There was a lot riding on the 10th-generation Civic as Honda was adamant that they will no longer concede market share from an audience that was growing more accustomed to the positive attributes usually associated with European cars.
And with the release of the car that resulted, the world was most impressed with how the new entrant seemingly ticked all the boxes that was thrown into automaker’s suggestion box. The new car was better looking, built with higher quality materials, more powerful, more practical, better to drive, and just as dependable as the outgoing model. They managed to add to the an already compelling recipe without losing consistency, besting the older version along every avenue.
It couldn’t have come at a more opportune time either, as rivals automakers are turning their heel at the norms and embracing the evolving customer expectations of the near future. Honda will have to face the new Peugeot 308, new Holden Astra, new Volkswagen Golf, Mazda3, all-new Hyundai i30, and soon an all-new Ford Focus.
Luckily for them, having preceded their most pressing competition, Honda is now in its best striking position in a long time with regards to how it can shape the landscape for their enemy’s arrival. That said, try as it might, it can’t account for all needs. Meanwhile, some argue it hasn’t gone far enough to beat other’s at their own game.
But, actually, that’s fine, as the Honda here is the most round a package as the Japanese company has offered, perhaps in recent memory, and heralds the arrival of both a new design direction, powertrain strategy, and a markedly different set of engineering priorities that are both ambitious, and as we can see now, fulfilled - all at a competitive price.
Two body styles are available, a lift back four-door sedan or a five-door hatch, with an easy pair of engine choices and transmissions. Honda’s simplification has been made possible through a broader skill set of the Civic’s chassis and drivetrains. But does it have the real world appeal to make the average person care?
“…its fastback styling makes it stand out against more upright competitors like the Mazda3 and Renault Megane…” - Motoring.com.au
The Civic’s design is the result of a much bolder set of principles set about by the team responsible for it. Arguing that the older model lacked a certain spark, aesthetically, might be a little flippant but could yield some interesting talking points.
Over the 9th-gen car, the Civic is a much sleeker machine and has a more commanding presence on the road to complement its larger size. The wheelbase has grown too, and we’ll cover the repercussions of that in a bit.
It’s not as conservative as the French or German alternatives but does have some elegant lines, particularly with the sedan in profile. It contrasts this, however, with sharp angles such as those found on an kaiju-fighting robot anime - take a look at that front headlamp and ‘winged’ grille cluster and how the tail lamps wrap hug its midsection. A unique look that most definitely sets it apart on the road.
Engine and Drivetrain
“…the best trick of the 1.5-litre engine is that it doesn't require much accelerator to make it move, which means there's never too much strain on the CVT auto in town.” - CarsGuide
With the Civic, Honda abandoned its orthodox relationship to the naturally aspirated engine and embraced a downsized, turbocharged philosophy. The most evident manifestation of this is torque, and the easy access drivers now have to it.
The range starts with a 1.8-litre naturally aspirated i-VTEC petrol motor carried over from the previous Civic. It outputs a decent 104kW and 174Nm but you'll have to rev the engine to beyond 4,000rpm to enjoy all of it.
Midway up the grade hierarchy, though, is the new 1.5-litre VTEC turbo motor that generates 127kW and 220Nm from just over 1,500rpm but also enjoys revving high.
That difference in delivery makes for a more immediately responsive car in everyday driving and it’s the choice we’d pick any day of the two engines. After all, the fuel economy numbers are comparable, and in the long run, the less you’ll have to rev the engine to motivate the car, the less likely you are to use more fuel over the long term.
The continuously variable transmission (CVT) is the only point of contention that we have, thought only slight. It’s actually one of the best examples of this transmission type out there, and no doubt contributes to the Civic’s low running costs as it can select a theoretically infinite number of ratios to maximise efficiency.
It can simulate the stepped sensation of a normal gear shift well enough, is quite smooth, and is free from the rubber-band-like transitions too for the vast majority of occasions. However, reviewers are still split between whether the Civic would be better suited to having a traditional fixed ratio transmission. Those equipped with the 1.5-litre turbo engine, though, do get paddle shifters which go a long way in simulating the behaviour of a ‘normal’ transmission.
“…fans of the old model will be sad to see the demise of its clever magic seating system that meant you could carry tall items – a child’s bike, house plants etc – by folding up the rear seats.” - carwow
Where the previous Civic’s build materials were somewhat disappointing, Honda is now clearly trying to establish itself as one of the leaders in cabin quality among mass market manufacturers. There’s leather, soft touch layers, and high quality plastics in the mix - though Mazda still pips it for a sheer premium feel. It’s well-built, modern, nicely laid out, and spacious too. Very spacious.
In fact, the amount of rear legroom here is far more than you'd expect for a car in this class, bordering on Passat levels of rear roominess. And in spite of the sloping roofline to give it that extra aerodynamic look, headroom is more than adequate.
The boot is large as well, predictably more so in the sedan than in the hatch, but both have a minimal load lip and conveniently flat floor.
Behind The Wheel
“Welcome to the most desirable Civic in two decades for someone who likes to drive.” - WhichCar
The older 9th-generation Civic (sans the Type R, of course) was somewhat lacking behind the competition when it came to driving dynamics. It was comfortable, pleasant, and went about the business of personal transportation just fine, but that just won’t cut it in a market where driver involvement and handling is a larger priority.
The Civic, therefore, has had some love thrown its way in this department, with an independent rear suspension and much improved steering calibration for a more direct feel, and body roll is nicely controlled. You’ll sit lower than usual, inspiring a more sporty feel but will soon find the Civic to also be quite refined, not letting small judders unsettle the ride nor bigger thumps from being too jarring.
In tandem with the exceptionally isolated cabin that filters out wind noise and tyre/road roar, there’s a good balance here between a sporty urban express and a smooth highway cruiser. It feels more expensive than it actually is.
Safety and Technology
“The old Civic had a solid reliability record, and the new model comes loaded to the rafters with safety kit…” - AutoExpress
ANCAP has award the Civic a full 5-star rating, a rating that also applies to the newer hatch. It has a full assortment of airbags, a reversing camera, and cruise control. However, the full suite of active safety and convenience systems like adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, forward collision warning, lane departure warning, and lane keep assist are available only in the top-spec VTi-LX.
The infotainment offering, though, is rather good throughout the range, with a 7-inch panel and a touchscreen interface that’s easy to use and quick to respond as well as support for Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. Audio is transmitted through an 8-speaker stereo.
There’s plenty to like with the 10th-generation Honda Civic as the automaker has executed an ambitious turnaround plan to, basically, take the segment by storm. In some ways, it breaks new ground as to what a Civic’s place in the market is and should be. In others, it’s very much the same comfortable, reliable, well-thought out car it always was.
But we cannot ignore the fact that it has taken its strengths and improved upon it without sacrificing what it did so well. It now is better to drive, armed with better looks, and is better to sit in. Still practical, but more refined and upmarket. If this is Honda’s first go at a new direction, their next ones are worth standing up and paying attention to as buyers, and fearing as a rival automaker.
CarsGuide - 7/10 - “Energetic and engaging (if not quite sporty), the Civic hatch is quiet and comfortable around town, but it can more than hold its own on a twisting backroad, too. It’s looks will either appeal or not, but a lack of comprehensive safety equipment on the cheaper models is sure to ruffle some feathers.”
Motoring.com.au - 80/100 - “We might not be able to yet say whether it’s our favourite in class – we’ll need to drive it for longer on own home turf to make a definitive call – but we are confident that the Civic has become a major hatchback force to be reckoned with.”
WhichCar - 4/5“The dramatically styled 10th generation Honda Civic is unusually big and roomy for a small sedan. It drives very quietly and comfortably, handles responsively and is engaging to steer.”
AutoExpress - 4/5 - “The Honda Civic has morphed from a sub-standard family hatchback to a genuine class contender”
Carwow - “The current Honda Civic looks like it crash-landed from Mars, but this new-for-2017 model is relatively restrained but still manages to be something of an oddball next to big class players.”