In 2007, Honda won its first Car of the Year title after the Civic 1,8 VXI saloon was introduced to this country. However, nothing lasts forever, and this, probably one of the most successful Honda models ever to reach South Africa, has just been replaced by the third generation to carry the Civic badge in this country.
The range is bigger than ever before, and consists of eight models. A new addition to the range is a 1,6 Comfort, available as a manual or automatic, priced very close to the Ballade 1,5 Elegance released last year. The other models in the range are the 1,8 Comfort, Elegance and Executive, all available with manual or automatic transmission. I took the Executive manual for a test drive as soon as it was launched.
The new Civic saloon will remind Honda enthusiasts of the 1996-2000 Ballade in that it is an evolutionary, rather than a radically different, design. Its profile is very similar to its predecessor, but its rear end has been completely restyled. In fact, some people might prefer the tail lamp treatment of the previous model, but it is a matter of personal taste. Having said that, the metallic maroon test car with beige leather upholstery looked absolutely stunning. However, one design flaw on the previous model has been retained: it still has the completely pointless front quarterlight windows. These cannot be opened, but they might help criminals to gain easy access to the interior.
The interior is not much different either, and the split dashboard of the previous model has been retained. However, there is one seemingly insignificant green button to the right of the steering column. Honda is one of the industry leaders when it comes to hybrid technology, and although a hybrid engine is not yet available on the Civic saloon, this button enables you to drive more economically when it is pressed. In fact, an increasingly popular feature among modern cars which is standard on the Civic is a gearshift indicator on the manual models which advises you when to change up or down to achieve optimum fuel consumption. A new feature is a fuel consumption meter situated to the left of the speedometer. This is a great idea, but a digital version showing the figures in kilometres per litre, instead of litres per 100 km would have been even better. The boot is big enough for five people’s luggage, and two features deserve the highest praise. The levers that are released to fold down the rear seats are situated in the boot rather than the interior, so even if the car is broken into, the boot is inaccessible. There is also a full-size spare wheel; it seems like Honda has realised that space savers are a load of rubbish. The Executive comes fully loaded, and comes with hill start assist, vehicle stability assist, rain sensing windscren wipers and automatic climate control as standard equipment. The latter feature is very impressive; on a hot summer day, it proved to be extremely efficient.
Honda is one of a few manufacturers that has not followed the modern trend of fitting small turbocharged engines to their cars. Instead, the engine of the previous Civic has been retained in the new model. There is not much wrong with it, so keeping the existing engine is a good move; at least Honda’s reputation for reliability will remain intact. It will also spare Civic owners from the extravagantly high running costs usually associated with turbocharged cars. The 1,8 litre engine delivers 104 kw at 6 500 r/min, which does not sound like much in this class, but is sufficiently powerful for anybody looking for a car in this class. The car feels responsive, the engine is very quiet and the controls make the car easy to drive. In fact, this would be a very comfortable car to drive over long distances.
The Civic competes in a fiercely contested segment of the South African market, and several cars can be considered possible rivals. One of the most impressive of these is the recently released MG 6, which is imported to South Africa by Combined Motor Holdings. However, some people might be a bit scared to buy such a new product. The Ford Focus is a 2012 Car of the Year finalist which offers good value for money and is worthy of consideration. The VW Jetta is not the car it used to be, despite the introduction of the sixth generation in 2011; VW have lost the plot by concentrating on turbocharged models. The Toyota Corolla is in dire need of replacement, so it is not woth considering either. Moreover, it has become overpriced. The Nissan Tiida cannot be mentioned in the same company, and the Mazda 3 2,0 Individual is too expensive to be a true rival. The previous Civic was competitive throughout its six-year model life, which is exceptionally long for a Honda, and therefore the new model can compete very well in this segment. In fact, the Civic is highly recommended to anybody who wants a car that will last a long time and does not conform to fickle fashion trends. It is an honest car that does not pretend to be anything that it is not, and deserves to be at least as successful as any of its predecessors