1972 wan’t a bad year for the car world. The Aston Martin V8 Vantage, Lancia Stratos and Maserati Merak all arrived to blow petrolheads’ socks off. But the year also saw more mainstream and significant models arrive. Cars like the BMW 5 Series, the Mercedes S-Class and the Honda Civic, whose names are still going strong half a century later.
The Civic was Honda’s first car in the UK and while a lot has changed in the intervening years, the core aim of the model hasn’t. So beneath the new looks and tech, this 11th generation is still a mainstream family hatchback designed to compete with the likes of the Ford Focus, Vauxhall Astra, Volkswagen Golf, Peugeot 308, Seat Leon and Toyota Corolla.
From the outside, the 11th generation is obviously an evolution of the previous car but underneath there have been significant structural changes to lighten and strengthen the car, plus a major shift from pure petrol and diesel engines to a single full hybrid powertrain.
The new Civic is fractionally longer and wider than the old car, with a slightly lower roofline and shorter overhangs but there are very clear links to the 10th-generation car. After the wild styling of the eighth and ninth generations, the 10th and 11th have settled into a more conservative look that’s in keeping with most of its rivals.
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The most obvious difference comes inside, where the extended wheelbase has been entirely committed to improving rear legroom. That’s great news for passengers and the Civic’s rear passenger compartment feels far more spacious than most C-segment hatchbacks. Front seat occupants get similar levels of space and comfort, with plenty of leg and shoulder room and a general feeling of openness brought by the cabin’s relatively simple design.
Honda makes a big deal of “man-maximum, machine-minimum” engineering. In practical terms, that means keeping things simple for the driver, so the dashboard and controls have a welcome ease-of-use. There’s no massive clutter of buttons but nor does the Civic rely just on its nine-inch touchscreen for everything. It’s closer to the exemplary Mazda3 in that regard, with obvious, tactile controls for major functions, rather than the VW Group’s disastrous reliance on touchscreens.
It might not quite match the Mazda’s premium feel but the materials are easily the equal of something like a Focus or Golf and touches like the honeycomb dashboard grille bring an unusual and interesting detail. The only interior misstep is the drive selector carried over from the CR-V, which looks like it was sourced from Fisher-Price.
In the press material for the new Civic Honda chucks around words such as “exhilarating” to describe the driving experience, which feels like a stretch. Competent is probably more accurate. Like the previous model, it certainly handles pretty well but it’s not sharp in the way a Ford Focus or Mazda3 is. The steering is accurate but doesn’t feel as immediate or as communicative as the best rivals. Instead, there’s a definite lean towards comfort with really good damping, a smooth ride and decent body control. But, like its predecessor, there’s a hint in the regular car that something far sharper and more engaging is waiting to be unlocked in the new Type R.
The same can’t be said for the engine. The Type R will get a straight petrol unit while the regular Civic gets a hybrid that completes Honda’s shift to an all-electrified mainstream line-up. That setup doesn’t lend itself to a hot hatch but does put it head-to-head with the impressive Toyota Corolla - the only other full hybrid C-segment hatchback.
While the old car had a choice of economical 1.0-litre or sporty 1.5-litre petrols plus a frugal 1.6-litre diesel, the new model has only one engine and transmission choice. Honda says the new 2.0-litre e:HEV full hybrid offers the economy of the 1.0, the power of the 1.5 and the torque of the diesel.
So, the four-cylinder engine and two electric motors produce a combined 181bhp and 232lb ft, offering 0-62mph in 7.8 seconds. Economy is quoted at between 56 and 60mpg (depending on trim level) and emissions are as low as 108g/km.
The engine and transmission - an E:CVT that Honda’s top tech man insisted “isn’t a gearbox” - are related to the setup in the CR-V and HR-V but have been redeveloped to offer better power, torque and responsiveness.
On the road, even with the e-motor, the Civic doesn’t feel instantly responsive but it does pick up pace fairly quickly and you don’t feel it’s lacking power or torque. Depending on driving conditions, the hybrid will switch between its three modes unnoticed, using electric power for low-speed driving, pure petrol for constant high-speed cruising and a combination of both in high-demand, heavy acceleration situations.
To address criticisms of many hybrids, Honda has engineered the drivetrain with “linear shift control”. This mimics the drop in revs when shifting gears in a manual car to give a more “reassuring” acceleration sound rather than the rubber-band drone often associated with hybrids. It can’t completely disguise the e:CVT’s characteristics but it’s a notable improvement on the CR-V and HR-V.
The droning is less noticeable anyway thanks to good sound insulation that means you only really hear the engine under heavy throttle and makes the Civic a pleasant long-distance cruiser.
When it goes on sale later this year, the Civic will come in three trim levels - Elegance, Sport and Advance, with prices starting at £29,595.
All models feature 17-inch alloys, a nine-inch touchscreen with smartphone mirroring, adaptive cruise control, dual zone climate, heated seats and the comprehensive Honda Sensing driver assistance suite. Sport (£30,595) adds gloss black trim and larger wheels while at £32,995 the Advance brings a 10.2-inch digital instrument display, 12-speaker Bose sound system, adaptive headlights, a heated steering wheel and panoramic sunroof.
Those prices reflect the extra cost of the hybrid drivetrain and relatively high standard specification but do set even entry level Civics up against high-grade alternatives from the likes of Ford and VW. A similarly specced and powered Corolloa, however, is roughly similar money.
That price difference could go against the Civic but it’s working hard to justify it. On first experience, it feels like a very competent all-rounder, well worthy of consideration against any other mainstream family hatchback. The drivetrain offers impressive economy and a smooth experience while the interior space and simplicity stand out in a crowded market.
Honda Civic Advance
Price: £32,995; Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder petrol, two electric motors; Power: 181bhp; Torque: 232lb ft; Transmission: E-CVT; Top speed: 112mph; 0-62mph: 8.1 seconds; Economy: 56.5mpg; CO2 emissions: 114g/km