It was a brave move by Honda New Zealand.
At the media launch for its new Civic hatchback we, as journalists, were invited to drive the newcomer on the motorsport track at Hampton Downs.
That’s not overly significant in itself, it served to prove how capable and competent the new model is. However, at that event but Honda also introduced the new Type R Civic, a 2-litre hot-hatch which was also made available for laps around the track.
The comparison between the mainstream Civic and Type R is vast, but the exercise served to prove how all variants of the Civic have developed to the point where they could almost be deemed performance models.
And that shows in the line-up, there’s a heavy emphasis on sporty style that should lure younger drivers, as well as the traditional Civic buyer although it is a shape which will polarise the generations.
The Civic for 2018 lands here in four hatchback variants which sit beside four existing sedan models. The hatch range starts at $32,900 for the 1.8-litre SX, but the car this evaluation focuses on is a new 1.5-litre turbocharged model – the RS Sport. It sits in the range at $40,900.
Just like its sedan stablemates, the Civic hatch has evolved to be the quality, mid-size model you would expect from Honda, it carries the Honda tradition of build quality and high level of fitment that includes a massive amount of safety kit which easily passes the five-star Australasian New Car Assessment Program criteria.
Inside, the new Civic fits like an old pair of gloves, it is smart, tidy and amazingly functional. It is also the practical hatchback with uncompromised levels of comfort and occupant space.
That’s something Honda does well, the Civic is a genuine family car and will reward buyers with its extensive attention to detail. The controls, the layout of the cockpit and level of kit is worthy of its price and is nothing short of outstanding in its application.
Displacing 1498cc the engine is rated by Honda at 127kW and 220Nm. As you would expect from a modern turbocharged unit, its power output is developed low in the rev band at 5500rpm.
Take into account, too, that maximum torque is available from 1700rpm all of the way to the point of peak power and you have a seamless flow of power, almost uninterrupted. That’s simply due to the way the boost is provided, modern turbochargers give you the punch you like to feel as a driver but they are also calibrated so that fuel use is not wasted.
Honda also claims a 6.1-litre per 100km (46mpg) combined cycle average for the RS Sport. I drove the evaluation car quite keenly, so I didn’t get close to that, but at 8l/100km (35mpg) after six days I thought that was quite respectable. For interest’s sake it will return a 5l/100km (56mpg) figure cruising the 100km/h legal limit, with the engine turning over quite lazy at just 1750rpm.
The latter figure is significant as well, for it is at the point of maximum torque, throttle request is instant at that point which is ideal for a quick highway overtake. It delivers with just the right amount of sound out of the twin tailpipes, it isn’t loud but the exhaust throb is audible.
I felt I didn’t need to push the RS too quickly into corners during my testing time, the Hampton Downs experience certainly served to prove how agile and nimble the new series is. However, I did tackle my usual straight road loop taking in a couple of quick corners.
The spring and damper rates are biased a little towards firm, as a consequence the body stays balanced and controlled over the suspension.
The latter is a fully independent type and once again high on quality, the front-strut/rear multiple link system allows for wheel freedom and high on-board comfort levels, the bumps and ruts of Christchurch’s earthquake-shattered roads are well absorbed.
Drive is transmitted to the front wheels through a continuously variable automatic transmission, there’s a paddle shift system to lock the gearing into seven pre-set steps if the driver so desires. Personally, I didn’t use it a lot simply because the drive system management protocols adapt sensibly
for all types of driving styles.
I’m due for a drive on my local patch in the Type R soon. I’m certainly looking forward to that, but I’m also hoping I’ll
get a drive in the entry-level car, as a step into the series it is a worthy purchase.
Price – Honda Civic RS Sport, $40,900
Dimensions – Length, 4515mm; width, 1799mm; height, 1421mm
Configuration – Four-cylinder, front-wheel-drive, 1498cc, 127kW, 220Nm, continuously variable automatic
Fuel usage – 6.1l/100km