New Civic makes welcome return

ROB MAETZIG
Last updated 05:01 01/06/2012
The new Honda Civic.
Fairfax NZ

WELCOME BACK: The new Honda Civic.

The new Honda Civic.
Fairfax NZ
INSIDE: The new Honda Civic.

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You can bet your boots that in Auckland the good people at Honda New Zealand will be breathing a collective sigh of relief.

It will be because after an eight-month supply hiatus caused by the combined effects of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, and the flooding in Thailand, the company has finally begun importing its most popular car again.

Even better, the model is brand-new. It's the ninth-generation version of the Civic, a sedan that has been introduced in 1.8 and 2.0-litre petrol forms, and as a hybrid. All these cars replace models that haven't been available in New Zealand since June last year, which is when the last of the local stocks ran out.

If you stood back and squinted your eyes a bit, it would be rather difficult to tell the new and the old apart - this latest model will only ever be recognised as a Civic.

But underneath that familiar skin, there is a sedan that is much improved in a number of important ways.

For example, even though the new Civic is 10mm shorter and with a 30mm smaller wheelbase, the interior has been enlarged to the extent it is now about the same as the first-generation Honda Accord Euro of just a few years ago - a car that was widely praised.

There's 75mm more shoulder room in the front, 25mm more leg room in the back, plenty of space in the boot, lots of comfort and specification, and the general feeling is one of continued progression and upsizing of a model that has been a familiar part of New Zealand's motoring scene since that very first version arrived in hatchback form almost 40 years ago in 1973.

Since the new Civic was launched in New Zealand a few weeks ago, I've had the opportunity to spend extended periods of time in the two petrol models, firstly the $38,500 2.0-litre 2.0S which is available only with a five-speed automatic, and then last week a $32,900 1.8-litre 1.8S with a five-speed manual transmission - auto is also available for $2000 more.

Those prices are significant because they are lower than before - $2300 less in the case of the 2.0-litre model, and $900 in the case of the 1.8. I don't know whether these reductions are the result of influences such as currency fluctuations or whether they are more of a marketing exercise aimed at kick-restarting Civic sales in New Zealand, but they do make the vehicles very competitive in terms of their pricing.

And while we're talking about economy, both Civics also boast improved fuel consumption. The 1.8-litre version, which is powered by a single-cam engine that is essentially an improved version of the one under the bonnet of the previous model, now has an average economy of 6.7 L/100km instead of the previous car's 7.2. And the 2.0-litre model, which also now has a single-cam engine replacing the previous twin-cam unit, is now rated at 7.5 L/100km. That's slightly better (as in 0.8 L/100km) than before.

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These improvements have been achieved through a combination of developments in the engines, aerodynamics, transmissions, and brakes. And while, in both cases, we exactly met those consumption figures through normal everyday driving, we probably could have done better if we had have made full use of some special features designed to encourage economical driving.

One is a nifty little visual setup in which the area around the speedometer glows green during careful driving, and blue when the Civic is being operated more aggressively. Another is a little ECON button that, when pushed, changes the vehicle's performance characteristics so they operate more in the interests of fuel economy than speed.

Both cars are enjoyable to drive.

Naturally, the 2.0S is the more powerful of the pair, and the auto transmission has paddle shifters on the steering wheel to make full manual use of the engine's 114 kilowatts of power. But the 1.8S goes well too, and the five-speed manual on our test vehicle was easy to use.

Actually, the experience with that 1.8-litre version reminded me that it had been quite a while since I had driven a car with manual - they're becoming quite a rarity these days! Ride and handling are also nice.

The power steering is a new electric version and feels quite light but positive, all models have the full suite of electronic safety aids including stability control, and the bodyshell design means there is little wind noise.

Unfortunately, the same can't be said for road noise, which I found to be obtrusive in the 2.0S which is shod with 17-inch wheels and tyres. It's less so aboard the 1.8S with its 16-inch wheels, which proves once again that when it comes to driving on New Zealand's coarse chip seal, bigger wheels and tyres are often definitely not the best.

The interior is spacious and light, and the driver position is excellent. Honda tells us that the dash layout features two zones - a central shared area which has things like audio and air conditioning, and a driver's zone which has the likes of the speedo and the multi-information display.

It all works well, but one minor concern I do have with the dash area is that I counted 14 separate segments that all join together to create its 'technical' look.

As a result it isn't the smoothest dash design on the market, and I wonder if a few squeaks will develop among all those joins after a few thousand kilometres of motoring. It's also all rather plasticky.

Standard equipment on the 1.8S includes single-zone climate- control air conditioning, cruise control, six airbags, and full connectivity - which includes a Bluetooth system that can cater for up to six phones. Extras aboard the 2.0S include full leather, a sunroof, automatic lights, and front fog lights.

All in all, both of these Civics immediately appeal as very good small-medium sedans, especially for their improved pricing. I'm now looking forward to trying out the third member of the sedan triumvirate - the hybrid.

HONDA CIVIC 1.8S AND 2.0S

POWER PLANT: 1.8S - 1.8-litre four-cylinder SOHC 16-valve i-VTEC petrol engine, 104 kW at 6500 rpm, 174 Nm at 4300 rpm. 2.0S - 2.0-litre four-cylinder 16-valve i-VTEC petrol engine, 114 kW at 6500 rpm, 190 Nm at 4300 rpm.

RUNNING GEAR: Front-wheel drive. 2.0S has five-speed automatic transmission; as tested, the 1.8S has five-speed manual. McPherson strut front suspension, multi-link double wishbone setup at the rear.

HOW BIG: Length 4549mm, width 1753mm, height 1434mm, wheelbase 2670mm.

HOW MUCH: 2.0S $38,500; 1.8S manual $32,900.

WHAT'S GOOD: Excellent space, easy car to operate, improved economy, more attractive pricing.

WHAT'S NOT: Road noise in models with bigger tyres, dash design is busy.

OUR VERDICT: Honda Civic has always been one of the classy members of the small-medium fleet in New Zealand. This ninth generation model continues that trend.

- Taranaki Daily News

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