2018 Honda Civic Hatch 1.0T SR (GB)

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The rental car sector in the larger markets of the world is an important one, for two reasons. Firstly it is large, and with cars typically staying on fleet for quite short time durations or low mileages, the turnover means constant demand for new vehicles, so it is one way for a manufacturer to boost their sales volume, if not necessarily their profit, given the sort of discounts at which cars tend to be supplied. And of course, getting people to try a car for a rental rather than just a quick once around the block with a salesperson sitting alongside is a good way for people to find out what a car is really like, so some manufacturers are only too keen to make sure their cars are on fleet. Honda generally has not been one of them. In America there have been small numbers of Honda cars in the big fleets, but this has always been rather spasmodic and in the last few years, the brands has largely been the only one of the major ones that was not there, Honda saying that they could sell every car they could build and at more profitable rates in the retail sector than by dropping cars into daily rental service. But in Europe, Honda has been struggling to sell their cars, with sales volumes having gone down massively in recent times, even though they generally had the right sort of product on offer. Even so I was quite surprise a couple of years ago to see a few of their cars parked up at Hertz’ Heathrow base, and suspected that this might be a very small scale acquisition. Every visit elicited a few more cars, mainly the Jazz and Civic model, so it seemed that perhaps Honda was using this as a route to try to sell more cars, just like the larger manufacturers had long been doing. Although I kept seeing Honda models parked up, getting hold of one proved surprisingly difficult, but earlier in 2018 I did receive a Jazz, and after driving it for a few days rather wished I had not, as the car’s noise levels alone were an unexpected minus on a car that otherwise had plenty of merit. On my return to the UK from a December 2018 trip to the US, I found that I was going to get the chance to try the larger Civic, as one of these had been allocated to me. I’d actually driven a US market only a few days earlier, so was interested also to see how this one could compare, so without further ado, I loaded my bags up, did all the adjustments you do with a different car and headed off towards home.

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We are now on the tenth generation Civic. After a period of time when the US market and European models had diverged into completely different cars, for this generation they reconverged, though differences in market taste mean that initially the US got a 2 door coupe and a four door sedan whereas Europe received a five door hatch, and a very different range of engines feature on either side of the Atlantic. It is a measure of how important the US market is for this car that it received it first, with the cars going on sale in the spring of 2016 following a show debut at the Los Angeles Auto Show in November 2015. Even when the five door model was ready following its formal launch at the 2016 Paris Show, and being built in Swindon, the early cars were all exported. UK market sales finally started in early 2017 , with the car launched with a choice of two petrol engines (a 1.6 litre diesel would follow some months later), 6 speed manual and CVT automatic gearboxes and seven levels of trim. The four door sedan was added to the range a year later in spring 2018, though no-one expected it to sell in any quantity, and indeed it has not. The tenth generation Civic was built on an all-new larger, lighter and more rigid platform, and, as is so often the way these days, the car was quite a bit bigger than the one it replaced – not really a problem in Europe where the Accord was being phased out, so this would become the largest non-SUV Honda on offer.

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Unlike the US model I drove, which was the saloon fitted with a 158 bhp 2 litre 4 cylinder engine and an automatic gearbox, this one was a hatch and it came with the 1.0 litre 3 cylinder engine and a manual box. That alone meant that I was expecting the car to feel quite different, and in many ways, it did. The three cylinder unit was new with this generation of Civic and follows the current trend for small capacity more highly tuned engines adopted by a number of the Civic’s rivals. It generates 127 bhp, which is right in the middle of the range of outputs offered by the car’s rivals,. Its real trump card is the low CO2 rating, though as with most cars, once you add larger wheels and some equipment, the headline number of 106 g/km CO2 of the entry level car with an auto box does go up quite a bit. Even so, you are getting a tax rating more in line with a diesel but with a petrol engine under the bonnet. Once you get past 3000 rpm, which you will, on a frequent basis you will be in no doubt that this is a three cylinder engine, but the sound is more distinctive than unpleasant. Like a lot of these small capacity turbo engines, you need to work it hard to get the sort of performance you expect and that is no real hardship, as the motor spins eagerly and remains smooth even as you near the red line. You will need to use the gears a lot, too. This Civic had the six-speed manual box and the gearchange is very slick indeed. Noise levels remain reasonably muted, thanks to plenty of extra sound-deadening in this model, to try to make it more refined. Honda have largely succeeded though there was some wind rustle from the driver’s window but this may have been a slight adjustment issue rather than an endemic fault. The gearing is high so that on the motorway the engine is not working that hard – 3000rpm in sixth corresponds to 80 mph, but inevitably, the choice of high ratios for the upper gears means that when you get to the 50 mph average speed limits, then you need to change down from 6th and if you need a burst of acceleration you will also need to downshift. I had the Civic for several days and managed to cover 652 miles. I needed 69 litres of fuel during the rental and so I could return it with a full tank. That computes to 42.89 mpg, a decent result for a petrol-powered car of this class. There is a stop/start system and it works relatively unobtrusively and if you really want to eke out a little mode fuel, there is an Eco mode setting.

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Honda used to have a reputation for producing among the best driver’s cars in the class, though more recent models have not always hit the heights like their predecessors did. This one is pretty good benefitting not just from that more rigid chassis but also from new multi-link rear suspension and tuning optimised for Europe’s roads. The result is a Civic that steers and handles nicely, with decent feel to the steering and the right level of weighting so the car is never heavy to drive. There is plenty of grip and little body roll so you can pedal the Civic down a twisty road and enjoy the experience. Honda clearly want you to think of this Civic as sporting in intent with the drilled pedals that feature in the SR trim and that is not an unfair expectation to set as this car is better to drive than most of its rivals. The test car came on 235/45 R17 wheels and it found the right balance between comfort and sporting precision, proving to be just firm enough without feeling punishing. There were no issues with the brakes, but the car – like so many these days – has an electronic handbrake and this was somewhat frustrating, proving hard to disengage on occasion. More frustrating though was the Lane Keep Assist feature which was downright annoying, like most such systems. Visibility was a mixed bag. Things were mostly OK, but the rear spoiler is very visibly, across the back of the car, but at least there is a further pane of glass below it and there is a rear-view camera to help judging where the back of the car is.

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The first impression on opening the door and looking inside this test car was how black and sombre it looked. There is some fake carbon fibre, which is not particularly to my taste, but this seems to be all the rage at present. Unlike the mechanicals, the dashboard of the European spec car is all but identical to that of the US market models. Indeed the only obvious difference I noticed was the navigation screen that featured in this model and was not so prominent in the lower spec US market car I drove. The SR spec of the test car meant a leather-wrapped steering wheel, which was pleasant to hold, and indeed the overall feeling of the whole interior is that whilst this is still not quite at Golf levels of perceived quality, this is on a par with the best of the rest of the class. There is an all digital TFT instrument panel, split into three sections. The central part has a rev counter with central digital speedometer. To the left is a water temperature gauge and to the right the fuel level. There is a splash of turquoise in each dial as well as the wide markings and pointers. The instruments are at least clear and easy to read at a glance. The rest of the dash is relatively simple with the relatively small colour touch screen fully integrated into the centre of the dash, below the central air vents and above a much reduced series of buttons which are used for the climate control. The graphics look a bit old-fashioned and the screen is not as responsive as some. It provides a series of functions including car settings, all audio functions and navigation. I found the touch screen a bit awkward to use, and you will have to use it, as some of the functions that used to be on separate knobs, such as radio volume are now incorporated in here. Even harder to do was to change the radio station, certainly whilst on the move though there are audio repeater functions on the steering wheel boss which you really do need to use. You will also find cruise control here. Column stalks operate the indicators and wipers and there is an auto function for wipers and lights.

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Seat upholstery in the test car was cloth and like so many cars so trimmed, it was not that nice, but it is probably hard wearing and certainly it was in good shape after a period of unrelenting rental car duty. All adjustments are manual, as is generally the case in cars of this class and price point. There is a telescoping steering wheel which goes in/out and up/down through quite a wide range. There is a height adjuster for the front passenger as well as the driver. I found the seat comfortable to sit on and the driving position was good. You do sit lower than you did in the previous generation Civic as that version’s Magic Seats do not feature any more. Apparently, Honda’s research revealed that few people used the feature. The lower seating position further reinforces the feeling that this is a sportier car than some of its rivals.

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One advantage of the increase in size over its predecessor is that there is now plenty of space in the back. Legroom is particularly generous and even though the roofline slopes down slightly towards the rear there was plenty of headroom. There is a central tunnel so a middle seat occupant will need to straddle this, but as it is narrow this will not feel uncomfortable. A drop down armrest is included. There is not a lot of provision for odds and ends with some very small door bins and a map pocket only on back of the front passenger seat.

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Although it is a little smaller than in the saloon model, the boot here is a good size and a nice regular shape, though the wheel arches do take quite a bit of width compared to the rear-most portion of the luggage area. It is decently deep. There is a sizeable extra area under the boot floor, as well. More space can be created by dropping down the asymmetrically split rear seat backrests, creating a much longer and more or less level load bay. Rather than a traditional rigid load cover there is a rather flimsy item which pulls out from the right hand side of the luggage area. It did not impress. There is plenty of provision for stowing odds and ends in the cabin. There is a good-sized glovebox and a sizeable cubby in front of the gearlever as well as bins on the doors, a cubby under the central armrest with a cupholder in front of the armrest.

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Although the saloon model was added to the UK range earlier in 2018, almost all Civic models in Europe are five door hatches. Top of the range is the highly-rated Type R. Below this are a series of more run-of-the-mill cars, with a choice of two petrol engines, with the three cylinder 1.0 litre like my test car or a more powerful 180 bhp 1.5 litre 4 cylinder unit or a 118 bhp 1.6 litre diesel. Six speed manuals are standard and the petrol cars have the option of a CVT automatic gearbox whilst the diesel has a 9 speed unit. At launch, the range started with an entry-level S model, but Honda were honest enough to call this a “homologation exercise”, expecting very few buyers to bother with the basic trim. They were right and it was dropped from the range fairly quickly. SE cars get Bluetooth, LED daytime running lights and smaller 16-inch wheels as well as Honda SENSING safety features which include collision mitigation braking system, forward collision warning, lane keep assist, lane departure warning, road departure mitigation, adaptive cruise control and traffic sign recognition. Sitting above this is the SR, which was the trim level of the test car. SR trim brings dual-zone climate control, auto lights and wipers and 17-inch wheels as standard. It also benefits from a bigger screen, as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity and a rear-view camera. The EX gives you a package of extra safety equipment, keyless go and a leather interior. Bizarrely, the faster 1.5 uses a different naming structure, with Sport, Sport Plus and Prestige specs. The SR is roughly comparable with the Sport model, commanding a £2,290 premium for the larger engine. The Sport version adds heated seats, a sportier bodykit and LED headlights. The Sport Plus adds adaptive suspension, while the top-of-the-range Prestige gives you a full leather interior and heated rear seats.

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Perhaps the biggest hurdle faced by the Honda Civic is its looks. Familiarity has not really helped and to my eyes this is an awkwardly styled car with a lot of over-wrought fussy design flourishes that combine to create a visual mess. I know that many are of the same opinion, but the shape also has its fans. Get past this, though, and there is a really rather impressive car on offer. A 1 litre engine might not sound like enough for a C-Segment hatch, but the reality is that this one is well up to the job and is smooth and refined as well as lusty enough. The Civic is good to drive, which is more than can be said for many of its rivals which feel like they have been neutered to make the painless and also devoid of any real sensation. The increase in dimensions compared to its predecessor translates to a genuinely spacious car with plenty of room for four or even five people and their luggage, the interior quality is on a par with anything else in the class and the fit and finish is good. Surprisingly, the Civic does not seem to have quite as good a reputation for reliability as you might expect, but Honda owners tend to be happy people with few issues and competent dealers, so I would not expect challenges associated with the ownership. That all combines to make this one of the best cars in its class. So why does it not sell? Could it be that the looks really do put too many people off? Perhaps just getting people to try one, as a rental for a few days, will indeed achieve more converts, and help Honda to reverse their steady decline in car sales. With this Civic, and perhaps unlike the Jazz that did not hit the sport for me, they certainly do deserve greater success even in a class that is populated with very able rivals.

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