Activewear is great. While you can wear it to duck down to the corner store, pick the kids up from school or spend a weekend on the couch watching a Game Of Thrones marathon, to the casual observer it looks as though you’re gearing up to run an actual marathon.
It seems Honda has used that inspiration for its Civic RS hatch. Like the RS sedan before it the RS wears a sporty-looking outer shell, and features a turbocharged engine (usually indicative of some level of excitement), but the mechanical package is identical to that of other non-sporty Civics.
Is that a cruel joke on Honda’s behalf, or has the Japanese brand cleverly locked onto the athletic wear craze and adapted it to an automotive application, giving the impression of sportiness without the need to work up a sweat?
Vehicle Style: Small hatch
Price: $32,290 plus on-road costs
Engine/trans: 127kW/220Nm 1.5 4cyl turbo petrol | CVT automatic
Fuel Economy Claimed: 6.1 l/100km | Tested: 8.3 l/100km
It has taken some time for the Honda Civic hatch range to follow on from the sedan, but now the local line-up is complete with five standard hatch variants to match the five sedans on offer - plus an extra Civic Type R hatch to sit as the halo model for the brand.
It’s the Type R that inspires the look of the RS with gaping faux air intakes in the front and rear bumpers, a blackout grille treatment, and a pair of centrally-mounted exhaust tips ramping up the visual menace.
From a price point the Civic RS hatch starts from $32,290 plus on-road costs, putting it at the high end of the Civic spectrum, with only the VTi-LX and its additional Honda Sensing safety suite, or the high-performance Type R as more expensive choices.
There’s certainly no shortage of standard equipment (keep reading below for more info) but enthusiasts might find the 127kW 1.5-litre turbo engine and standard CVT automatic less exciting than they’d hoped. For more casual drivers though, the Civic RS still impresses.
- Standard Equipment: Leather seat trim, heated front seats, powered driver’s seat, dual-zone climate control, proximity key with push-button start and walk away lock, auto lights and wipers, power-folding mirrors, rear privacy glass, steering wheel paddle shifters, alloy sports pedals, LED headlights, LED fog lights, electric sunroof, 17-inch alloy wheels
- Infotainment: 7.0 inch touchscreen infotainment, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, AM/FM/DAB+ radio, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, USB/HDMI input, 10-speakers incl. subwoofer
- Cargo Volume: 414 litres to rear seats
The sporty styling of the Civic RS is less subtle inside, where there are no lairy red highlights or overtly bolstered seats, instead there’s spacious seating for five and a tasteful black-on-black leather lined cabin.
The surprisingly roomy interior sees occupants seated low in the car, with the driver adopting a sporty legs-forward stance. Rear seat passengers will find a very generous amount of legroom, and thanks to the low set seats headroom is still generous.
Honda’s most recent dash designs have a hint of sci-fi about them with a configurable TFT instrument cluster ahead of the driver, and a decluttered dash with most major controls moved to the 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system.
The system itself includes smartphone connectivity for Android Auto and Apple CarPlay but lacks in-built navigation. Unfortunately (despite Honda’s investment in the system) it can be very laggy, with small on-screen buttons that are hard to tap on the go - better to just rely on that phone mirroring and available voice control where possible.
There’s also an artful arrangement of interior storage. The Civic features what could be one of the biggest centre console storage spaces in the small car class. There’s a big bin ahead of the gear selector, and points to plug in devices with cable-routing thoughtfully included for the extra under-dash storage.
RS specification also means features like leather trim, heated front seats, keyless entry and start, auto lights and wipers (with LED headlights), an electric sunroof, and 17-inch wheels are all included as standard.
Swing open the angled tailgate and the Civic hatch provides an impressive 414 litres of boot space, and in place of the usual lift-up parcel shelf you might expect to find in a hatch, Honda has mounted a little roll-away cargo blind as an effort at making the space more practical.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 1.5 litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol, 127kW @5500rpm, 220Nm @1700-5500rpm
- Transmission: Continuously variable automatic transmission, front wheel drive
- Suspension: MacPherson strut front, multi-link independent rear
- Brakes: Ventilated front discs, solid rear discs
- Steering: Electric power steering, 10.7m turning circle
Honda offers the regular Civic range with two engines, a carry-over naturally aspirated 1.8-litre four-cylinder from the last generation car in base models, or a stronger 1.5-litre turbo motor for higher-grade cars.
As the RS fall into the high-grade category it comes with the 127kW/220Nm turbo engine. While the assistance of a turbo is welcome for extra low-speed punch, the engine itself isn't exactly sporting.
Like sedan models the mainstream Civic hatch isn’t offered with a choice of manual transmission, meaning a CVT automatic is all that’s available.
It is a good example of a CVT with pseudo-steps to make it feel more like a traditional auto, but at times it can lack the immediacy of response for properly fluent driving.
The story is much the same when it comes to ride and handling. The Civic RS shares its suspension settings with other models meaning it rides comfortably and copes well with a load on board, but there’s no sparkle on a country back road.
That’s not to say handling isn't good. The Civic RS is still quite a reasonable steer and builds driver confidence but it fails to generate any real excitement.
Realistically though, the Civic RS will spend its time in Australia’s cities and suburbs, battling peak hour and escaping to the country for weekend adventures and in that context the RS is right at home. Comfy, calm, and quiet enough to not wear out its welcome in daily use.
On rural roads and highways the Civic remains peaceful and composed, with low engine revs at cruising speeds that highlight impressive isolation from wind and road noise.
ANCAP Rating: 5 Stars - the Honda Civic hatch scored 34.68 out of 37 possible points when tested in 2017 based on data obtained by ASEAN NCAP and ANCAP.
Safety Features: All Civic models are fitted with six airbags (dual front, side and curtain), stability control and traction control, ABS brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution and brake assist, front seatbelt pretensioners, a rear view camera, and tyre pressure monitoring.
The Civic RS also includes front and rear parking sensors, and a lane watch camera which pops on when the left indicator is activated. Advanced safety features like forward collision brake warning, collision mitigation braking, lane departure warning, lane keeping assist, road departure mitigation, adaptive cruise control are only available on the top-spec VTi-LX.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Five years/unlimited kilometres
Servicing: Honda offers capped price servicing with 12 month/10,000km intervals (whichever comes first). For the first seven services pricing is set at $281 per visit, higher intervals may be more expensive. Items like brake fluid, spark plugs, or air, fuel, and cabin filters have separate intervals and pricing that may affect your service costs, your Honda dealer can explain full terms and conditions.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
Hyundai has created its new i30 with more than a hint of European influence inside and out. The sporty SR model punches out extra power, come very well equipped, and feels right at home on Australian roads.
With a premium look and feel the Mazda3 SP25 range still holds up well against competitors despite its age. The Mazda remains more compact than the Civic inside, but with plenty of driver appeal.
Toyota has also given its high-end Corolla range the activewear treatment with sporty styling on the outside, but a more conservative engine and interior to keep a hold of more ‘traditional’ customers.
Although it’s something of an underdog on Australia’s new car sales charts, the Ford Focus is well worth a look thanks to a strong turbo engine, well sorted dynamics and high levels of standard equipment.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Honda’s decision not to make the Civic RS a warm hatch seems like an odd one, particularly when rivals like Hyundai and Mazda have had so much success creating more powerful model lines that stop short of all-out performance.
It’s all the more upsetting when you factor in Honda’s sports-skewed past, not to mention the yawning 101kW gap between the RS and flagship Type R - particularly when the large CR-V SUV runs a 140kW version of the Civic’s engine.
None of that matters though, because just as you’re probably not going to going to wear your collection of branded track and field gear to run the City2Surf, the Civic is unlikely to find itself partaking in track days or motorkhana events.
Instead, Honda has managed to make a car that looks sharp but drives with unimpeded comfort for an experience that’s just as rewarding as eating Tim Tams in your tracky dacks.
MORE: Honda News and Reviews
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