Honda Civic 1.5 Turbo: Enjoying the Affordable Dream

By Lee Pang Seng

THE latest Honda Civic, now in its 10th generation, highlights the move to turbo power for the normal model range. It might have taken the Japanese automotive industry a bit more time to come on stream with such a move but then again, it’s never too late to hop onto this power trend wagon.

After all, the European carmakers are also warming up to this turbo scenario, having seen how Mercedes-Benz started the ball rolling more than 10 years ago by investing on supercharged power before successfully switching course to turbocharging. Enhanced power makes sense as it could be applied to a small displacement engine to offer the best of both worlds; strong output and fuel economy. It’s the car owner’s wish to choose which would serve him best.

For Honda enthusiasts, they can now enjoy this luxury albeit starting with one model for the moment, the latest Civic. This model was launched here in mid-2016 but the strong demand meant that the customers’ needs had to be met first before the media would get their eager hands on the car for an impression drive.

We had our go over a weekend and we came away with the wish that the 1.5-litre turbo power in the Civic was also made available in other models such as the HR-V or BR-V. We would love to be a Honda owner again with such a scenario, having owned a Civic and City previously. Our vehicle preference has now switched to SUVs (sport utility vehicles) and MPVs (multipurpose vehicles).

Nevertheless, we enjoyed our weekend with the Civic 1.5TC-P as we relived the sporting spirit of this particular model. Honda has set itself apart from the other Japanese carmakers in that it subscribes to a more dynamic and vibrant image for its cars as it targets younger or young at heart customers. The Civic was the car it started out with in earnest in the early 1970s after toying with the Kancil-sized N360 earlier.

Rich in Honda history, the current Civic has come a long way. Its body dimensions had grown steadily over the years and the latest model sits on an even longer wheelbase of 2700mm compared to the previous generation Civic. Its fastback styling that Honda chose to maintain from the fifth generation model onwards gives it that dynamic cut to measure up to its youthful character.

What this means is a roomy interior for all passengers and those sitting in the rear would enjoy the good legroom as we had experienced. The fastback styling means a lower headroom at the rear but for the average Malaysian, that shouldn’t be a problem. The boot is just as voluminous with 519 litres of space, more than enough to accommodate four golf bags. The rear seatrests aren’t foldable perhaps because Honda feels that a more solid body frame was more important to the Civic’s dynamic performance.

Despite its dimensions, the latest Civic could still be easily manoeuvred in tight places, such as going up to multi-storey carparks with narrow passage ways. The front view is good from the driver’s seat; it has electronic seat height adjustment if you want a more commanding view. For reversing into a parking spot, there is the rearview camera with clear guides to make it easier.

As the top model of the range, the Civic 1.5TC-P comes well equipped; in fact, all the models are reasonably well featured. Items that we enjoyed such as the remote engine start, walk away auto lock, smart entry with push button start, full colour LCD (liquid crystal display) meter, touch panel air-cond control, rear air-cond ventilation, eight-way driver power seat, seven-inch advanced display audio, auto headlamp activation, eight speakers and hands-free telephone with voice recognition are commonly available.

The 1.5-litre turbo models come with black leather upholstery but the 1.5TC-P model has added extras in the LED (light emitting diode) headlamps and foglamps, chrome outer door handles, dual auto air-conditioning system and navigation guide. That explains why it fetches a more premium price at RM131,883 on the road without insurance, almost RM8000 more than the 1.5TC. The normally aspirated power 1.8S is the cheapest variant at RM110,426, which makes it a bargain buy.

However, the demand for the new Civic is clearly towards the turbo models as they accounted for 60-70 per cent of sales so far. And after the drive, we could understand the rationale for that trend. Turbo power is definitely the way to go, whether it is for normal motoring or some quick driving, although the Civic turbo picks up speed so quickly, one has to be careful not to be caught on camera!

The 1498cc engine comes with double overhead camshafts and VTEC (variable valve control). The turbocharger system ensures good power delivery of 127kW (173PS) at 5500rpm and strong torque of 220Nm that develops early at 1700rpm and holds till 5500rpm. Engine output goes to the front wheels via a CVT (continuously variable transmission) that is developed for the higher punch from this 1.5-litre engine.

With strong torque being delivered early, we could mosey along in light traffic without feeling the lack of ‘oomph’, especially when the Civic 1.5TC-P tips the scales at 1316kg kerb. And the engine would just as readily pick up the pace strongly, if you add more foot pressure on the accelerator. You could note the rate of turbo boost via a bar display on the instrument panel of the dashboard.

The engine runs leisurely at legal highway speed of 110-120km/h, turning around 1800rpm, which should give you plenty of kilometres per litre. Using the Econ mode would help further. Of course, if you are the heavy foot type, having the turbocharger on song often, that mileage would be reduced drastically. The thing is that the guttural road of the exhaust as you accelerate could be quite addictive. It might not be as loud as the V6 or V8s but it is loud enough to make the strong acceleration exciting.

If you want a statement on the latest Civic performance, Honda says the Civic 1.5 turbo would accelerate to 100km/h in 8.2 seconds although the top speed is a bit conservative at 200km/h. By comparison, the normally aspirated Civic 1.8 does the 0-100km/h in 10.4 while holding the same top speed.

The CVT is set up rather simple but practical. ‘D’ is the spot where the shift would be most of the time in normal traffic but for the winding roads, you might like to slot the shift to ‘S’ for sport. It shows up on the instrument panel with the gear (e.g. S 4 or S 5) you have selected via the steering paddle shifts. It was as good as manual driving with seven ‘gears’ at our disposal as we took to our favourite twisty area with some abandon.

We enjoyed good directional feedback via the electric power steering and we could hold good speeds through the corners without too much understeer. Adding to the confidence was the minimal body lean, especially for a pretty big car, dimensionally. Honda has engineered the suspension system well; the Civic is independently sprung all round with MacPherson struts in front and a multi-link system in the rear. We should add that the tyres did their share too, these being 215/50 R17 Continental ContiMax Contact MC5.

Ride comfort is another strong note; this Civic took to bumps and uneven patches nicely with the suspension ironing out the roughness and impacts to a good extent. During the few times that we were driving at illegal speeds (the car was so quiet we could hardly believe we were driving at those speeds), air turbulence was largely subdued, especially around the door mirrors and the flanks.

Likewise, the intrusion of road noise was also significantly reduced; we did hear the tyre rumble as the car ran over different road surfaces, in particular the transition from a good road surface to a rougher one, but the audible note was a lot lower than we remembered it from the previous Civic. It is little things like this that add to the overall comfort of driving and being a passenger in the car.

The best part was that we found it easier to handle all the electronic functions as the system was generally user friendly. It did take us a while to enjoy the touchscreen convenience for the air-cond system though. We admit to being a little paranoid with such things but we eventually found the button to press to adjust the air-cond speed and temperature.

Now, if only we could enjoy this Honda dream (yes, we are referring to the 1.5-litre turbo power) in a BR-V or HR-V. It would definitely be a good reason to be a Honda owner again.

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