The skinny: The Civic Hatch now has a navigation-equipped flagship model in the auto-only VTi-LN, with leather seats and a few cosmetic enhancements to go with it. But it costs $4100 more than the closely-specced VTi-L. And there is a lot of choice, and some sharp contenders, in the challenging $30k-plus small car category.
Vehicle Style: Small five-door hatchback
Price: $31,090 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 104kW/174Nm 1.8 petrol 4cyl | 5sp
Fuel Economy claimed: 6.4 l/100km | tested: 8.3 l/100km
The Honda Civic hatch has been struggling of late, which is a shame. European build-quality, stable on-road dynamics and a versatile interior all work in its favour, but it’s undone by a relatively high asking price and a powertrain that doesn't quite make the grade.
The former problem is largely the fault of uncompetitive exchange rates between the Aussie dollar and the British pound, but the latter is harder to deal with.
Right now there’s no alternative powertrain to the Civic’s 104kW/174Nm 1.8 litre petrol 'four', and while it's easier to stomach at the bottom end of the range, it’s not a competitive engine when lined up against other $30k-plus small hatches.
Though there’s no respite from either problem on the horizon, the Civic does at least receive a modest facelift for 2015.
There’s a new front end with headlamps pinched from the upcoming Civic Type R, reshaped front and rear bumpers, guided-tube daytime running lamps and a different rear spoiler.
So now it has the premium looks to at least partially justify the extra cost over its rivals. But what of the rest of the package? Should you put the Civic hatch back on your shopping list?
- Standard features: Dual-zone climate control, electric lumbar support, cruise control, trip computer, heated and power-folding wing mirrors, keyless entry and ignition, leather upholstery, front and rear parking sensors
- Infotainment: 7-inch colour touchscreen display with integrated sat-nav and smartphone mirroring (iPhone only), AM/FM/CD audio headunit, Bluetooth phone and audio integration.
- Luggage space: 400 litres minimum, 1130 litres maximum.
A smattering of silver trim, contrast stitching on the leather upholstery and chrome accents on the door panels are the only cosmetic enhancements for the 2015 Civic VTi-LN, however there’s one big addition that’s hard to miss: standard sat-nav.
The range-topping VTi-LN is the only model in the Civic hatch range to get a fully-integrated satellite navigation system (‘N’ for navigation, geddit?), and the only one to have leather upholstery and heated front seats.
Is that worth $4100 more than the Civic VTi-L? Depends on how prone you are to getting lost.
It’s expensive, but you do get a lot for your money.
There are some nice luxuries like auto-up and auto-down for all four windows, electric lumbar support for both front seats, electrically-folding (and heated) wing mirrors, an auto-dimming rear view mirror and keyless entry/ignition.
And then there’s Honda’s Magic Seats system, which allows the rear seat base to fold up against the backrest to allow the full height of the cabin to be used for cargo.
The rear seats also fold down conventionally, and create a flat, low cargo space that can swallow up 1130 litres of cargo. Seats-up, there’s a generous 400 litres of space.
ON THE ROAD
- 104kW/174Nm 1.8 litre petrol inline four
- Five-speed automatic with paddle shifters, front-wheel drive
- MacPherson strut front, torsion beam rear suspension
- Ventilated disc brakes front, solid disc brakes rear
- 17-inch alloy wheels
- Electric power steering, 11.08m turning circle
Mechanical changes are few, the most noteworthy one being the addition of Honda’s 'Agile Handling Assist System' (AHAS). Essentially an extension of the stability control system, AHAS improves handling and stability by braking the inside wheel during spirited cornering.
Did we notice? No, and odds are we wouldn’t unless a back-to-back test was done with a non-AHAS Civic.
That said, the 2015 Civic’s handling is certainly stable and predictable - two things Honda claims AHAS promotes.
AHAS aside, there’s nothing new under the bonnet. It’s still got the same ol’ 104kW/174Nm single-cam 1.8 litre four-pot, and in the VTi-LN it’s only available with a five-speed automatic.
Honda provides the VTi-LN with a pair of steering wheel-mounted paddles to enable manual gearshift control (and it will even hold gears against redline until you shift), but the one critical fault of this trans is that it doesn’t have enough gears.
With just 104kW of power and 174Nm of torque, there is not a lot to play with, and with rivals like the Hyundai i30 SR Premium sporting 129kW, 209Nm AND a six-speed auto, the Civic literally has trouble keeping up.
It's thirsty as a result, thanks to all of the extra revving it needs to do to keep pace with hustling traffic.
One more ratio would help the Civic’s engine stay on the boil. The manual-equipped base model Civic VTi-S gets six ratios in its gearbox, and it’s all the better for it.
Granted, the VTi-LN is swift enough on a country drive - the torque deficit compared to its rivals is not as apparent at highway speeds - and the settled European feel to the handling is a definite plus (though it can be a little noisy on coarse bitumen).
ANCAP rating: 5-Stars - this model scored 36.03 out of 37 possible points.
Safety features: ABS, EBD, brake assist, stability control and traction control are standard on every Civic Hatch, along with AHAS and hill start assist.
Dual front, front-side and full-length curtain airbags are standard, and the outboard rear seats are each equipped with ISOFIX child seat anchorages.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
If you’re paying over $30k for a small hatchback, you’d rightfully expect a lot of car for your money.
The following list of similarly-priced contenders offer exactly that, and in many cases represent better value for money than the Civic Hatch VTi-LN.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
The Civic Hatch VTi-LN handles well, has a healthy level of standard equipment and has utility beyond compare in this segment thanks to its versatile interior, but it’s hobbled by two big problems: its price, and its driveline.
At $31,090 it’s expensive for a car that produces just 104kW, and comprehensively outgunned by its competitors when it comes to driveability.
The five-speed automatic makes matters worse. Not only does each of its key rivals boast six gears in their automatic gearboxes (the Golf packs seven), but they have more power and torque to boot.
The $26,990 Civic VTi-L makes more sense, but you can’t have that model with integrated sat-nav. The poor Civic simply can’t catch a break.
If it were priced south of $30k we’d cut it some slack, but as it stands you’d really have to have a strong affinity for the Civic nameplate to shell out for the VTi-LN spec.