– Futuristic looks
– Spacious and classy cabin
– Excellent fuel economy
– Overactive buzzy engine
– Lag in electronic throttle
– No tiptronic function
We’ve been bombarded for the past year with requests for us to review the latest Honda Civic. We did request for one of these when they were new in 2006, but Honda was selling each and every one of these before they even landed in this country. Now a year later, we briefly ended up without a car and faced the prospect of either using Sin City’s terrible taxi service or renting a car. Obviously we chose to rent a car, and spent a little extra just to upgrade to a Honda Civic, that too a brand new 2007 model with barely a thousand kilometres on the clock.
Our black example was a basic Civic LXi, which apparently got upgraded for the 2007 model year. It came standard with a beige cloth interior, four power windows, dual airbags, electric mirrors and a basic CD stereo. Improvements over last year include the two rear power windows and possibly the electric mirrors. Steel wheels, plastic hubcaps, unpainted door handles, keyless entry, painted wing mirrors and optional grey interior continue this year, while upgrading to the EXi and the VTi adds stuff like alloy wheels, cruise control, fake leather and more speakers, among other things.
The exterior design easily makes this thing the most futuristic car you can buy in this category. The styling hides the height of this tall car well enough, actually making it look longer than it really is. Stepping inside, we were met with a whole lot of beige. We like beige interiors but this one borders on yellow. The materials are easily of class-leading quality, with durable cloth for the seats and door skins, and textured soft-touch plastics on the upper door sills and part of the dashboard. However, hard plastics dominate the lower half of the cabin, while the cloth-covered door armrests aren’t padded.
But there are some wonderful details that even more expensive cars skimp on. For instance the storage cubbies in the centre console have sliding covers, and can double as cup-holders at the press of a button. Also, the antenna for the stereo is etched onto the rear glass, hidden from view. And then there are the twin shiny exhaust tips sticking out of one side of the rear bumper. Shiny exhaust tips are rare at this price. The mild extravagance continues with funky handbrake, dashboard and steering wheel designs that have to be seen to be believed. Most prominent of course is the two-tiered gauge cluster. The digital speedometer readout is on the upper deck, but we did have trouble looking at it over the steering wheel, which sort of defeats the purpose of having it up there. Honda did skimp out the stereo though, with a cheap CD/cassette radio unit that does not play MP3 files, but at least it can be swapped out. The speakers are okay, but be aware that even though there are speaker grilles on the rear deck, there are no speakers in them if you get an LXi.
The solid cabin is airy and spacious for a compact car, no doubt due to the large glass area. The titanic windshield made sure that we had to pull down the sun visor every time we drove in the morning, and it also made the car heat up faster in the sun, rendering the a/c merely average in hot afternoons, even though it is noticeably a strong performer when the rays are not pounding the frontal glass head-on. The front seats have moderate side-bolstering, and are manually adjustable, while a central adjustable armrest doubles as a storage cubby. The rear bench has a flip-down armrest and even headrests, but no cup-holders. Headroom is excellent all round, and while the front legroom is great, what surprised us is the excellent rear legroom, which is almost enough to compete with some midsize cars. It is one of the few cars to have a flat rear floor, so the middle-seated rear passenger can breathe easier now. There are lots of storage spaces and pockets, including on the front seat-backs, on all the doors, and even an ugly useless one under the a/c knobs that is too oddly shaped to put anything in. The rear seat-back folds, making the good-sized luggage trunk infinitely larger.
Chugging along around town, the Civic is peppy and easily manoeuvrable. The 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine grunts every time the throttle is touched, and it sounds like it has to work hard all the time. But power is there when needed to quickly slip into parking spots and what not. Rearward visibility is good, but the front view is hindered by thick front a-pillars, which requires learning to watch for the edge of the footpath through that small triangular corner window when taking turns, especially around roundabouts. The long dashboard also makes it confusing to figure out where the front of the car really is, but we figured it out over the course of the week.
When we got down to action on faster roads, the refined engine showed a wild streak that might be too much for some tame buyers. Accelerating quickly on the highway produces a buzzy engine racket so loud that it almost sounds like Honda forgot to install a muffler. Anything over 3000 rpm results in race-car growling, and any sort of decent acceleration requires high revs, since the engine is rather gutless at lower revs. Power is very adequate for a city car, but given Honda’s propensity for high-revving engines, this one too needs to be pushed to get to the meat of the power band. Thankfully, cruising at 120 kph, the engine doesn’t have to rev too hard, enough to keep things quieter, as moderate wind noise bombards the car. There is not much road noise, but ambient sounds made by passing trucks are too easily audible. But the most appealing factor is the ride quality, which is smooth enough over most bumps, although sharper ditches do feel a bit harsh.
Putting the pedal to the metal to unleash the Civic’s 140 horses and 173 Nm of torque, we netted a 0-to-100 kph time of 10.3 seconds with the a/c off. Leaving the a/c on added 0.8 seconds. The drag run was a simple affair, since our tester was a five-speed automatic, but sadly with no tiptronic function even in this day and age. Shifts are perfectly smooth, and we noticed that it holds gears and shifts late even under partial throttle. A five-speed manual would’ve been quicker. The digital speedometer skips numbers if the changes in speed are too quick, which is most of the time. And there is a lag in throttle response when the electronically-controlled throttle is suddenly floored, as the car takes ages to figure out the right gear, which is annoying but ultimately manageable. Since our car had no trip meter, we calculated an average fuel economy of 9.54 litres per 100 km, which is class-leading for the amount of power offered.
The Civic LXi rides on 195/65 tyres, clinging on to 15-inch steel wheels. The high-profile rubber probably contributes to the comfortable ride, but the Civic handles just fine too. The suspension setup attempts a balance between ride and handling, and while there is no useful feedback from electric power steering, there is a mild artificial firmness to it. All this hints at Honda’s effort to inject some sportiness into their commuter-mobile. Taking long bends at as high as 100 kph, we almost reached the car’s limits. Body roll is not excessive at all, and we took most turns with confidence, but much sharper moderate-speed corners made the tyres squeal after fighting the good fight, eventually running out of grip and safely understeering. We gathered that it definitely has better handling than the outgoing Mitsubishi Lancer Ralliart, but it still cannot touch the Ford Focus on the curves. However, it is faster than both cars in a straight line.
Our Civic was equipped with front discs and cheap rear drums. We’re not even sure if we had ABS, although we know higher models get it. The brake pedal is soft, and when depressed, not much happens initially. The brakes do work well enough when more pressure is applied, although some linearity and firmness would’ve been appreciated.
So the Honda Civic is not the best car in the world. The Ford Focus has a quieter ride. The Mazda 3 handles better. The Mitsubishi Lancer offers more features for less dough. The Toyota Corolla is cheaper to maintain. And the Nissan Tiida has more space. But the Honda Civic manages to almost match each of those competitor attributes, thereby building an all-rounder that looks better inside and out than any of the mentioned cars. And that is enough to make this car the best ever in this category.
Current Model Introduced in:
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