First Drive: Honda Civic Saloon & Automatic

When the invite came through from Honda for the launch of the new 4-door saloon and 9-speed automatic Civic, my first thought was to pass on it because, well, it isn’t a 4x4.  Then, I was intrigued because I have a few friends and colleagues who have the new Civic and they love ‘em to bits.  My curiosity was aroused and I suddenly needed to experience the hype.

I have a lot of respect for Honda for giving the Civic such an aggressive and sporty look, it’s very distinctive, which is a good thing these days.

So, to the launch.  We had two new versions to evaluate, the first being the new 9-speed automatic that was fitted to the hatch and then the 4-door saloon with the 6-speed manual box.  Both cars were fitted with the 1.6i-DTEC diesel lump with EX trim.

Our morning jaunt was in the automatic, or ‘the red one’ as we affectionately named it, and for the first stint I was getting my Civic experience from the passenger seat.  Spacious, comfortable and quiet were my thoughts whilst being driven around the beautiful Shropshire hills towards Team Dynamics Motorsport in Droitwich.

Swapping over and getting in the drivers seat, I was faced with an intuitive dash layout and a rather sparse yet funky centre console.  Gone is the traditional auto gear shifter and in its place are buttons with D/S (Drive & Sport) then P, N and R inscribed on them, which all worked well, as did the paddle shifts when I wanted more control.

I think I’ll use the word effortless to describe how the 9-speed auto box performed. Whether it was around towns and small villages or hoofing it around country lanes, it performed great and was never found wanting.

Equally satisfying was the 6-speed manual which I drove in the afternoon, aka ‘the blue one’.  With easy and seamless gear changes, my only problem was that the car was so quiet that I often found myself driving in fourth instead of sixth - first world problems, I know.

Space in the boot of the 4-door is capacious enough for a couple of bodies, er… suitcases, or whatever.  It measures in at 519 litres, compared to the five-door’s 478 litres.  To be honest, it did leave me with a sense of befuddlement on why Honda would go to all the effort of creating a car with a boot these days, I mean, what’s wrong with the hatch version?  

Well, answering my own question, I suppose some may view the exterior design of the Civic hatchback as a bit, umm, too ‘in-yer-face’.  If that’s the case then the saloon, with its elongated body, thanks to its separate boot and toned-down bumper design, is a little more restrained in appearance, or, as Honda put it

the sleek roofline flows into C-pillars that extend the dynamic shape rearward. A further styling line extends from the trailing edge of the C-pillar quarter window, drawing back towards the aerodynamic boot lip. The overall effect is sleek, sophisticated dynamism with distinctive and thoroughly modern Civic exterior design.’ 

On the subject of size, the new Civic Civic saloon is 46mm wider, 74mm longer and 20mm lower than its 4-door predecessor, and I certainly noticed the latter as it gave me a sense of sportiness sitting lower in the cabin. 

The ride was equally impressive, which I guess you can credit to Honda’s ‘Agile Handling Assist’ (AHA) electronic stability system, which has been specially tuned for the European market to reflect typical road surface conditions and driving styles. 

It had plenty of grip too, with nicely weighted and balanced steering, enough to put a grin on my face and have my passenger reaching for the grab handles! 

I thought the 6-speed manual ‘box and 1.6ltr diesel were a lovely combination, but given the option I genuinely wouldn’t know which to choose from, the manual or auto. 

When it comes to fuel consumption Honda have some impressive figures with the diesel manual saloon achieving 83mpg on a combined run, and a smidge under 69mpg for the diesel auto hatch.

So dear reader, is the new Civic a worthy recipient of all the positive hype it receives?

In a word, I reckon so; OK, I realise that’s more than one word, but the new Civic deserves more than a one word answer.  With the minimum of fuss, both models cosseted me through towns, villages and along country lanes, it was a good day, and the new Civic did indeed prove itself.

Models tested:
Civic 5-door, 1.6i-DTEC automatic in EX trim @ £26,620
Civic 4-door, 1.6i-DTEC manual in EX trim @ £25,450