These days the vast majority of new cars sold in New Zealand have automatic transmissions.
It makes sense, too. Today's autos are wonderfully sophisticated, electronically controlled pieces of equipment with the ability to "think", as in being able to adjust their gear shifts to suit the driving styles of the people behind the steering
HONDA CIVIC EURO S MANUAL
POWER PLANT: 1.8-litre 16-valve SOHV i-VTEC petrol engine, 104 kW at 6500 rpm, 174 Nm at 4300 rpm.
RUNNING GEAR: Front-wheel drive. Six-speed manual transmission. MacPherson strut front suspension, torsion beam setup at the rear. Electric power assisted steering. Full suite of electronic handling aids.
HOW BIG: Length 4300mm, width 1770mm, height 1475mm, wheelbase 2605mm.
HOW MUCH: $32,900.
WHAT'S GOOD: Good looks, quiet on the road, the Magic seats, encourages economy.
WHAT'S NOT: It's a manual.
OUR VERDICT: The manual Civic Euro is a little honey that will appeal to those who still enjoy full control of the gears
Most times, they are able to be used manually too, either by moving the centre console- mounted shifter up and down, or by using paddles in the steering wheel.
But I've found that most times I simply don't bother with that. I guarantee I'm like most motorists in that after initially having a little fun with the manual operation of any auto, I'm then happy to leave it to its own electronically controlled devices.
And as an obvious extension of that, these days I can't really be bothered with manual transmissions either. I simply can't see the point. Must be getting lazy, huh?
However, having just said all of that, I must say it is nice to get behind the wheel of a car with a decent manual transmission, particularly if the vehicle in question is sporty or small.
Take the new Honda Civic Euro hatch, for example.
The $32,900 entry S version is the only member of this British- built hatchback fleet to be offered with manual transmission, and in this case it is a very nice six- speeder.
The S can also be purchased with a five-speed auto for a couple of thousand dollars more, which is the same engine-transmission combination as that aboard the top-spec L model which retails for $38,900.
I've already road-tested the L and I found it to be an accomplished car, with the auto helping to achieve an average fuel consumption of 6.5 litres per 100 kilometres, while at the same time allowing the car to be driven briskly via gearshift paddles on the steering wheel.
Now I've been driving the S manual and have also found it to be a very good vehicle, particularly considering it is $6000 less expensive than the L.
In several respects, I suggest it is even better. Fuel consumption improves to an average of 6.1 L/100km and can improve more if the car is driven economically. The manual transmission allows the Civic to tow a braked trailer of up to 1500 kg whereas the auto limits the trailer weight to 800 kg. And the very fact the S is shod with 16-inch wheels and tyres, rather than the L's 17-inch versions, means road noise is even quieter than the L which I found to be very quiet anyway.
And it's not as if the S is any bare-bones hatchback, either.
It's well specified, with comfortable cloth-covered seats, it boasts Honda's excellent 'Magic' rear-seat system that folds in 18 different ways and helps open up to 1210 litres of load space, and it has an intelligent Multi Information Display (i-MID) which brings information from various systems into one full-colour display.
This includes fuel consumption, outside temperature, time, trip details, entertainment information such as the name of the artist and the tracks of the album that might be playing, seatbelt warning, and data about the state of the climate control.
What is missing that is aboard the L are cruise control, Bluetooth hands-free telephone with i-MID integration, extra controls on the steering wheel for various functions, the 17-inch wheels, and various other bits and pieces including heated leather front seats and drilled alloy foot pedals.
The Civic Euro's cockpit area has two control zones, which Honda calls the driver interface and the information interface, and they are separated by upper and side visors.
The driver area has several features designed to 'coach' the person behind the wheel to drive economically. These include an ECO Assist system that changes the colour of the speedometer illumination - blue for heavy- footed and green for economical driving - and it also has a push- button ECON mode that changes the accelerator throttle position and air-conditioning operation in the interests of better fuel economy.
During development of its Insight hybrid, Honda discovered that differences in driving style can result in up to a 15 per cent variance in fuel economy, so it's worthwhile using the various economy-encouraging functions aboard the Civic.
With the manual version, that also includes a little gearshift recommendation indicator that flashes an arrow to advise you when you should change up or down. I found this to be quite touchy in that it seemed to recommend I should change up from, say, third to fourth very early, but it is there in the interests in best fuel economy so it must be accurate.
Powering this new car is a 1.8-litre single-overhead-cam i-VTEC engine that offers 104 kilowatts of power and 174 Newton metres of torque. In typical Honda fashion, the engine likes to be revved out, and it is fun to use the manual transmission to do that.
It doesn't do the world of good for the the car's economy of course - and the Civic certainly starts telling you off when you're too heavy with the foot - but it does give the car an excellent turn of speed.
Handling feels good, too.
The car has Honda's usual MacPherson strut front/torsion beam axle rear setup, and it has speed-sensitive electronic power steering.
And as I mentioned earlier, it is quiet.
Honda Europe says a whole series of noise-reduction initiatives were introduced when this model was developed, including adding noise-absorbing panels to the rear wheel arches, putting sound-deadening glass wool in the engine bay, interlaying a sound-insulating material into the windscreen, using thicker window glass, and introducing new seals throughout, including around the doors.
Add to all of that, the fact that this S model has the 16-inch wheels and tyres, and this Civic becomes a very pleasant drive.
In fact, the Honda Civic Euro hatch has already received some recognition in New Zealand, because it is one of 10 finalists now under consideration for the national Car of the Year award administered by the New Zealand Motoring Writers' Guild.
That's a solid indication of just how good this vehicle is - and the manual version is very much a part of that. Even though lazy old me would rather have the auto.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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