2019 Honda Civic Review: First Drive
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It’s wearing a nameplate that has a cult following. Honda can’t really afford to mess this up, and they haven’t.
Update: The Honda Civic prices start at Rs 17.7 lakh to Rs 22.3 lakh across India. The petrol CVT is available in V, VX and ZX variants and the diesel manual is available only in the VX and ZX variants. Full details are here.
When Honda let the Civic loose in India back in 2006, it created quite a flutter. Those who were used to their Citys found a natural upgrade, and to those who didn’t want the practical but bland Corolla, the Civic seemed tempting. It had a design that seduced, an interior that wouldn’t look out of place even today, and a motor that promised to excite.
Fast forward 13 years and the Civic’s recipe seems similar, just updated to be in sync with the times. Let’s dive deep and figure out if the new generation manages to wow.
If the Civic could talk, we’re sure the first words it’d say would be ‘Look at me!’ It looks properly swanky, and a direct descendant of the posh Honda Accord. Familiar Honda elements including the large grille dunked in chrome, honeycomb detailing in the vents and crisp character lines find their way onto this sedan too.
Actually, hang on. Should we be calling it a sedan? Because when you view it from the side, it looks more like a notchback with a raised rump than a conventional three-box sedan. And much like the old car, the Civic has a low-slung design, giving it a sporty ready-to-go stance. Full-LED headlamps and that awesome-looking set of 17-inch machine-finished alloy wheels add to its wow-factor.
Honda’s Civic isn’t the tallest when you compare it to its peers. However, it is the widest, and by a fair margin at that. The XL-sized triangular taillamps that flow onto the bootlid look super cool at night as the portion of the tail lamp on the boot lights up as well.
On the whole, the Civic’s design continues to be a strong point much like the older generation. While the design is noticeably busier, we feel will look appealing for years to come.
Deja vu. The feeling that the CIvic is driver focussed hits you once you get inside the cabin. The seating position is familiarly low and the dashboard wraps itself around you. It’s that familiar spaceship-esque feeling with the cool-blue and red lighting in the instrument cluster and a central console that’s tilted ever-so-slightly towards the driver. But we do miss the drama of the old Civic’s split dashboard that housed a digital speedometer in the upper half.
Right, basics. With the Civic you get tilt and telescopic adjust for the steering wheel, and the seat can be adjusted 8 ways to help you get into a nice driving position. If you aren’t used to a low-seating car, you will need a few drives in the Civic before you’re entirely comfortable with the dimensions.
Also, the front seats feel narrow. Broader occupants will feel a lack of support for their shoulders. The flat seat base robs you of valuable underthigh support, forcing you to sit in a ‘knees up’ position. This isn’t much of a bother for the driver as the seat height can be adjusted to mitigate this issue. But the co-driver will most definitely feel the pinch, especially over a long journey. The option, is to push the seat all the way back, and stretch out.
At the rear, the issue with the low slung seating position is amplified because the door doesn’t open too wide. To get in, you end up putting a fair bit of pressure on your knee. And getting out too requires a bit of effort. Those considering the Civic for the elderly members in their family, please note.
The rear seat of the Honda isn’t generous in terms of space. It’s just about enough for a six-footer like me to sit behind my own driving position. Also, the width on the exterior hasn’t translated into room for three at the rear. While it is possible, it gets a bit cozy. With the central tunnel and the raised middle portion of the rear bench in play, the middle occupant isn’t particularly comfortable either. Do note that the middle occupant doesn’t get a headrest either, fixed or adjustable. Also, if you’re taller than 6 you’ll feel a bit too close to the roof. With the window line rising linearly, it’s natural to feel slightly claustrophobic here.
But the Civic wins back some brownie points in terms of practicality. There are ample cubby holes in the front half of the cabin, and it gets some versatile storage around the front armrest as well that bumps up the utility quotient. At the rear, you get door bins and a pair of cupholders in the central armrest. At 430 litres boot space is enough, but far lower than other options in the segment. We wish Honda offered the 60:40 split for the rear seats to improve practicality.
The Civic is impressive on other fronts, like quality. Where most of the old car’s cabin was hard plastic, the new Civic is a welcome surprise. The dashboard is bathed in soft-touch material that feel pleasant to touch. Plush leather upholstery, with leather inserts on the doorpad round off the experience nicely. We like that the materials used feel like the durable kind, and not fragile like we’ve seen on a few Euro cars.
Technology and Features
We’ve been assured that even the base-spec Civic won’t be bare bones. It’s expected to feature some feel-good elements such as projector headlamps, 16-inch alloy wheels and the digital driver display too. In the top-spec ZX variant however, Honda has been generous. Let’s start with the highlights.
To make your life behind the wheel a little bit easier, Honda’s offering the thoughtful LaneWatch feature. This means everytime you indicate left, the camera placed under the left wing mirror comes to life, relaying a video feed onto the 7-inch display in the centre console. You can also start the camera by pressing a button on the tip of the right stalk. Very helpful in tight parking spots, changing lanes on the highway and driving through narrow lanes as it manages to eliminate the blind spot. This also brings us to a small complaint. Honda should’ve offered front parking sensors with the Civic. Getting used to the low slung nose isn’t easy, and this would’ve made the process less taxing for sure.
And speaking of getting used to, you’ll need a little bit of patience dealing with the 7-inch touchscreen. It feels a bit dated in terms of interface and isn’t the quickest, slickest screen around. There’s a hint of lag as you’re scrolling through the menus, which can get ever so slightly irritating. However, the experience on Android Auto and Apple CarPlay is as you’d expect. Smooth, and without hiccups. We have to point out that accessing the USB and the 12V socket is a bit of pain. But Honda has thoughtfully left room for you to route your cables in the ‘upper shelf’ of the centre console.
There’s another 7-inch screen that makes the experience richer. And that’s the one nestled in the instrument cluster. This screen lets you cycle through information about music and calls, and also reads out navigation instructions (when paired via Android Auto/Apple CarPlay). Controlled via the buttons on the steering wheel, this screen ensures you’ve got all the data you need in your peripheral vision at all times.
Other highlights include an electric sunroof and dual-zone climate control. The rear half of the cabin does seem a bit bare in comparison. There’s just a pair of rear air-con vents here. We do miss a 12V socket / USB charging slot here. Notably, the rear armrest doesn’t have audio controls anymore. But we wouldn’t count this as an omission. Because Bluetooth exists.
Finally, there’s the Remote Start function that’s borrowed from the Honda Accord. Available only on the petrol Civic, this lets you start up the car using the remote key. Once you start it up, the car automatically starts the air-con to cool the cabin down. Thoughtful!
Engine and Performance
If you pick the Honda Civic you get to choose between two drivetrain options - a 1.8-litre petrol paired with a CVT, or a 1.6-litre diesel paired with a 6-speed manual gearbox. It is surprising that the fun petrol isn’t offered with a manual, and the commute-friendly diesel isn’t offered with an automatic!
Honda Civic Diesel
First, let’s tackle the diesel since it’s new to the Civic. This engine is familiar, we’ve seen it in the CR-V. But it gets a manual gearbox instead of the slick 9-speed automatic. What instantly comes to the fore is the noise and vibration insulation. When switched on, the 1.6-litre motor does make quite a racket if you’re standing outside the car. Get in, and you’d wonder where all of that noise went. Yes, you do hear a small thrum (that gets louder as you push it) and a negligible amount of vibration on the pedals. But, not much else.
It’s easy to get going, thanks to the typically Honda light clutch. We don’t see this being a bother in bumper to bumper traffic. Inside the confines of the city, you’ll be able to drive with ease as there’s enough responsiveness from low revs. You’ll be in second or third gear for the most time, which offers brisk acceleration - especially past 1800rpm. When the turbo is spooling, the throttle response feels immediate too, letting you tackle city duties with ease.
Honda engineers have given it tall ratios to boost fuel efficiency. So, when you’re at 80kmph in sixth gear, you can’t simply step on the accelerator to overtake. You have to downshift to fifth to make progress. If you wish to cruise comfortably at 100-120kmph, this motor is more than happy to do that all day long.
All said and done, the diesel engine does make up for a lot of it by offering stellar mileage. ARAI-certified efficiency stands at a mind-boggling 26.82kmpl.
Honda Civic Petrol
Honda’s legendary R18 motor remains as refined and silent as ever. Yes, this is a slightly tweaked version of the same engine that we were served over a decade ago. That said, in no part does it feel outdated. With 141PS and 174Nm on tap, there’s more than enough grunt to get you through your daily grind, and weekend roadtrips.
Honda has tuned the CVT aptly for everyday commutes. Driving with a light foot is quite relaxing, especially considering the pin-drop silence from the motor. The gearbox doesn’t feel confused at part-throttle either. While it is responsive, much like every other CVT, it doesn’t like being hurried. Even in Sports mode, where the gearbox holds on to higher revs for longer, it doesn’t feel particularly fun. Yes, you can take control over the ‘gears’ using the paddle shifters, but that doesn’t feel engaging either.
Those wanting the Civic for the office commute wouldn’t have a complaint with this. However, the enthusiast will sulk for sure. A manual transmission with this free-revving petrol motor would’ve been a lot of fun, we’re sure.
Ride And Handling
The engines feel disappointing especially because the chassis is clearly set up to please the driver. You can dunk the Civic hard into a corner, and it’s almost as if the car enjoys the twisties as much as you do. The electric power steering too, is quick to respond. You can attack corners knowing what the front wheels are upto. Sure, it isn’t as communicative as the older Civic’s hydraulic power steering, but it does a fine job of keeping the driver engaged. Completing the handling package are a fantastic set of brakes that shed speed quickly, and feel in total control while doing so.
You can take the family out for road trips in the Civic without thinking twice now. As far as the ride goes, the Civic is c-o-m-f-o-r-t-a-b-l-e. Doesn’t matter which seat you pick in the house, the experience remains relaxing. You can just glide over poor roads as the Civic’s suspension has been tuned for India. Even over the worst of bumps the CIvic doesnt send a jolt to the cabin, impressive! Unlike the old Civic that liked exchanging pleasantries with speed breakers and broken roads, this one sails over them. That’s because for India, the front end has been lifted by a whopping 20mm, and the tail by 15mm.
On the highway too, it remains steady and feels secure at triple digit speeds. Hitting undulations at high speeds sees some vertical movement, but the suspension settles quickly.
Honda is offering a total of six airbags as standard. There’s ABS with EBD as well as other tech such as vehicle stability management (ESC), and hill start assist. It also features something Honda calls ‘Agile Handling Assist’ that helps steer the car without a fuss at higher speeds in corners.
Honda’s Civic has been priced from Rs 17.7 lakh to Rs 22.3 lakh as expected, and let’s be honest, it isn’t exactly the most practical car on the block. The low seating position is sure to get disapproval from the older folk, the CVT won’t cut it with the enthusiast and the space on offer won’t tempt the back-seat owner either. Also, one might argue that it needed a few more features such as memory seats, electric adjust for the co-driver, and front parking sensors to win favours with the buyers.
But here’s the deal. None of that really matters when you look at it, and spend time with it. It’s got the design to wow, and the interior feels like it will outlast your grandkids. There’s a diesel engine now if you want to munch miles, and the smooth petrol remains likeable as ever. What Honda has carried over from the older Civic then, is its uncanny ability to tug at your heart strings. It’s among the few cars out there that makes you want it. And you can’t put that on a brochure!