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Civic’s comeback to create history?

S Muralidhar | Updated on February 21, 2019 Published on February 21, 2019

Honda’s premium sedan is back after a seven-year absence, now with a diesel engine. Can it rekindle the magic?

For seven years since 2005, the Honda Civic was held up as an icon in the D-segment. Unfortunately, when the market was picking up a decade ago, and its design really put it ahead of the pack, the Civic’s prospects were bogged down by the lack of a Diesel engine. But now, when the market has stayed lacklustre for the segment, the Civic is due to make a dramatic comeback with a likeable diesel buzzing under the bonnet. Only problem is, the market for diesels is sliding. And yet, it is a welcome addition that will being fresh choice to buyers who have been buying compact SUVs instead. So, can the Civic do what the others in the segment haven’t managed — to expand the market?

Design

The new Civic is the tenth generation model. With relatively smaller generation cycles compared to other cars, one whole generation of the model has already sped by between the new one and the eighth-gen India-spec sold here till 2012. In fact, the one that is being launched within the next few weeks is also already mid-cycle. But, look at the eighth-gen Civic that was here and you can hardly believe that it was launched worldwide in 2006. Even today, its design gives off a young and futuristic vibe. From being a long bonnet, three-box sedan body style, the Civic has now evolved into a coupe-like design. The 2019 Civic that we are getting is looking sportier than the model has ever been.

The Civic is Honda’s longest-running and largest selling nameplate. It is the Japanese brand’s premier model in many respects and it is offered in three — sedan, coupe and hatchback — body styles, with the hot hatch Type-R being the most appealing. The Civic, unlike the other Japanese sedans in the category, was built to be an athlete. It’s design and performance have been a fair reflection of this strategy. The new model takes up from where the previous generation left off, starting with a design that is even more aerodynamic. In fact, in addition to the low slung, coupe-like design, the new Civic takes the aero package a step above with complete underbody panelling. At the front, the new Civic’s design reinterprets signature Honda lines, with the sharp face and the thick chrome Honda Wing running across the width of the front fascia. The in-line array of LEDs in the headlamps add to the horizontal, layered concept of the front. The bonnet is a carved slab, which with its deeply curved centre alludes even more to the aerodynamic profile of the Civic. The turn indicators mounted on the side panel just above the fender line is an interesting position, though it may be prone to breakages from small incidents; as is the case with the oversized door mirrors. They may be expensive to replace, especially the left door mirror that houses the blind spot assistance camera. The side profile’s highlights are the wheel arches and the elegantly rising roofline, which curves gradually and ends at the coupe-like rear, hinting at the possibility of head room at the rear despite the fairly low overall height of the car. Look closer and you’d find that the body side character lines and the eyelet-shaped chrome lining for the rear quarter glass highlight the Civic’s thoughtful design. Another such example that boosts practicality and the design is the thin A-pillar, which like the sunroof in the top trim variant helps improve visibility and increase the glasshouse. The 17-inch alloys (top trim) fill out the wheel arches nicely and is another youthful, aggressive addition compared to the 16-inchers in all the competing vehicles in this segment.

The rear is classic notchback style and will make you think that the tailgate is hinged at the roof, but instead it is a conventional L-shaped bootlid. The lid is compact in terms of how deep it cuts into the rear fender, but because of its width, access to the huge 430-litre boot is not a problem. The tail lamps are quirky, but very interesting and apt for the taut, coupe design. Shaped like two brackets on either side of the rear, the split tail-lamps feature a portion that curves over the top of the bootlid.

Cabin

Honda is a master at maximising space inside cars, though the external footprint may still be fairly compact. The Civic again proves that, and the amount of cabin space does surprise me, though aspects like Honda’s claim of the legroom being the highest in the segment is something that I can’t confirm to have checked. There is no compromise in the headroom even at the rear seat, though three adults at the rear will find that the shoulder room available makes it quite a squeeze. The seats themselves are sporty and even the rear ones offer softer ribs just at the right place in the backrest to hold passengers in place. The cabin layout and theme itself is a pleasing mix of black, dark grey and beige, with an interesting mix of matt aluminium and textured grey inserts and trim elements. The dashboard layout is still very driver focussed, very much like the predecessor and there is even a thin aluminium trim that runs at the top of the dashboard and central aircon vents which identifies the driver’s space. The leather-wrapped steering wheel is sporty, with notches for thumb-holds, and all the buttons for cruise control, audio and infotainment neatly arranged on it. The centre console is tall and the gear shift stick is also set a bit higher than in other cars, but ergonomically it is spot on. The cabin has a lot of storage spaces in the door pockets, centre console and under the armrest. Charging slots are nicely hidden away behind the centre stack with only a rubber wire organiser being visible at the front. The instrument cluster in the predecessor was a highlight of the cabin and the new one’s is equally impressive with changeable colours for the LED backlighting and 3D-like digital instrument, and analogue fuel and coolant gauges. Soft-touch plastics and padded panels, and an improvement in the quality of materials means that the Civic now feels like it is nipping at the heels of the entry-luxury vehicles.

Performance

With the previous Civic missing a diesel engine, I was more curious to take out the 1.6 i-DTEC and manual transmission variant first. This is the same engine as in the CR-V, and offers the same output levels, though there is an obvious power-to-weight advantage in the Civic. The engine sounds a bit loud on the outside, though in-cabin noise levels have been contained well. Honda has chosen to pair the diesel with only a six-speed manual gearbox, and has on the other hand chosen to offer the 1.8-litre i-VTEC petrol engine only with a CVT automatic. The 1.6L turbo diesel engine delivers 120 PS of peak power and 300 Nm of peak torque. The electronically controlled variable nozzle turbocharger manages to offer impressive control over the boost offered and though peak torque kicks in at 2,000 rpm, it is not all loaded at the top. There is not much of a perceptible turbolag and the acceleration is quite linear all the way from about 1,400 rpm. The manual is a sweet shifting transmission and the fairly tall gearing means that staying in gear under a range of engine speeds is not a problem. The powertrain is said to be capable of meeting BS VI emission levels with some tweaks and is currently rated to offer a mileage of over 26 kmpl.

The 1.8L i-VTEC petrol engine puts out 141 PS of power and 174 Nm of torque. It is married to a classic Honda CVT that delivers a rather soulless performance. Power delivery is linear, if a bit restrained in terms of throttle response. But, there is absolutely no shift feel or perceptible inputs from the gearbox even under hard acceleration. Eco, Normal and Sport modes feel similar under a heavy foot, but at slower speeds, the Sport mode’s slightly more eager acceleration can be experienced. For those that want a bit more involvement, there are steering-mounted paddles that can be used to choose from the seven notional gear slots offered by the CVT. Rated mileage is 16.5 kmpl.

Bottom Line

The Civic’s handling was not much of a problem even with the previous generation, except for its over-low, late turning feel. The new model feels more agile, and most importantly, the ground clearance is now up 20 mm, and the firmer suspension allows it to sail over speed breakers and bad patches with no effort. The ride is pliant without it seeming over-soft, and the steering is also quite sharp, even though it is lacking in feel. The 2019 Civic is also impressively loaded with features. Though the variant strategy is yet to be disclosed, the top trim I drove had six airbags, sunroof, powered driver seat, dual-zone climate control, the lane-watch camera, electronic parking brake and an interesting remote engine start, possibly for starting climate control.

Overall, the new Civic is a sizeable improvement over the predecessor, and it also retains the soul of the original. It is now available with a diesel powertrain too, and its design makes it the best looker in the segment. Now, if only Honda would bring in the Civic RS or the Type R and make it a killer combo! Expect the new Civic to be priced in the ₹17 lakh-₹22 lakh range.

Published on February 21, 2019
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