The Honda Civic has always been a more interesting choice for buyers in the Focus-sized family hatchback segment. This tenth generation model gets a minor styling update and has forty years of heritage to build upon. We like the spacious, dynamic-looking body, the strong standards of safety and the revvy petrol engines. It all sounds quite promising.
Cars like the Honda Civic were always closest to the heart of company founder Soichiro Honda. Back in the Sixties when the best the motor industry could offer a small family was something like a lumbering Morris Oxford, it was he who pioneered the idea of a compact fuel and space-efficient family car with a hi-tech air-cooled flat-four 1300cc engine. It was thinking that led to the launch of the original Civic in 1972, a model series that over the next forty years would go on to sell over 20 million cars around the world, over 650,000 of them in the UK. Throughout those decades, there have been so many reasons why people like us have wanted to like this car: its unique styling, its wonderfully slick gearbox, its sporty engines, its clever 'magic seating' practicality and its unique driver-centric dash. But then came the 'if onlys'. If only the ride, refinement, cabin quality and running costs had been better. If only the lifeless power steering hadn't disguised the responsive handling. If only the pricing had been a bit more competitive. You can't afford 'if onlys' the way the Focus-class segment is at present and Honda knew it had to do better. Apparently it has done with this much improved MK10 model.
If you're not already familiar with this tenth generation Honda Civic, there are three things you need to know about when it comes to the on the-road experience. First, the mainstream petrol engines are these days very bang up-to-date - at last with this model line; second, the suspension's much more sophisticated than that of the old pre-2015 series model; and third, the body it's bolted to is impressively stiff and rigid, as the brand has sought to create the kind of refinement and drive dynamics you'd expect in a much larger car. A promising set of headlines then: let's scratch a little beneath the surface. We have to start with the engines, because if your experience of this model line relates to older Civic designs, you'll find these current powerplants so different to what went before. Buyers will be choosing between a couple of 'VTEC Turbo' petrol units, a three cylinder 1.0-litre engine developing 129PS (which is what we're trying here) and the alternative four cylinder 1.5-litre 182PS variant. Both are a big improvement on the normally aspirated engines they replaced. You'll be offered a CVT auto gearbox as an option, but we'd want to stay with the lovely, snickety precision of the standard six-speed stick shift. There's no longer a diesel option. Pretty much unchanged is the 2.0-litre petrol engine used in the flagship Type-R hot hatch, though these days this now puts out 320PS. You don't need 'Type-R'-style power though, to really enjoy driving this car, thanks to the particularly stiff body that improves traction and body control. That rigid structure also plays its part in contributing to the 'big car' feel we referenced earlier, something further emphasised by the sophisticated rear multi-link rear suspension set-up that was introduced into this tenth generation design. That allows this model to cruise over potholes that older Civic models would have crashed through.
The most recent package of updates made to this car in late 2019 didn't make too many changes to the sleek and swept-back shape. Just a more elegant, symmetrical lower front grille around the fog lights, a smoother air-intake design and full LED headlight clusters with redesigned LED daytime running lights, plus some revised 16 and 17-inch alloy wheel designs. Only the usual five-door hatch body style is now on offer. The sharp lines here are complemented by the most comprehensive aerodynamic packing in the segment, including complete under-body panelling. More importantly, this MK10 model Civic is bigger than before, in hatchback form 30mm wider and 130mm longer than its predecessor. All of this sits on an advanced unibody platform. Inside, smarter textured interior panels have been added, plus the 7-inch Honda Connect touchscreen gets physical buttons and there are now dials for the infotainment and climate controls. Otherwise, it's as before. The driving position is set quite low and buyers should certainly notice the extra cabin space facilitated by the large body. Passengers on the rear seat get more space than is typical in this segment. Out back, luggage space remains near-class-leading, with 478-litres on offer in the hatch version. Plus there's a hidden underfloor compartment on most models that offers a further secure storage area.
Customers of this five-door hatch are being offered a choice of two petrol engines, the 1.0-litre 129PS VTEC TURBO and the 1.5-litre 182PS VTEC TURBO. Pricing is pitched from just over £22,500 for the entry-level 'S' 1.0-litre variant; you'll pay around £1,500 more if you want the alternative CVT auto gearbox. There's a choice of 'S', 'SE', 'SR' and 'EX' trim levels. The 1.0-litre engine adds a top 'EX - Sportline' variant. If you want the 1.5-litre petrol engine, there's one single well-equipped 'Sport' trim level on offer priced from just over £25,500. For the top Type-R, think in terms of paying somewhere in the £33,000-£35,000 bracket, depending on the spec you want. All models include the usual equipment features in this class - and Honda is particularly proud of this car's comprehensive infotainment capabilities. The latest version of the 'Honda Connect 2' connectivity system allows full smartphone integration via both AppleCarPlay and Android Auto so you can duplicate the functionality of your handset on the centre-dash 7-inch touchsceen display. Safety systems include Honda's suite of 'SENSING' technologies. These include a 'Collision Mitigating Braking System' that brakes the car to avoid an accident. Plus a 'Forward Collision' set-up that warns you of oncoming hazards. And 'Lane Departure Warning', 'Road Departure Warning' and 'Lane Keeping Assist' features that'll keep you from veering away from where you should be on the road. There's 'Traffic Sign Recognition' that reads speeds signs as you pass and displays them on the dash, this set-up then working with an 'Intelligent Speed Assistance' system that can automatically set your speed to match the prevailing limit. Other options include 'Adaptive Cruise Control', 'Blind Spot Information' and a 'Cross Traffic Monitor' that alerts you to oncoming traffic when reversing out of a space.
Honda is able to offer Civic buyers two class-competitive petrol engines when it comes to running costs. The brand claims that this MK10 model's 1.0 and 1.5-litre VTEC TURBO units can match the best of the competition when it comes to fuel and CO2 returns. The 1.0-litre unit manages up to 49.6mpg on the combined cycle (WLTP) and up to 128g/km of CO2 (WLTP). For the 1.5 VTEC, it's up to 46.3mpg and up to 137g/km. On to the warranty, a three year/90,000 mile deal, which is a bit better than most rivals who tend to offer guarantees limited to 60,000 miles. There's also a fixed-price comprehensive aftercare package called 'Five' which includes five years' servicing, five years' warranty and five years' roadside assist. Residual values of the old ninth generation Civic held up pretty well, so there's no reason to think that those of this improved variant will be any different.
'Kaizen', the Japanese approach to 'continuous improvement', characterises every aspect of this revised tenth generation Civic. The smarter styling is welcome, but otherwise, it's as you were. The sharp handling is a selling point, as in this MK10 model's spacious interior. And it's made a big difference that Honda has finally got its house in order when it comes to petrol power, the 1.0 and 1.5-lite VTEC TURBO units good enough to go up against the class best. A lot of boxes have been ticked then, yet it's clear that Honda has also worked hard to maintain this car's more characterful approach in this segment. Add in British build quality, a great driving position and strong standards of safety and media connectivity and you've got a potentially very appealing package. Dynamic functionality was Honda's goal in creating this car. They may well have achieved it.