Road Test: Honda Civic 1.8 Automatic

Have you noticed how cars keep changing shape? Not like Transformers, but there are general trends in car design. Not that long ago they were all smooth and curvy. More recently they’ve all been angular, with hard edges. I actually prefer the angular look – but I just think it’s funny how most car makers decided hard edges were better than rounded at the same time. And I’ve seen a few cars on the road in this last week that might suggest things are swinging back the other way.

One of the most strikingly different cars of recent years is the new-style Honda Civic – with its angles, distinctly forward-sloping look and rocket-ship style door handles. It’s recently had a minor update – minor, Honda say, because customers like the Civic so much it only needed a few tweaks to bring it bang up to date. It’s a 1.8l petrol version of that updated car, with an automatic gearbox, that I was fortunate to road test recently… so here are my thoughts.

Driving

Civic door controls and start button

Plenty of buttons to play with - including that delicious red start button

Let’s start with the most important thing – is the Civic any good as a driver’s car? Short answer? Yes.

I tend to get a sore back very easily (I guess I’m just a sensitive soul) and the worry when using a different car to normal is that the seats will only be comfortable for a short time. No such worries here, though: the seats were very comfy and the adjustable steering wheel meant I could create a comfortable driving position with ease. I was pleased to find that there’s a bit of resistance to the steering wheel too, as it meant it felt like there was a physical connection to the tyres that can be lacking when the power assistance is too high.

The drive-by-wire throttle took a bit of getting used to. It feels very light, and it’s quite easy to step on it over-enthusiastically. It’s also hinged at the base of the pedal (Honda calls this an “organ pedal”) which, combined with the light response, makes it feel a bit like a games controller. Having said that, once I’d got used to where to rest my foot and how much pressure to apply, it was much like any other throttle… but it did provide a neat talking point.

…and the passengers?

The front-seat passenger gets a comfortable chair and easy access to the array of drinks holders, the stereo controls, and the glove box. The very fact that there’s not a lot to say here tells you all you need to know: it’s a nice place to sit.

With two passengers in the rear everything is well with the world. If you try to get a third in  you realise the Civic is actually a bit narrow. Assuming your passengers aren’t massive, that’s not much of a problem, but we did find that it was hard to fit a person in the middle-rear seat while both the children’s car seats were installed. To be fair, we usually find that with every car, but where we may be able to fit a (slim) adult in other cars, it would have to be a third child in the Civic. Not quite sure where we can borrow a third child, mind!

Honda Civic - doors and boot open

Can I get the door for you?

The Civic looks like quite a small car from the outside, and I’ve already mentioned that it’s a little narrow but, surprisingly, the boot storage is excellent. This is helped by Honda not providing a spare tyre (you get a tyre repair kit instead) so the space normally taken up by a wheel is available for extra storage. Even without that, though, there was ample room for a child’s buggy and shopping. In total, the boot comes in at 485 litres… and I was impressed.

Features

OK, so the Honda Civic is good as a driver’s car, for passengers, and the storage is excellent. Let me run down some of the features for you now. The full feature list is as long as my arm, but there are a few that I was particularly interested in:

  • 1.8l petrol engine, which averaged 27 miles per gallon in town, and 36 mpg on longer distance journeys. Diesel and hybrid owners may gasp in horror at figures like that, but these aren’t bad for a petrol car of this size.
  • Panoramic glass roof – from the outside the roof is just one pane of glass. On the inside, though, it turns out to be two sunroofs.
  • Cruise control, automatic headlights and automatic windscreen wipers – all nice touches to make things easier for the driver.
  • Refrigerated glove box – seriously, I would never have thought of this, but it stops your chocolate from melting in the hot weather!
  • USB connection – for wiring your iPod/iPhone/mp3 player up to the stereo… no more faffing around with FM transmitters.
  • ISOfix child restraint system – if you have a compatible child seat, this is much easier than trying to strap the chair in with the seatbelts.
Honda Civic in action

Fun to drive... a very good thing

I took the Civic along some great routes that mixed motorway, town, and country driving. I was very impressed with the responsiveness of the throttle (and the engine makes a great sound when you’re overtaking), and with the sharpness of the steering. In short, the Honda Civic is… well… fun. And that’s a very good thing in a car.

Any negatives?

There are a couple of niggles with the Civic. Firstly, it’s yet another car with that split rear window thing… you know, with the support beam between the panels. I’ve always said I think my problems with that are to do with my driving position, and I actually found that it wasn’t an issue this time. However, I’m listing it here because your driving position might put it right in the way of seeing what’s behind you – pay attention when you go for your test drive.

The only other thing is that, just occasionally, the gearbox seemed a bit indecisive as to when it wanted to change up or down a gear. Having said that, I know I should just trust the car’s control system to do it at the optimal time and, on the whole, the automatic gearbox was just brilliant.

Honda Civic - thanks for readingConclusion

How can I sum the Honda Civic up, then? It’s great to take out for a drive on your own, making it fun to drive without encouraging dangerous behaviour. It’s a good sized family car, bearing in mind what I said earlier about the back seats. It’s got good styling, and fits plenty of luggage in the boot. Practical and fun all in one? I’ll have some of that, please.

The Civic (5dr) is available from your local Honda dealer, and ranges in price from £15,985 to £22,795. Check www.honda.co.uk for details of your nearest showroom.

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