Middle model grades of small cars such as the 2017 Honda Civic VTi-S might sometimes be squeezed into a bittersweet position.
This $24,490 (plus on-road costs) VTi-S could find itself in the Goldilocks zone – not too little of something, not too much of everything. Or, with an $1100-cheaper VTi grade using the same 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine, and a $3300-dearer VTi-L grade boasting 1.5-litre turbocharged power, it could wipe out on value and performance.
These days Civics all feature a continuously-variable transmission (CVT) so there is no need to add to the price if a more popular automatic is on the shopping list. It also gives the VTi-S a head-start on price compared with manual rivals.
And that right there is the kick-off point for our test.
Vehicle Style: Small sedan
Price: $24,490 (plus on-road costs)
Engine/trans: 104kW/174Nm 1.8 four-cylinder petrol | automatic CVT
Fuel Economy Claimed: 6.4 l/100km | Tested: 7.9 l/100km
The Civic VTi-S costs virtually the same as the Ford Focus Trend ($24,390 plus orc) and slightly lower than the Mazda3 Maxx ($24,890 plus orc) and Toyota Corolla SX ($25,240 plus orc).
Honda follows all such rivals with 16-inch alloy wheels, foglights and rear parking sensors, but its front sensors are only matched by the Toyota and the LaneWatch side camera is smarter than a blind-spot warning light, which only the Mazda offers.
The VTi-S gets a leather-wrapped steering wheel and cruise control like its competitors, but only the Focus matches it with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone mirroring; although both the Ford and Mazda also uniquely offer integrated satellite navigation missing here.
Only this Civic gets single-zone climate control, and keyless auto-entry only features in the Corolla SX and 3 Maxx. Although it is $400 pricier, that latter rival forges ahead with auto on/off headlights, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror and autonomous emergency braking (AEB) absent here.
- Standard Equipment: keyless auto-entry with push-button start, power windows and mirrors, leather-wrapped steering wheel, multi-function trip computer, single-zone climate control air-conditioning, cloth trim and cruise control
- Infotainment: 7.0-inch colour touchscreen with Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, twin USB input, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone mirroring technology and eight speakers
- Options Fitted: None
Honda fit-and-finish is flawless. It’s a lasting impression with the Civic and elevates the perception of quality beyond the sum of some cheaper plastic parts. The rear door trims, for example, are made of rock-hard plastic without cloth inserts, while the actual cloth seat trim appears basic.
However, with the exception of leather seats and a leather-clad gearknob, the VTi-S cabin looks identical to the $31,790 (plus orc) Civic RS – not bad for $7300 less.
A 7.0-inch touchscreen is also shared with that faux-sporty flagship, minus digital radio or nav. Still, the integrated smartphone mirroring technology provides access to tunes, maps and a phonebook. The high-resolution screen is impressive, but the touch sensitive volume control is anti-ergonomic and is thankfully being phased out.
Otherwise, the same sporty, low driving position remains, and the driver-oriented dashboard and high console gives the impression of sitting in something racier than a small sedan.
The leather-trimmed steering wheel is a delight to hold, and the Audi-esque knurled-silver climate knobs are as polished as the lushly padded dashboard and door trims.
There may be no sunroof – as per RS – but the VTi-S counters with more impressive rear headroom. The back bench is mounted too low, clearly so as to not further affect headroom beneath that sharply raked roofline. It forces a knees-up position for taller occupants, but the seat is comfortable and legroom is right up there with Corolla as the most generous in the class.
No rear air vents is a black mark, though among sedan competitors only the more expensive Hyundai Elantra Elite ($26,990 plus orc) has them.
While a Civic hatchback will arrive early next year, that sloping roofline already makes the Civic sedan look more like a liftback from the outside. Sadly, the rear glass does not lift with the bootlid, so loading practicality is restricted by a small opening. On the upside, the 519-litre boot volume is enormous.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 104kW/174Nm 1.8 4cyl 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
- Cargo Volume: 519 litres
A sticking point for this Civic could be its 1.8-litre four-cylinder that is decades old and barely updated. It’s a willing unit, but there is no escaping the figures: 104kW of power at 6500rpm and 174Nm of torque at 4300rpm are sub-par for the segment.
Only a Corolla (103kW/173Nm) posts similar figures while the 2.0-litre Mazda3 (114kW/200Nm) and 1.5-litre turbo Focus (132kW/240Nm) are well ahead. Honda’s 1.5-litre turbo lobs in the $27,790 (plus orc) VTi-L, in which it packs 127kW/220Nm.
So is the 1.8-litre Civic a let-down? In short, no. With a kerb weight of 1261kg, it’s 70kg lighter than 1.5-litre turbo versions, 119kg (!) lighter than Focus Trend, 30kg lighter than 3 Maxx and 24kg lighter than Corolla SX sedans.
Performance is adequate when the throttle is flattened, but it’s not trying to be sporty and is no worse than the 2.0-litre Mazda. It’s just as noisy, too.
The automatic CVT is a double-edged sword, mostly slithering up and down the tachometer with efficient ease but also displaying some odd and disappointing traits.
Normal mode is quick to raise revs on hills without demanding the driver prod the throttle, but when a short burst of throttle is applied it can hesitate and then feel jerky. Sport mode is brisk to respond to full throttle, thrusting the tacho needle to its upper ranges; yet it’s unintuitive in normal driving, endlessly holding revs too high.
Surprisingly, Eco mode is by far the most fluent in what could be the first time ever such a response-dulling mode is recommended. Yet it’s hardly sluggish overall.
Even so, the engine is crying out for a good Honda manual, and this company has proven itself able to do some great DIY-shifters. Unfortunately, the Thailand factory simply doesn’t make the manual made in the UK for the European market.
Fortunately, though, even the average CVT fails to take the shine off the remainder of the new Civic’s superb steering, ride and handling clean sweep.
Its light, fluent and quick steering – so quick the driver need not cross over arms when turning 90-degree corners around city streets – bests the Focus and 3 in one fell swoop.
On sensible 55-aspect 16-inch tyres, ride quality is especially supple and composed whether around town or devouring corners. And yet the body remains flat, the sedan feels light and agile on its feet, and suddenly the chassis is begging for more power. Maybe the turbo VTi-L is worth the premium, after all.
If there is a chink in the armour, it’s road noise, which is excessive. But for all our CVT whining the drivetrain did produce solid on-test economy of 7.9L/100km.
SAFETY | NA
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: Three years/100,000km.
Servicing: Below-par nine-month or 10,000km intervals, with the first seven services (to five years or 70,000km) each costing $284 according to the Honda Tailored Service capped price program, which is higher than average for the segment.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
Focus is faster, thirstier, more basic and equally smooth riding, while the Mazda3 nails a balance of pragmatism and dynamism but without much design flair. The Corolla sedan, meanwhile, is absolutely enormous inside, but dull everywhere else.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
If the VTi-S was more expensive, then its 1.8-litre four and average automatic CVT would be placed under harsher scrutiny. However, given its sub-$25K starting price, it is perfectly adequate.
The rest of the Civic package is more impressive, from its cabin quality, to its competitive price and equipment, to its legroom and boot space, and all the way to its great steering, ride and handling. Again, given the price, this middle-tier model is a sweet spot in the range; likewise, the turbo VTi-L if power is a greater priority.
Either way, Honda is back in a big way with this competitive small sedan.
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