2012 HONDA CIVIC REVIEW
Vehicle Style: Small hatchback
Price: $22,650 (plus on-roads)
Fuel Economy (claimed): 6.1 l/100km
Fuel Economy (tested): 7.1 l/100km
The previous-generation Civic Si hatchback was a good car, but its ridiculously high $29,990 price tag ensured that relatively few were ever sold.
Thankfully, Honda Australia has rectified the situation by pitching the entry-level VTi-S version of the new Civic Hatch at a far more realistic $22,650 (plus on-roads).
After a week at the helm of Honda’s new hatchback, we came away impressed by the car’s dynamic abilities and impressive build quality.
However, in keeping the price of entry low, Honda has kept some modern amenities off the VTi-S’ spec sheet, spoiling what is otherwise a very appealing vehicle.
Quality: There are lots of hard plastic surfaces in the VTi-S’ overwhelmingly grey interior, and those of you who equate soft-touch surfacing with high quality will be disappointed.
However, while they might be unyielding, they’re also solid, finely-textured and visually appealing. (Think of it as being more “Tupperware” than “takeaway container”.)
The Civic’s switchgear also feels robust, and the build quality of the UK-assembled Civic hatch (the Civic sedan is built in Thailand) is extremely hard to fault. Even over some very rough roads, we heard not a single squeak from the cabin trim.
The doors also close with an impressively solid ‘thunk’. This is definitely a better-engineered vehicle than your typical Japanese or Korean hatchback.
Comfort: The front seats are spacious and comfortable, with cushions that are firm enough for long trips yet compliant enough to easily accommodate larger bods.
Controls fall easily to hand and the steering wheel adjusts for both rake and reach. Honda’s signature two-tiered instrument panel places the digital speedometer right in the driver’s line of sight, making it easier to keep an eye on your speed.
The back seats have enough room for two adults or three young kids. But foot-room is limited and the seat squab is flat and lacking in under-thigh support. Rear headroom is acceptable, but certainly not class-leading.
Equipment: The story isn’t quite so positive here.
Basic equipment includes power-windows, 16-inch alloys, remote central locking, a single-CD stereo, USB audio input, 3.5mm auxilliary input, iPod integration and a trip computer - but cruise control and Bluetooth telephony is missing.
Curiously, the VTi-S DOES have dual-zone climate control and heated wing mirrors, but we’d gladly give up both for the convenience of cruise control and Bluetooth.
Storage: In terms of load carrying, the Civic Hatch outperforms virtually every other small hatchback on the market.
Seats up, there’s 400 litres of space in the boot. Fold the 60/40 split rear seatbacks down, and you have a flat load area measuring 1130 litres.
Thanks to its Jazz-like “magic seats”, the Civic Hatch also has a neat party trick. The rear seat squab hinges up to create a tall, unobstructed space where outsize items like flatscreen televisions, bikes, tall pot plants and large dogs can fit.
It’s a feature we wish every car had.
ON THE ROAD
Driveability: The Civic Hatch’s single-cam 1.8 litre petrol inline four produces 104kW and 174Nm, which are reasonably healthy numbers for an engine of its size.
However, peak power is only available at 6500rpm and peak torque at 4300rpm. That means keeping the engine spinning hard becomes a necessity if you want to get anywhere quickly.
Hauling more than one passenger also blunts performance; you will notice it working harder on hills even with a small load on board.
With just 1268kg to move it’s not unbearably slow, but overtaking takes some planning and it’s important to manage your momentum when going up hills.
Keep the engine on the boil however, and the Civic is zippy-enough in most day-to-day driving situations.
And you’ll enjoy it: the six-speed manual transmission is a delight to use thanks to its clearly defined gate and silky-smooth throw, and the engine’s appetite for revs makes it quite fun to drive.
Refinement: The engine note isn’t particularly harsh or loud, but the need to work the engine hard means some may tire of the Civic’s buzzy exhaust noise.
At cruise however, the Civic Hatch is as quiet as a church. Tyre noise is muted, and the car’s slippery exterior greatly reduces wind rustle.
Suspension: The suspension layout isn’t terribly sophisticated, but the Civic’s MacPherson strut front and torsion beam rear suspension is nicely tuned.
There’s a slight firmness to the initial bump-response, but very lumpy pavement is ironed out easily and the little Civic proved itself to be quite capable around a twisting mountain road.
Steering is quick, accurate and light. The small-diameter urethane steering wheel also fits neatly in the driver’s palms, although the lack of a leather cover is a shame.
Unfortunately the electric power assistance is, like so many other systems, devoid of feedback.
Braking: Braking performance is good. The Civic’s brake pedal is responsive with very little dead travel, and stopping force from the front ventilated discs and solid rear discs is plentiful.
ANCAP rating: Five stars
Safety features: ABS, EBD, brake assist, stability control and traction control are standard equipment on the Civic VTi-S. Occupants are protected by three-point seatbelts on each seat, plus front, front side and curtain airbags.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years/100,000km with six years rust-perforation warranty.
Service costs: Servicing costs can vary; consult your local Honda dealer before purchase.
HOW IT COMPARES | VALUE FOR MONEY
Hyundai i30 Active petrol ($20,990) - In terms of value, the new i30 is hard to beat. Not only is it two grand less than the Honda, but it’s packed with features that are unavailable on the base model Civic Hatch.
Standard equipment includes cruise control, Bluetooth phone and audio integration, and a 5-inch touchscreen and rear parking sensors.
It’s less impressive than the Civic when out on the road, but in this segment ‘he with the most gadgets’ wins.(see i30 reviews)
Ford Focus Ambiente petrol ($21,990) - The Focus is a brilliantly sharp handler, and even though its 92kW 1.6 litre engine is well down on power compared to the others in this group, it feels plenty zippy.
Like the Honda, cruise control isn’t standard in the Focus Ambiente. Bluetooth is though, and the Ford’s build quality is every bit as good as the Civic Hatch’s. (see Focus reviews)
Mazda3 Neo ($20,330) - The Mazda3 is getting quite long in the tooth now, and it suffers from a dated interior and very cramped rear seat.
It’s a cracking drive though, and its 108kW 2.0 litre engine is a more relaxed performer than the highly-strung Honda’s engine. (see Mazda3 reviews)
Note: all prices are Manufacturer’s List Price and do not include dealer delivery or on-road costs.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
The new Civic is a bit of a hit-and-miss affair. On one hand it’s a delight to drive, but on the other the lack of basic creature-comforts like cruise control is frustrating.
It’s relatively expensive too, but is that balanced by the Civic’s outstanding build quality and the extra utility offered by those rear seats?
The up-spec VTi-L has a more well-rounded spec sheet, but that car is available in automatic guise only and takes the price tag back up to $29,990 (where the previous model sat).
We think Honda needs to rejig the VTi-S spec-sheet to include items that car buyers value highly (like Bluetooth), and ditch things that won’t be missed (like heated wing-mirrors). Until that happens, the Honda Civic Hatch VTi-S is average value, not exceptional.
However, if you place a high value on build quality, versatility and handling, you will find the Civic Hatch is right up your alley.
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- Civic Hatch VTi-S - Manual - $22,650 ($24,990 drive-away)
- Civic Hatch VTi-S - Automatic - $24,950 ($27,290 drive-away)
- CIvic Hatch VTi-L - Automatic - $29,990 (check with dealer for drive-away price)