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Honda Civic VTI-L First Drive
Honda's Civic is a perennial Australian favourite, and this ninth-generation offers better pricing, more room, improved fuel consumption and it's not half-bad to drive.
The 1970s was the era of bell-bottoms, ultra-wide neck ties, AM radio, glam rock, and small cars like the Toyota Corolla, Datsun 1000, and the Honda Civic. Sure, Honda can trace its roots back further here in Australia courtesy of the S600 Coupe (back to the 1960s), but it was that first Civic, on-sale from 1973 that boosted the visibility of the Japanese automaker. And now, some 40 years later, the ninth-generation Honda Civic has just been launched.
Like a lot of manufacturers these days, Honda has grown the Civic, slightly, to improve interior space (there's 75mm more shoulder room). Despite getting bigger, the new Civic is actually lighter, by 7kg, than its predecessor. The model line-up has been simplified, too; the previous generation kicked off with the VTI, but that model has been replaced with the previously mid-spec VTI-L (from $20,990 with five-speed manual – that makes it $1500 cheaper). That model becomes the new entry point into the Civic range. The Civic Sports ($27,990) takes over from the VTI-L, and the Civic Hybrid ($35,990), at the top of the tree, rounds out the sedan range. All models receive a five- star ANCAP safety rating (To see the ANCAP crash test video, click here).
What's it like?
Powering the VTI-L is a fiddled-with version of the 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine from the previous generation. The SOHC all-alloy unit produces 1kW more, now making 104kW and 174Nm, but it's the improvement in fuel consumption that's most impressive, down from 7.1L/100km to 6.7L/100km in automatic trim. That's been achieved by reducing frictional losses inside the engine and improving fuel and emission mapping. Unlike other makers who've shifted to six-speed autos, Honda has persisted with its carried-over five-speed automatic.
Move up to the Civic Sport and you get a 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine with the same power and torque as before (114kW and 190Nm) but, like the VTI-L, engine tweaks have seen fuel consumption come down to 7.5L/100km (from 8.4L/100km).
Inside, the dash is an enlarged version of its predecessors sweeping arch design, which incorporates the all-new multi-info display, a digital speedo, and an analogue tacho and readouts for fuel and engine temp. The small leather wrapped steering wheel, a highlight of the previous generation carries over with new buttons for audio, phone and cruise control, and is adjustable for tilt and reach. The rest of the layout looks and feels much like the old car, but in an updated sort of way with different finishes and materials used in key areas.
The front seats have been redesigned with extra bolstering and at first felt restrictive and tight around the upper shoulders but after a few kilometres the feeling diminished and we were left impressed by their comfort. Forward vision has been improved thanks to extra glass around the A-pillars.
Compared with the old VTI-L, the new model adds climate control air-conditioning, alloy wheels, leather wrapped steering wheel, and an all-new Multi Information Display. The new display controls audio and Bluetooth functions, is iPod compatible and there's a USB port in the console as well.
Again the value for money theme continues with the Sport gaining leather trim, larger alloys and rain sensing wipers compared to the old mid specced VTI-L. Like its predecessor, the Sport is only available with an automatic transmission.
While both engines aren't new and the transmissions remain the same, the Civics' powertrain packages remains one of the most refined going around. Drivers and passengers are insulated from any serious noise and vibration, and the engine remains smooth and refined as you explore the upper reaches of its rev limit. Well-spaced gear ratios in both the manual and auto transmissions mean you don't have to throttle the thing to get at its best.
And this highlights a real Honda trait; building engines that are refined, fuel efficient with enough power to handle most situations.
The Civic carries over much of its chassis architecture from the previous generation, and while there hadn't been any serious work done to tune it to our local conditions, our short launch drive showed that the Civic remains one of the better handling cars in its class.
That said, it does feature a new electric power steering rack that's now mounted rigidly onto the chassis. The system on the Civic works well and is free of the vagaries and unsure off-centre feel that affects many of its rivals.
VERDICT: There's a sense of déjà vu when you get behind the wheel of the new Civic. It's all-new-ish, of course, but it still feels very much the same, leaving you a touch underwhelmed. That said, you do get a reduction in fuel consumption for all models, sharper pricing, adding more kit and a simplified line-up will help the cause and a full review will tell us whether or not this latest Civic has what it takes to regain the title of Best Small Car, a title the last-generation Civic held back in 2007.
Improved fuel consumption, Sharper pricing on entry-level VTI-L.
Lacks features like reverse park sensors and sat-nav.
|Country of manufacture||Japan|
|Available from||March 2012|
|Priced from||$20,990 (+ORC)|
|Number of cylinders||4|
|Engine size||1.8 L|
|Claimed max power (kW)||104 kW @ 6500 rpm|
|Claimed max torque (Nm)||174 Nm @ 4300 rpm|
|Claimed fuel consumption||6.7 L/100km|
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