Like the atmosphere on New Year’s Eve in any big city around the world, the 2017 Honda Civic VTi-L is perhaps feeling both excitable and crowded right about now.
Following last year’s arrival of the Civic sedan comes this fresh hatchback bodystyle, and both are available in VTi and VTi-S model grades with a 1.8-litre four-cylinder; as well as the VTi-L (tested here), VTi-LX and RS boasting a brand new 1.5-litre turbo.
All together the new Civic now forms a 10-strong model range, all with an automatic continuously-variable transmission (CVT) until the Type R flagship lands later this year and is quickly thrust into an altogether different, high-performance dimension.
Crowded is the word, but Honda also (quite rightly) claims that this new Civic is its best small-car effort in years. And so that, really, is all a bit exciting. The question now is whether this VTi-L hatch is the pick within a (very) expansive model range…
Vehicle Style: Small Hatchback
Price: $27,790 (plus on-road costs)
Engine/trans: 127kW/220Nm 1.5 four-cylinder turbo petrol | automatic CVT
Fuel Economy Claimed: 6.1 l/100km | Tested: 8.4 l/100km
This Civic VTi-L hatch price-matches the sedan, at $27,790 plus on-road costs. A good deal at a dealership would be $30,000 driveaway, which should win over many.
For $3300 more than the Civic VTi-S, a buyer scores a major power and torque lift, from the old 1.8-litre’s 104kW/174Nm to the new 1.5-litre turbo’s 127kW/220Nm. Some other sweeteners include 17-inch alloys (replacing 16s), auto on/off headlights and wipers, dual-zone (replacing single-zone) climate control and a digital radio.
What it means is this Civic VTi-L is neither spartan nor lavish. It also gets cloth trim, keyless auto-entry and a touchscreen with reverse-view camera and front and rear parking sensors, without the leather trim and sunroof of $30,000-plus model grades.
Although all Civics from VTi-S and above get Honda’s LaneWatch system that uses a side camera to display objects in the driver’s blind-spot on the centre screen, which is unique, both satellite navigation and collision-sensing autonomous emergency braking (AEB) is reserved for only the $33,590 (plus orc) VTi-LX – and that is disappointing given both features are included on a circa-$25,000 Mazda3 Maxx.
- Standard Equipment: Keyless auto-entry with push-button start, power windows and mirrors, leather-wrapped steering wheel, multi-function trip computer, dual-zone climate control air-conditioning, cloth trim, cruise control and automatic on/off headlights and wipers.
- Infotainment: 7.0-inch colour touchscreen with Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, digital radio, twin USB inputs, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone mirroring technology and eight speakers.
- Options Fitted: None.
- Cargo Volume: 414 litres.
Step inside the Civic and it’s obvious that Honda is clear about its intentions to thrust this long-established small car nameplate back into class-leadership contention.
The driving position is by some margin the lowest and sportiest in the segment, with the small leather-wrapped steering wheel falling beautifully to hand(s). The dash blends a high-quality finish with a slightly edgy, techno-look to feel suitably high-end, while there is sizeable centre console storage that even extends under the console.
Honda’s infotainment system is pleasingly simple to use, but the inclusion of smartphone mirroring technology (via Apple CarPlay or Android Auto) only partially compensates for the lack of navigation. For the VTi-S at under $25,000 it is a small issue, but one that grows moving towards $30,000 and beyond.
Only the basic cloth trim – with tacky fake carbonfibre inserts – otherwise warrants mention as a negative inside the otherwise-nice driver and passenger quarters.
Further back, however, and three other passengers may have a few more complaints with the Civic hatch. While a low seating position is great for a driver, a low mounting point for the back bench forces the knees of rear riders into a crimped position.
Legroom is among the most generous in the class, but given a lack of height for legs to drop to the floor, it leaves the upper-thighs of outboard passengers splayed.
The hatch’s sloping roofline also makes for markedly inferior rear headroom compared with the same-price sedan, with the cranium of this 178cm-tall tester just brushing the roofline in the back.
The sunroof standard in the RS and VTi-LX would only further reduce headroom, while no Civic comes with the rear air-vents found in a Volkswagen Golf.
Of course the Civic isn’t an upright hatch in the style of a Golf, or Holden Astra, Hyundai i30 and Mazda3, where the tail ends in a sharply vertical fashion. And where being liftback-like takes headroom from the cabin, it gives back in boot volume.
Honda quotes a 414-litre boot volume for the VTi-L, which is comfortably the largest in the small hatchback segment. Only an i30 comes close at 395L. Indeed, the space is extremely generous back there, with loading practicality improving over the (519L) sedan thanks to the rear tailgate glass raising with the metal bootlid.
The only downside is the inclusion of independent rear suspension (IRS), which means the previous Civic hatch’s clever Magic Seats are gone. No longer can the rear backrest fold flat into the floor, or the seat base flip up against it to create a divided load area.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 125kW/220Nm 1.5 4cyl turbo petrol
- Transmission: automatic continuously-variable transmission (CVT), FWD
- Suspension: MacPherson strut front and independent rear
- Brake: ventilated front and solid rear disc brakes
- Steering: electrically assisted mechanical steering
Late last year we tested the $3300-cheaper Civic VTi-S sedan. And despite using a 1.8-litre engine that Honda has seemingly used since before Noah fired up the ark, we were impressed with its blend of value, style, quality and dynamic panache. But there was also an inkling that the spend to this Civic VTi-L might be worth it.
Honda’s 1.5-litre turbocharged four-cylinder is a gutsy performer. Anywhere and at anytime there is surplus response, thanks to a strong 220Nm of torque produced from 1700rpm and held to 5500rpm, before 127kW of power comes in at 6500rpm.
Finally the Civic is in the right ballpark, because a Golf 110TSI makes 110kW/250Nm from its 1.4-litre turbo, while an Astra RS and i30 SR blitz the field with 147kW/300Nm and 150kW/265Nm respectively from a 1.6-litre turbos.
While performance is plentiful, and economy is decent, the turbocharged engine is also uncharacteristically noisy and thrashy coming from a brand long renowned for making four-cylinder units that are brimming with character.
The automatic CVT doesn’t help, being one of the least impressive of its kind. It surges revs on light throttle, making progress around town a jerky affair, yet it fails to be assertive enough during spirited driving. Aural matters aside, the otherwise excellent engine – and fantastic chassis – deserves better.
Not since the sadly-departed medium-sized Accord Euro and CR-Z hybrid-hatch has a Honda been as dynamically impressive as the new Civic. Steering response is amazingly sharp, wonderfully linear and perfectly mid-weighted, closely rivalling the Astra for best-in-class honours.
On smooth roads this hatchback delivers surprisingly flat and responsive handling, with a willingness to quickly change direction and a composure that gels ideally with the power and torque available, and the decent grip from the Yokohama Advan tyres.
Perhaps the VTi-L – rolling on 50-aspect 17-inch tyres – concedes ultimate ride quality honours to the cheaper VTi-S on broader 55-aspect 16s, but both still deliver excellent comfort over chopped-up urban or rural road surfaces alike.
If only the Civics were quieter. For road noise it’s louder than rivals – including the Mazda3 that has recently been improved in this regard – and together with the noisy engine, it can all be a bit much.
ANCAP rating: N/A
Safety Features: Dual front, front-side and full-length curtain airbags, ABS and ESC, front and rear parking sensors, LaneWatch lane departure warning camera and rear-view camera.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Five years/Unlimited km.
Servicing:12-month or 10,000km intervals, with the first seven services (to five years or 70,000km) each costing $281 according to the Honda Tailored Service capped price program, which is higher than average for the segment.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
The Civic VTi-L is most like the Mazda3 SP25 – a bit cramped, a tad noisy, but a fun and high-quality all-rounder. Meanwhile only the Focus Sport matches the Honda’s steering and handling finesse, but it is heavy and thirsty, and its cabin is ageing.
The Astra RS is subtly sporting yet supple, while the i30 SR is more aggressively driver-oriented – and both do a great job of offering an alternative to the Golf 110TSI Comfortline that remains unsurpassed for cabin quality, refinement and ride comfort.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
With its sassy new 1.5-litre turbo engine, we expected to easily recommend the Civic VTi-L over its $3300-cheaper 1.8-litre Civic VTi-S sibling, but it simply isn’t so clear.
At under $25,000 we can forgive the Honda for being a tad cramped in the rear quarters, a bit noisy and a fraction slow. But towards $30,000 things get a whole lot tougher and, if anything, the automatic CVT actually works more harmoniously with the old non-turbo engine than the frenetic, powered-up new turbo unit.
The VTi-L is the better specification, with extra performance (and equipment) better combining with the terrific dynamic package. But the VTi-S is much better value.
To comfortably stride beyond the Astra RS, i30 SR and Golf 110TSI class leaders, then, this Honda at least needs some extra sound deadening and a better automatic. For now, the Civic VTi-L – hatch or sedan – falls just shy of the small-car podium.
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