Latest Civic Ups Ante on Sporty Yet Urbane Drive

By Lee Pang Seng @ Leeps

THE Honda Civic has carved out a distinct niche in the Malaysian market that looks unshakeable. It has captured the imagination of the up-and-coming man about town with its sporty orientation while serving his more docile needs as a comfortable family car.

The latest 11th generation Civic continued this full-bodied image during the drive to Penang in the Civic RS, the top model in the current range, in which we had a pleasant all-round experience. It gave us the youthful exuberance of enjoying its turbocharged power while pampering us with its creature comfort to cover the distance without feeling tired, both as driver and passenger.

To underline its popularity in the Malaysian market, Honda Malaysia MD & CEO Hironobu Yoshimura said more than 2800 units of the latest Honda Civic were sold since its January launch. That accounted for 91 per cent of the C-segment, giving the Civic virtually a strange-hold with few rivals in sight.

Perhaps its favoured status among Malaysian car owners in this segment probably started from the previous model. The sporty outlook drawn from a sharpish front nose and distinctive boomerang-shaped rear light clusters fully complemented its then fresh status as a turbocharged car.

This is followed through in the latest evolvement of the Civic. At a glance, it might impress one of minimal body design changes with a similar outline and profile, but changes were indeed made. The latest styling approach appeared to uphold the sporty image with a more urbane aura to provide the best of both worlds.

The new Civic nose has a milder taper than before without losing that sporty touch. This has a practical side to it as Honda says the milder taper makes for a more comfortable view with the wider horizontal visibility. The more prominent change is at the rear where the boomerang-light clusters are replaced by the more conventional horizontal and triangular light clusters that seem to be the preferred design choice these days.

To achieve the low and wide stance, Honda has applied the HEM process for the wheel arches to give it an edgeless perspective, reducing the clearance between tyre and arch so that the wheels could be placed 6mm further out. This impression certainly holds true with the Civic RS that has Michelin Pilot Sport 4 235/40ZR18 tyres.

Dimensionally, the 11th generation Civic has grown quite a bit over the old; it now sits on a longer wheelbase of 2735mm (+35mm) with a corresponding body length increase of 48mm to 4678mm. It is marginally wider by 3mm at 1802mm while it is 1mm lower in overall height at 1415mm. This bigger body also means a heavier car at 1349kg against 1314kg in the case of the new Civic V against the previous Civic V.

To compensate for the extra weight gained, Honda gave the four-cylinder 16-valve double overhead camshaft VTEC Turbo 1.5 (1498cc) engine more output. Maximum power is up by 7kW (9.5PS) to 134kW (182PS) at a higher peak of 6000rpm (previous model 5500rpm) and torque is increased by 20Nm to 240Nm that is now available between 1700rpm to 4500rpm (1700-5500rpm previously). The CVT (continuously variable transmission) is retained.

Incidentally, the latest Civic now has all models powered by this 1.5-litre turbo engine as the 1.8-litre naturally aspirated unit is discontinued for this model. Turbo model for turbo model, the new and heavier Civic is slightly slower in 0-100km/h acceleration sprints, varying from 8.3 to 8.5 seconds, depending on model. The previous Civic Turbo was slightly quicker at 8.2 seconds. Top speed is maintained at 200km/h.

Average fuel consumption was put at 6.0L/100km (16.6km/l) and 6.3L/100km (15.8km/l), which appeared reasonably frugal. Of course, we were able to check out all these performance parameters on the drive to Penang and back over two days.

There was little to doubt the sporty pedigree behind the Civic’s turbo power as we could feel the rush of speed as we accelerated away from the traffic lights. The CVT also worked well by conveying the power to the front wheels without making a deep drone that was typical of earlier CVTs. We also enjoyed the strong build-up of speed for quick overtaking, especially on B-grade roads, that we took to during the drive to Penang.

The latest Civic continued to enjoy good body aerodynamics and a sound suspension design in the MacPherson strut front and multi-link rear with its stable and confident ride. That did tend to have us being heavy-footed on the accelerator pedal on the highways and it had a telling effect on fuel consumption.

By the time we crossed the second bridge to Penang, the computed mileage available on what was left in the 47-litre fuel tank was 60km. Thankfully, the hotel in Gurney Drive was well under that distance, even though we had to drive through peak-hour traffic for part of the route.

The return drive that saw mostly highway driving, with a brief detour to Bidor for chicken biscuits, saw a higher fuel consumption. When we reached Rawang, the computed mileage available was 30km. We decided not to push our luck as we had to deal with heavier peak hour traffic to our destination and filled in RM30 at Rawang.

We believed the new Civic could easily make it from KL to Penang with good mileage to spare if it was driven at a more leisurely pace than a robust one. Going by Honda’s fuel mileage claims, the 47-litre tank should easily provide more than 600km of driving on long distance runs.

We also liked the Civic RS’s dynamic performance through the winding B-grade roads. The EPS (electric power steering) gave us enough directional wheel and by knowing how the front wheels were ‘pointing’, we could explore its limits through the corners and they were pretty high. There was also hardly any body lean through the corners. The undulating roads in some areas brought out a bit of a body wallow but the Civic regained its stable poise quick enough to bolster confidence.

Likewise, its ride was fully appreciated all round – from driver to front and rear seat passenger perspective. The suspension was well tuned to handle well, not only dynamically but also comfortably. The harshness from road bumps, potholes, rumble strips, speed bumps and poorly patched road surfaces was nicely ironed out. High speed stability also added to the ride comfort.

We did come across an oddity though and this was road noise intrusion. While the front perspective was good with road roar nicely subdued for a pleasant drive or ride, that from the rear seat wasn’t always so. This was especially along the highway section before Tapah; road roar was noticeably intrusive from 80km/h and the drone stayed constant from then on. It made conversation with the front people almost a shouting match.

The decibels of the road roar from Ipoh onwards were lower and easier on the ears, and we could enjoy the journey more comfortably. It appeared that the road surface compacting on the KL-Tapah stretch was inferior to that for Tapah-Penang section. Other than this little peculiarity, wind noise too was generally low, even at robust speeds.

For family travelling, the 497-litre boot should suffice in accommodating holiday luggage even though it’s 22-litre smaller than before. And if you need additional space for long items, especially with fewer people on board, you could lower the rear seatrests. However, this is not as conveniently done as with the system on SUVs (sport utility vehicles).

There are no releases on the seatrest shoulders to fold the seatrest down. Instead, you have to do that with releases located just below the rear seat shelf in the boot. There are two on each side, depending on which of the 60:40 split rear seatrests you want to fold away for the additional space desired.

The latest Civic comes with an even longer list of standard control fittings, and safety and security features. For one, Honda Sensing that encompasses a wide range of exterior detection and warning systems (employing front and reverse sensors) is standard to all three models in the latest range.

We liked the way the camera on the left door mirror was activated each time we used the steering column indicator to move to the left. The traffic on the left side of the car is presented on the 9-inch central dash info display panel (the previous model had a 7-inch display) and you could be sure you won’t be brushing against any vehicle when you change lane or turn left.

Another unusual item is the turning knob on the centre info display. For some reason, Honda feels that such an item would be more practical than a touchscreen system and we tend to agree. It’s easier to adjust the audio volume using the knob rather than using the touchscreen. Of course, we could also use the steering wheel control for that.

The redesigned dashboard features the air vents with an eye-catching honeycomb pattern that runs from left to right. Honda has put in toggle controls to adjust the vent louvres, which is rather unusual. It’s a nice refreshing change that adds well to the pleasant interior ambience.
Rear seat passengers continue to have adjustable air vents located at the centre console and there are now two USB ports instead of one, which we used to charge our handphone. An additional item here is the rear seatbelt reminder; in other words, your rear seat passengers would need to buckle up to avoid the annoying beeps being activated!

At the end of the day, the Civic continued to impress as a car for fun driving as well as comfortable travel. And it looks the part too, even though it might do so in a slightly less forward way, body styling wise, with the latest model.

The Civic RS that we drove to Penang and back is the top model that has a price of RM144,350 on the road without insurance (with sales tax exemption). The Civic E and V are priced at RM125,634 and RM138,043 respectively under the same terms. Attractive prices for fun and comfortable driving.