New Honda Civic first drive review: Should the Corolla Altis & Octavia be worried?

New Honda Civic first drive review: Should the Corolla Altis & Octavia be worried [VIDEO]

An year after showcasing the new Civic at the 2018 Auto Expo, Honda finally gave us a chance to experience the sedan around Bengaluru earlier this week. Slated for commercial launch on the 7th March, the Civic brand name makes a re-entry into the D segment market. This time around though, it has fewer rivals but high competition nevertheless. So is the new Civic worth the wait?

Show stopper

The Civic was always known for its aesthetics and this one takes the game further up the ladder. Into its 10th generation, the Civic has shed about 22 kilos while gaining 25% torsional rigidity. It has scored 5 star safety rating in the Asean NCAP tests and its grown in size over the previous Indian model. Most enthusiasts are a fan of the way the Civic looks and a lot has been spoken about it already – hence we will keep this section sweet and simple.

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The Civic is wider and yet sits lower which gives you an aggressive and sporty stance. The long and low bonnet is well sculpted and there is ample chrome treatment all over the body to make this car shine under the sun, no matter which angle you look at it from. The LED lights up front with the DRLs look great and are visible from a quite some distance. The thick chrome grille extends into the lamps on either sides and looks good in the process. The bumper too is wide with a lower air dam and stylish L shaped chrome housings around the fog lamps.

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Look at the new Civic from the side and you realise how low this sits. This inspite of raised clearance for the Indian car market. The one you see here is the top spec ZX trim and this comes with segment first 17-inch alloy wheels that wear 215mm wide tyres. The design is remarkable and looks even better when the car is in motion. The roof slopes down into the boot and gives the Civic a very coupe-ish stance when viewed from this angle. And you notice Honda’s answer to India’s love for chrome in the form of chrome coves for the door handles and a running chrome strip around the window lines.

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Things at the back are interesting and also subjective at the same time. But I am a fan of the design. The C shared LED lamps for example steal the show once it gets dark outside. The integrated spoiler and the matt black housings on either side of the bumper too look nice. Yes, this is a small boot but Honda has done a good job in terms of making sure it integrates well with the entire body of the car. We had two colours at the test drive and the other one, shade of white, looked great too. The number of stares we got around our test route is a testimony to the fact how good this D segment looks like. Impressed already? Read on..

The cabin 

Getting into the ‘low’ cabin is a task and I will not deny that. However once seated, the Civic starts impressing you. The LCD speedometer console for instance – it looks bling and makes all other rivals look a bit dated. Ditto for the screen and climate control knobs : the integration is perfect and looks upmarket. And then there is the feel of expanse thanks to the absence of a hand brake lever. The Civic is the only car to use an electronic brake set-up which can activated via a button near the gear lever. Clever stuff. This in turn gives you a lot of storage space between the front two seats including an adjustable arm-rest. Talking of space, you can keep your mobile in front of the gear lever or ahead of the charging outlets. These however are an ergonomic disaster and accessing the place can be tough while driving the car.

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Back to the drivers seat and you are impressed with the space here. Honda says they slimmed the seats a bit to add to the airy feel but even for my frame, they felt more than adequate. The powered (but not ventilated) seat provides a lot of adjustment and by a fair amount of margin. The seat height for example can be lowered or raised by an impressive level. Ditto for the leg room and even the foot well area that is wide enough for those who wear large boots. And while the design and quality of materials is nice, it isn’t segment leading. One area where a rival or two can match upto or beat the Civic.

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So while things up front are impressive, Honda could have offered more features in the form of ventilated seats, cooled glovebox or wireless charging. Moving to the rear, again, ingress is an issue but once seated, space will impress you. Its the best in the segment but less than its own sibling, the City. The seats feel comfortable but under thigh support is certainly missing. What is good is the airiness due to light colors for the seats. Even the headroom is surprisingly good given that the roof slopes towards the rear. On the missing list are charging outlets, manual sun-blinds and a recline feature that the Altis offers.

The boot space could be an issue for some. At 430 litres, it is fractionally more than the Amaze’s boot. Ouch. But nevertheless, as we found out, we could fit in a large suitcase, a one night stroller, three large shoulder bags, a small chiller and still had space for the camera bag and a shopping bag. More details in the video.

Power on offer

We got to sample both the 1.8 petrol and the 1.6 diesel engines. Sadly though, while the petrol is only offered with a CVT, the diesel only gets a manual. Strange combination but Honda have their reasons sorted. So while this set up might keep a certain set of buyers away, I was more than happy with my drive. Why?

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A CVT or a continuously variable transmission has its own benefits. The petrol motor is not only Makhan smooth, the CVT brings out the best from it. This means part throttle response is terrific and in daily driving scenario, you will happily keep up with traffic, filling up gaps if needed urgently. Second, its a frugal set-up with the Civic being the most efficient car in the segment. We got an easy 10+ during our shoot. Third, you get paddle shifts which gives you more control and even a Sports mode. So all those who are cribbing could reconsider the option.

There is no denying the fact that when you want to go FAST, the CVT shows its weaker side. There is the rubber band effect which means the engine revs hit the roof and the cabin does become very loud – this without a push-in-the-seat acceleration effect. For numbers, we got a 0-100 km/h run in about 11 seconds on the petrol one. Not bad for a CVT but not too quick either.

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I am a fan of the diesel. Critics might look at me with raised eyebrows but I have a valid point. When Toyota can sell a 20 lakh rupee sedan with 87 bhp of power and 205 Nm of torque, Honda definitely makes a lot of sense with 120 bhp / 300 Nm figures. Thats more torque than the Elantra too. And then the fuel economy figures – I know this is an expensive sedan but for anyone who will be doing 2000km a month, you get to save about 80k every year over the petrol model. I do agree though, not having an automatic means missing out on buyers.

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Start the engine and if you have been a diesel Jazz / City / Amaze / BR-V / WR-V before, you will be surprised. The NVH levels of this 1.6 diesel are remarkable and even the vibrations are kept at bay. In city traffic, you will miss the eagerness of the small 1.5 engine as there is a weak low end in this motor. Its only when you cross 1700-1800 rpm is when the diesel ‘push’ comes and the motor pulls all the way to 4800rpm. In the process, you can hit 46 km/h in 1st and 89 in 2nd. Between 2000-3500 rpm is where the diesel Civic has the abilities to keep enthusiasts happy. Even the gear shift action is so much better than the smaller capacity Honda models.

Comfort mode

The Civic uses MacPherson strut up front with independent multilink at the rear. No, it is not a corner tool but will keep your family ones happy and smiling with the ride. It is supple and comfortable without bottoming out. I drove the car with four of us on board and some of the bigger speed breakers on our route did not pose a problem. Honda says they have raised the front by 20mm and the rear by 15mm and even in full laden form, as per ARAI standards, the ground clearance of the Civic is slightly more than the City’s. Moving on, even when driving alone, the ride remained very comfortable. This along with the spacious rear seat will keep chauffeur driver owners very happy. Ditto for straight line stability which keeps infusing confidence in the driver.

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The Civic gets what Honda calls as dual pinion variable ratio electric power steering. Keeping the tech terms aside, at crawling speeds,  steering effort remains low and you will not have any issues. And as speeds rise, there is more than ample feedback. Infact, I did a few lane change manoeuvres at high speeds and inspite of the ‘soft’ suspension, the steering feedback kept me satisfied. Honda claims the behaviour of the steering has improved as compared to the older US spec Civic. The Indian Civic also gets ‘agile handling assist’ which is a form of electronic stability program and comes handy during emergency manoeuvres.

Loaded. Almost! 

So while Honda claims the Civic offers a lot of kit for your money, there are a few misses. I will start with the impressive stuff first. A rear camera with multi views aids safety, lane watch assist function and an electric parking brake. You can even remote start the car (with the air-con) from about 10 meters (petrol only) and the Civic scored 5 stars in the ASEAN crash tests. Perfect. Then there is the dual zone climate control, 17 inch wheels, LED fog lamps et al.

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But as I said, few things need to be added. Rear shades, rear charging outlet, ventilated seats, cooled glovebox, transmission options and so on. Will these be a deal breaker? Watch this space on the 7th March.

The complete picture 

The new Civic has impressed me. I admit it. I like the styling bit, the space on offer, comfort levels, the easy going petrol-CVT and the frugal torquey diesel. This is like a typical Japanese machine – easy to drive, great to live in and ofcouse the Honda brand value. If the Civic can be priced between the Elantra and the Octavia, it will be the perfect upgrade for current City owners. By the way, bookings are open!

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