Honda IS Civic. And the current Civic is, admits the firm, not good enough. Enter an all-new one for 2017: the 10th generation car, which represents the single biggest development leap for any Civic generation, ever. Honda means business, people.
Even better news for Britain, the all-new Civic hatch is a UK-built car – and the Swindon factory is the world production hub for the new five-door model. 160,000 or more will annually be built there and sent all around the world, including to North America. So the new Civic hatch is a hugely significant car. And we’ve seen it, and sat in it, and ridden in it: here’s what you need to know.
What’s the big news?
Isn’t the new 2017 Civic far prettier, sportier and stylish? Honda knew today’s upright, gawky model needed to change: the new Civic is thus lower, longer, wider, has a longer wheelbase, shorter overhangs. Visually, it’s a completely different proposition to the current model.
Honda says three keywords were tattooed onto the eyelids of everyone involved with the project: make the new Civic more distinctive, more exciting, more refined. “The last generation lost the essence of Civic,” admits global project leader Mitsuru Kariya. “It was too conservative, and our competitors got better. Civic was under pressure.” This is Honda’s response.
Some previous Civics were sportier than others: Honda wants this one to be the sportiest-looking yet, to move it on from the current car. Taking some of the boldness of today’s Civic Type R, the new model looks the business even in mainstream grades. You’ll spot it coming from a distance: all models feature hockey stick-shaped LED running lights, and full LED lights are available.
Sleek, isn’t it? The new Civic is wider, longer and lower than any of the nine Civics before it, impressively – and a hefty 130mm longer, 30mm wider and 20mm lower than today’s car. Wheels are bigger, overhangs smaller and there’s more than a trace of new NSX supercar in the details and features throughout. Beneath, the platform is 16kg lighter and, more significantly, 52% stiffer, which promises great things for the on-the-road drive.
Under the bonnet are two brand new turbo petrol VTEC engines; a 1.0-litre three-cylinder (replacing today’s 1.4) producing 129hp and a 1.5-litre four-cylinder (replacing the current 1.8) producing 182hp – both very punchy power figures indeed. Choose either with a snappy six-speed manual or a CVT automatic that Honda promises us won’t be horrible. A few months after launch, the third Civic engine choice will arrive: an updated version of today’s 120hp 1.6-litre turbodiesel.
… And new chassis
Hidden below the cool twin centre-exit exhausts that sports-grade new Civics get is an all-new suspension setup – that includes, pleasingly, a multi-link rear end. Honda got rid of this expensive suspension type on the current Civic, but has bought it back on the 10th generation car. Not only that, you can also get optional adaptive suspension, which Kariya-san told us he’s very excited about.
If you thought the outside of the new Civic was a leap on, wait until you step inside. Gone is the low-rent, plasticky feel of today’s model and in comes a cockpit far more premium, upmarket and good quality. It’s a massive step forward for the Civic; sitting within it, you’ll think Germanic and upmarket rather than cheap and not particularly cheerful.
A semi-freestanding infotainment system is as modern as the current system is unpleasant. The Honda Connect system has a fast new processor, and combines Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality. Below it are good-to-push buttons, a typically-lovely Honda gearshift and, throughout, assembly standards that define precision.
The nasty, garish split-screen instrument panel of the current Civic has been ditched for a modern TFT configurable display screen. This looks super-smart and is hooked up to the infotainment system so it can show full-colour mapping right ahead of the driver. It’s considerably more sophisticated and good-looking.
Better driving position
The driving position of the new Civic is much-improved. We sat behind the wheel of a prototype and found the bigger seats much lower and more comfortable, the controls layout more natural, the gearstick positioned in a better place to make best use of its quick-fire nature. The current car feels a bit like an MPV: this one is much more like a sporty, low-slung family hatch, and customers are more likely to find it appealing as a result.
Honda first teased the new British-built Civic hatch at the 2016 Geneva Motor Show earlier this year, and we’re pleased to discover just how much like it the production model looks. The showroom car IS this car, minus the lime green detailing and matt paint.
From America to England
The new Civic hatch is the third model in the new line to be launched: over in America, the Civic sedan and coupe have already scooped the North American Car of the Year prize. Honda engineered all three in Japan at the same time, pouring huge resources into creating the all-new platform that will help make all three ultra-competitive.
But what about the Type R?
You can’t go too far into discussing a new Honda Civic before the question of a new Type R comes up. Officially, the firm is saying nothing. Unofficially, we’d put good money on a new Type R coming sooner rather than later, perhaps using a further-upgraded version of today’s engine. All the ingredients – the multi-link rear suspension, the adaptive damper technology, the already-stylish looks – are in place to potentially make it truly heroic.
Goodbye, current Civic hatch
The arrival of the new Civic hatch means goodbye to the current ninth generation car. Developed during the global economic crisis, this was a cautious Honda developing a conservative car seemingly on a tight budget. It was worthy but simply wasn’t good enough to take on the best. It’s taught Honda a lesson, alright.
Current Tourer tours on
But the arrival of the new Civic does not mean the end of the current car. It will live on for a few more years in Tourer estate guise: Honda’s huge Swindon factory is flexible enough to allow both cars to coexist on the same line. In time, of course, you’d have to assume a new Civic Tourer would arrive… unless Honda’s decided the limited Euro-centric sales potential of the new car simply doesn’t justify its development?
Hands on: new Honda Civic
We had the chance to have a thorough rummage around the new Civic. And we were impressed. It looks really good, with crisp and distinctive lines dominated by that bold front end. It even looks more premium: Honda’s installed a new paint facility that applies a glossy, shiny clearcoat to give it a more sparking appearance.
Blobby to bold
The current Civic is a pretty blobby thing. The new one has a swooper, more coupe-like rear, enhanced by contoured rear wheelarches and cool wrap-around tail lights. The bold black insets are part of the sport-grade Civic, but all will share the same distinctive lines. Pride of place sit those great centre-exit tailpipes.
Visibility seems better in the new Civic, not least because the front end is lower. The windscreen is much deeper, so you don’t feel so perched when sitting inside it. This more panoramic visibility is a famed feature of the Honda NSX and it’s nice to see the company carry it over to here. It’ll be safe, too: all UK Civics, impressively, get Honda Sensing active safety as standard, a camera- and radar-based system that includes active city braking, active cruise control and traffic sign recognition.
The current Civic is curiously both practical and frustrating. The new one demonstrates much clearer thinking and more intelligent ergonomic planning: the centre console is deep (and has a sliding cover, facilitated by an electronic parking brake), there’s not only space for a smartphone but an integrated wireless phone charger to juice it up, and even the door pockets are more cleverly designed than the current car.
Big boot remains
The current Civic has a massive boot, over 470 litres compared to a Golf’s 380 litres. The new one is bigger still: 478 litres, with a wide opening, flat load bay and, brilliantly, the most ingenious side-retract load bay cover you’ve ever seen. Folded up, it’s tiny: showroom appeal overload.
What next for the new Honda Civic?
So there it is, the new British-built Honda Civic hatch in all its glory. It’s already being shipped over to the United States and, next in the story is the Paris Motor Show public debut of the European one. Sales here will start in Q1 2016, with the diesel arriving later in the year, and we for one can’t wait. The new Civic looks good, feels great and has the mechanical promise to be a huge leap on from today’s car. Do we have a new class front-runner on our hands? The signs are good…