zone a/c has rear vents and its own physical controls, but fan speed is inexplicably buried within the touchscreen, as is the volume control for the stereo, so you have to take your eyes off the road for such basic adjustments. It doesn’t help that the screen is occasionally delayed in responding to touch inputs, but thankfully, there is a volume button on the steering wheel as well, on which you slide your finger to adjust the loudness. Further features include a rear camera with sensors, a right-side “LaneWatch” camera to check your right blind-spot, LED headlights, LED running lamps and tail lights, LED fog lamps, smart key with starter button, HDMI port, sunroof, cruise control, electronic parking brake, 6 airbags, tyre-pressure monitor and more.
The regular Civic comes with a 158 hp naturally-aspirated 2.0-litre inline-4, but the RS goes one step further. Powered by a new 1.5-litre turbocharged 4-cylinder that makes 180 hp at 6000 rpm and 220 Nm of torque from 1700 to 5500 rpm, it is connected to the front wheels via a CVT automatic.
Now despite the RS badge, our blue thunder was not a fast car in our 0-100 kph test. It managed 8.3 seconds during a balmy June evening, enough to be the quickest in the compact class, but we were expecting more, especially given the car’s price. Still, with its new-found torque, it is a livelier car to drive than the lethargic 2.0-litre, but does not have the same level of low-end kick as VW’s excellent 1.4-litre turbo motor. The CVT makes the buzzy engine howl on full throttle, but is quick to respond and settles down nicely once cruising at constant speeds, helping the RS achieve 8.4 litres/100 km in fuel consumption during our test, better than the 9.0 litres/100 km we got with the 2.0-litre.
The RS still tries to play the sporty game though, with paddle-shifters that simulate gear changes, and a steering ratio that’s surprisingly shorter lock-to-lock than the regular Civic’s already-short ratio. The RS offers the same moderate weight in its electric steering as the regular Civic, but offers a bit more feedback. And the brake pedal is well-weighted as well, easy to modulate, but with average stopping power. The 2.0-litre offers instant throttle response, but the RS clearly has some lag to contend with for a split-second before the power comes on. Still, except for the CVT, the drive feels very European, almost like a VW Golf.
The handling is more than decent, with well-controlled body motions and moderate body roll at the limit, where it understeers cleanly. It’s easy to explore the outer reaches of its capabilities while still being fairly fun to drive. While the regular Civic has 215/55 tyres on 16-inch wheels, the RS gets 215/50 rubber on 17-inch alloys.
The new Civic is a quieter car than its noisy predecessors, with better sound-deadening in the cabin. It’s silent in city driving, but overall quietness on the highway is still average for its class. The Ford Focus leads the pack in silence, but the Civic is still quieter than the Toyota Corolla and the Mazda 3. The ride quality is also pretty good, with well-tuned independent suspension on all four corners, unlike cheaper rivals from Toyota and Hyundai.
So is the Civic RS worth the money? At first, we felt it was priced too high, but then we realised it actually costs about the same as a top-end Mazda 3 2.0 and a Ford Focus Titanium, both smaller cars with considerably less power than the turbo Civic. As such, it sits in a niche all on its own, with no direct rivals, but its pricing may still drive some buyers towards a larger midsize car instead. It’s a strong effort from Honda, but it’s not pushing the performance envelope far enough given the connotations of that RS badge.
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