23 Oct 2018

Honda Civic VTi 2018 new car review

Base model Civic misses more than hits
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When it comes to buying an entry-level small hatchback, the 2018 Honda Civic VTi is unlikely to be a natural first choice.

After all, Honda has for years studiously avoided chasing down fleeting – or fleet focused – sales highs with a budget $19,990 driveaway model grade. That doesn’t change with this Civic VTi, priced from $22,390 plus on-road costs or $24,990 driveaway at publication.

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With recent previous generations, however, the Honda Civic nameplate has not been good enough to warrant a semi-premium pricetag. With this new-generation, though, it could be. Indeed, this time, the VTi may be able to wrap up all of the new model’s promises of goodness for less, and merely without the wrapping paper and tinsel of loftier model grades.

Is it finally worth a circa-$5K premium over the budget small car cohort?

Vehicle Style: Small hatchback

Price: $22,390 plus on-road costs

Engine/trans: 104kW/172Nm 1.8-litre 4cyl | continuously-variable transmission (CVT)

Fuel Economy Claimed: 6.4 l/100km Tested: 8.3 l/100km

OVERVIEW

The Civic VTi is available exclusively with an automatic continuously-variable transmission, which is another reason why it steps well above $20K driveaway. What you get is a lot of metal, rather than power and features, for the money.

With a body length of 4515mm, this five-door hatchback stretches further than a Hyundai i30 (4340mm), Toyota Corolla (4375mm) and Volkswagen Golf (4258mm), and its 414-litre boot trumps the South Korean, Japanese and German trio by 19L, 197L and 34L respectively.

By contrast, Honda’s 1.8-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine is the lowliest in the segment, with 104kW of power and 172Nm of torque being at least 6kW and 28Nm off the pace compared with the aforementioned rivals, despite all delivering similar kerb weight.

At this level, there’s only 16-inch steel wheels with hubcaps, a plastic steering wheel, and twist-turn key start, though a colour driver display and single-zone climate control are surprising inclusions. But certainly on paper, space still trumps performance and kit here.

THE INTERIOR | RATING: 3.5/5

Standard Equipment: Remote central locking, cruise control, single-zone climate control, and power windows and mirrors.

Infotainment: 7.0-inch colour touchscreen with Bluetooth and HDMI/USB connectivity, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone mirroring and eight speakers.

Options Fitted: None.

Cargo Volume: 414 litres.

In a scene reminiscent of a family sit-com where cheeky younger brother steals from an older, more dominant sibling, this entry-level Civic VTi plucks its unusually low and sporty driving position from its halo, hardcore hot hatchback Civic Type-R flagship model grade.

Compared with any small car rival, the Honda’s seating – ensconced around a high console and waistline, legs forward – is almost sports coupe-esque. The small steering wheel falls easily to hand and the 7.0-inch driver display features splashes of colour plus edgy surrounds.

Generally, the surrounding materials quality is decent, with textured soft-touch plastic used for both the dashboard and upper door trims. Look closer, however, and there are several clues that the VTi has been stripped back, even compared with the one-rung-higher VTi-S.

The VTi’s black cloth trim, without the patterned insert of the VTi-S, is an example. Cloth door inserts and a leather-wrapped steering wheel have also been replaced by dimpled hard plastic in both cases, although cloth is retained for the lid of the centre console storage bin.

Moving from VTi to VTi-S only costs $2100 extra, though, and those ambience-lifting features are not the only benefits of the upgrade – alloy wheels, foglights, front and rear parking sensors and keyless auto-entry with push-button start are also all added. From a value perspective, it is absolutely worth the stretch to $24,490 (plus orc), albeit $27,857 driveaway.

In either case there’s still no integrated satellite navigation, nor digital radio, though the merely decent – high-resolution but slow-acting – 7.0-inch centre touchscreen does include Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone mirroring technology. There’s also plenty of storage options, including a tray with USB/HDMI ports handily positioned under the console.

Due to that sloping hatchback – or liftback – roofline, however, this Honda’s superb amount of rear legroom is betrayed by a decent shortfall in rear headroom that bumps the cranium of even this 178cm-tall tester into the roofline. It’s claimed the hatch offers a few millimetres extra headroom over the identically priced sedan, but it’s still not quite enough even with a relatively low-set (though impressively wide and comfortable) rear bench.

There’s no rear air vents in any model grade, either, despite being offered in Golf and higher model grades of i30 and Corolla.

Even so, if kids are short and prams are plentiful, then the VTi wins back points with its boot. The large, square space is not only usable, but it contains a nifty slide-across security blind that makes loading large items a breeze, without the need to juggle a bulky parcel shelf.

ON THE ROAD | RATING: 3.5/5

Engine: 104kW/172Nm 1.8-litre petrol 4cyl.

Transmission: Automatic CVT, FWD.

Suspension: MacPherson strut front and independent rear.

Brakes: Ventilated front and solid rear disc brakes.

Steering: Electrically assisted mechanical steering.

It’s not just the driving position where traces of Type-R hot hatch can be found. Every model grade of new-gen Civic is built on a fresh platform that now utilises more sophisticated independent rear suspension (IRS) to match Corolla, Golf and the i30 SR/SR Premium only.

Even rolling on modest Dunlop Enasave tyres, there’s a dynamic cohesion about this new Honda that starts with slick and quick steering, and traces through to a superbly level ride plus flat and agile handling.

Whether in an urban street or on a country backroad, the VTi is eminently enjoyable. As with the interior, though, there is evidence of a semi-premium product being stripped back a bit.

It’s firstly noticeable off the line, where the automatic CVT can be dull to respond. It takes 4300rpm on the tachometer before just 172Nm of torque arrives, and in a five-door hatch that weighs 1289kg, ensuring the engine thrusts upwards and starts revving is absolutely essential.

Yet drivers don’t get a tipshifter manual mode, or paddleshifters, only ‘S’ for Sport or ‘L’ for Low modes for the auto. While the 1.8-litre is actually quite revvy and responsive, eager to get to 6300rpm where its 104kW of power is made, the auto CVT feels reluctant to engage.

All of which means the engine’s on-test fuel consumption of 8.3 litres per 100 kilometres is decent, but no more, being 1.9L/100km higher than the official combined-cycle claim.

At anything above urban speeds, the Civic is also loud and, by some margin, the noisiest hatch in the small car class. Road roar in particular is a problem – occupants will feel as though they are sitting inside a cinder box across a coarse-chip country surface at 100km/h.

All of which conspires to present an entry-level Honda of two sometimes conflicting halves. It is quite slow, yet dynamic and fun to drive, while it rides extremely well yet lacks the NVH – noise, vibration and harshness – measures to complement that refinement.

Incidentally, a 1.5-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine is available in the Civic range, with 127kW/220Nm plus better fuel consumption that this old 1.8-litre non-turbo unit, but it kicks off with the VTi-L from $27,790 (plus orc), or $31,256 driveaway – well beyond entry-level.

Even then, active safety equipment such as autonomous emergency braking (AEB), which is standard on Golf and Corolla, is unavailable until the VTi-LX at $33,590 (plus orc, or an eye-watering $37,230 driveaway.

SAFETY

ANCAP rating: 5 stars – this model scored 34.68 out of 37 points when tested by ANCAP in 2017.

Safety Features: Six airbags, ABS and ESC, and reverse-view camera.

WARRANTY AND SERVICING

Warranty: Five years/unlimited km

Servicing: With annual or 10,000km intervals, Honda’s capped-price servicing plan costs $1681 over five years – for an average of $336.20 per dealership check-up.

RIVALS TO CONSIDER

The i30 Active gets alloys, nav and digital radio over this Civic VTi, and it’s a better all-rounder for the money even if it can’t quite match the Honda’s ride and handling highs.

The Corolla Ascent Sport absolutely can, though. It’s demonstrably more polished, with class-leading active safety equipment, though its boot is as cramped as Civic’s is spacious.

Which leaves the Golf 110TSI as the small car most worth paying a premium for. It mixes the space of this VTi with class-leading comfort and superbly hushed on-road manners.

  • Hyundai i30 Active
  • Toyota Corolla Ascent Sport
  • Volkswagen Golf 110TSI

TMR VERDICT | OVERALL RATING: 3.5/5

The VTi isn’t the pick of the Civic line-up. That honour goes to the one-rung-higher VTi-S, which feels more upmarket inside for not a whole lot of extra cash. It would be even better if Honda migrated the 1.5-litre turbo from the VTi-L down to these lower model grades, too.

Equipped with that better engine, along with AEB, and the entry-level Civic VTi could add at least a half-star to its score here.

That’s in some ways a spec-change Honda could enact in time, but more inherent to this generation of five-door hatch is the road noise and rear headroom issues that render it the least impressive vehicle in the segment in both respects.

On the upside, every Honda Civic gets a sporty driving position, slick steering, terrific damping, lots of rear legroom and a big boot. There’s lots there, a lot to like – and certainly for the first time in a while, they are aspects that could be worth paying extra for.

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