Honda’s Civic growing long in the tooth

Who would’ve known that the Honda Civic is one of the best-selling vehicles of all time?

This car, available through the years in various shapes and sizes, literally ensured Honda’s survival in the 1970s and has it gone on to be Honda’s top-selling vehicle.

It’s a pretty amazing story, but the Civic, as awesome as its heritage is, is falling behind its rivals. Toyota launched its all-new Corolla in 2019. Mazda, too, came to the party with its new 3. Honda? Well, this Japanese automaker also launched a revised version of its Civic to combat the aforementioned rivals, but there isn’t much to make the Civic the proverbial cat among the pigeons.

To think, this generation Civic came to market in August 2016 but it hadn’t lived up to the expectation. The Civic does many things right, but the car stagnated while the rest of the field moved forward.

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Image: Charlen Raymond

Is anything wrong with it?

At first glance, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the Civic is as fresh as milk. That it is the cat’s beard, the bee’s knees. It’s design warrants nothing less; even in this 1.8 Elegance guise. There’s just something about the car that draws you in. Perhaps it’s the sharp, edgy lines the body is adorned with. Or perhaps it’s the sporty-looking front-end.

Next to the Civic Sport, the Elegance is not as striking and can it easily become an afterthought in a sea of options. Sure, Honda can’t give the entire Civic range the best looking body kit, but the Civic needs something more to make itself relevant. To make it count.

Toyota, with its new Corolla, and Mazda, with its new 3, placed an important light on the Civic. If anything, it highlighted how far the Civic fell back in terms of its relevance. Both the Corolla and Mazda3 have a lot going for them, but the Civic has to make do with the basics. And the interior is one of the aspects that need addressing.

READ: Honda updates Civic for SA market

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Image: Charlen Raymond

Outdated media system

If you’ve driven a Honda product in the last few years, then the Civic’s interior will not be an unfamiliar space. The manually adjustable seats are decked in leather, the switches for the seat warmers are within easy reach, and the dials on the steering wheel remind strongly of other Honda vehicles. One could even say that familiarity is key.

Ahead of the driver sits Honda’s instrument cluster. From here drivers have access to the vehicle’s status and information on the trip(s) you’re undertaking. It’s a simple but effective layout, but it does fall behind the competition. Even the screen sitting in the middle of the dashboard is not as intuitive and user-friendly as the ones used in the Corolla and Mazda3.

Operating it requires drivers to take their eyes off the road for a moment or two too long. On the rivals, the system’s readouts are easier to see and can one intuitively make a selection without having to read the full function/menu. Honda has to give its multimedia system a rethink if it wants to compete against the best the industry has to offer, otherwise, the Civic will lose too much ground.

But the Civic does win ground when it comes to spaciousness. Rear occupants have ample leg- and headroom, even when the driver’s seat has been pushed back by an unusual amount. Boot space is a generous 430L.

READ: Three Japanese rivals to the Mazda3

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Image: Charlen Raymond

No turbo?

Well, the Civic range is not devoid of turbocharged engines. The 1.5-litre engine used in the two more expensive models is turbocharged, as well as the 2.0-litre mill doing duty in the Civic Type R. But the 1.8-litre, however, does not have any form of forced induction. This naturally-aspirated unit delivers 104kW and 174Nm of torque. And as is expected, one has to work the engine a bit to get any ideal level of performance out of it.

Mated to a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT), the car needs about 10 seconds to go from 0-100km/h, according to Honda. Though we had no desire to test that claim, the Civic’s drivetrain did well to propel the vehicle forward. Typical of this kind of transmission, the gearbox provoked signs of frustration from the driver, but driven sedately the car, and especially the gearbox is in their element. Drivers have the option to flick the gearbox into Sport and change gears via the paddles behind the steering wheel, but all it really does is send engine revolutions into the stratosphere.

Activating Eco mode is easy, too. Just press the button next to the gear lever and see how fuel consumption improves ever so slightly.

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Image: QuickPic

In summary

The Honda Civic is really not a bad car. It has a great design and a wonderful ride quality, but it has fallen behind its all-new rivals. Yes, Honda did refresh the Civic earlier in 2019, but it wasn’t enough to bring the car in line with the competition.

It’s quite ironic, really. While the Civic saved Honda in the 1970s, Honda needs to save the Civic in the 2020s.

Price: R416 700

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Image: Charlen Raymond