The Honda Civic has finally returned. It is a fact that several have waited for this moment - and for several varying reasons. The Honda Civic is a powerhouse - the Japanese company's bestselling model name worldwide - with over 800,000 sold annually! It is currently on sale in 170 countries and the new Honda Civic is in its tenth generation cycle that debuted worldwide in 2016. We last had the eighth gen car that sold from 2007 to 2012. And then we never got the ninth. A shame really, because I am a firm believer that even if a segment weakens or sales dip, there are some flagships that you should not mess with. The Civic is that name - even more so than the Accord, in Honda's context. Okay that is done - now on to the new car, eh? The new Honda Civic was first shown in India exactly a year ago at the Auto Expo. It was then announced as confirmed for India and well, we have it now - with the formality of the pricing remaining until its launch next month.
Also Read: 2019 Honda Civic Launched In India
I have driven the car in both its drivetrain options. There's the i-VTEC petrol - with the familiar 1.8 litre mated to a CVT automatic transmission; and it has paddle shift. The new 1.6 litre diesel with a 6-speed manual box. The latter finally brings the Honda Civic to the diesel space. The petrol on the other hand could've done with a more modern turbocharged engine - like the 1.5 litre turbocharged petrol on the Civic in the US that has two states of tune to put out either 174 or 205 bhp. And what's more it still gives you over 15 kmpl of fuel efficiency. Yeah - a cost related missed opportunity I reckon, which is just too bad.
Meanwhile, on the engine we are getting, Honda says the petrol buyer in the midsize sedan segment typically seeks automatic. And hence there is no manual transmission being offered on the i-VTEC. Apparently the opposite is true for the diesel buyer. I reckon that it's an engineering cost issue more than any buyer trends that led Honda India here. Oh well. Honda doesn't deny any possibility for other powertrains in the future (read Hybrid/EV), but for now it's only these engines, and the 1.8 I-VTEC is already BS6 compliant according to the company.
We were invited to Bangalore to test the new gen Honda Civic and I began my drive on the petrol CVT dressed in a new shade - Platinum White Pearl. There are 5 colours on offer - but they are the usual suspects - Red, Silver, Grey, Brown (like the Amaze, CR-V), and that new white! So nothing imaginative here from Honda unlike the sharp colours on some of the competitors like the Hyundai Elantra or Skoda Octavia. Oh well. The car does aim to please on styling though, with rather edgy, sharp styling - in line with what Honda is doing globally. The new Honda family look, really comes together and shines on the Civic. While the sedan is not compact in dimension terms, the styling - especially thanks to the sloping coupé roofline - makes it look taut and sporty. I like it - and my fears of that tapering roofline causing trouble inside the cabin - were mostly misplaced. But I'll come to that. The chrome in the grille works, though I do prefer the US spec where its all black finish and no chrome!
The new LED head and taillights are very modern and distinctive. And yes there are daytime running lights or DRLs. The taillights in particular with their C shape (for Civic) are the car's most stylish, modern and recognisable feature. The 17-inch wheels are only on the top spec, with 16 inchers as standard across other variants. On the whole the car is wider, longer and yet has the exact same 2700 mm wheelbase of the last car we had. It is a shade lower than that car in height, though only by a few mm.
Inside too the car appears modern. While the plastics and other material quality are good, the finish is a bit dull. The instrument cluster is virtual and animates when you turn on the ignition. But the layout and overall dash design are not very original. There is the customary 7-inch touchscreen that gives you the usual connectivity, nav and music options. Cruise control buttons and a bunch more are on the steering.
There are two USB outlets - the first is the usual charging point between the front seats. The second (with a smartphone logo on its cover) is very hard to locate - as it is in a recess behind the lower dash console. Smart in a way that the cables can be hitched to a notch provided to avoid looping - and once CarPlay or Android Auto are engaged - keeps the phone out of the way and reach. But yes - good luck finding that thing! You get a very nice padded armrest like edging to the area between the front seats, which houses the storage bin and cupholders. It is almost akin to an arm from a padded armchair - and is especially comfortable for the passenger. Bottle holders in the doors are also present, as is a sunroof In the top variant.
The seats are exceptionally comfortable - for their ergonomics, position and material/bolstering. Good job on the India spec there Honda! This is especially true of the rear bench - that's well angled and will prove to be comfortable on the longer drives - with contouring and cushioning to really ensconce you in comfort. A drop down armrest houses cupholders, but sadly no music controls (like the 8th gen had) or USB points. There are rear AC vents and legroom is good. The sloping roof could pose a slight issue for people who are way over 6 feet tall, and especially so if there are three large adults in the back, with the side passengers getting pushed out to the ends. But for the most part things should be fine.
The car is loaded well with safety features. Asean NCAP tests have given it a 5-Star crash rating - and Honda India claims the same build quality on the Indian car. There are 6 airbags, and that includes curtain airbags too. ABS, EBD, Hill Start Assist, Stability Control, Isofix child seat mounts and plenty more make up an exhaustive list of safety features - which is great to see. The car also gets the Lane Watch camera on the left outside mirror - like in the CR-V. It shows you a view of the rear left lane so that you don't have any blind spots and can easily switch lanes or turn. The display shows up in the 7"screen in the central console, and comes on automatically when you use the turn indicator to the left, or can be switched on using a button on the end of the indicator stalk itself.
The petrol engine is familiar, is reasonably powerful, but as is the case with most CVTs - is dulled somewhat by the very linear progressive build up that transmission provides. The action gets a little bit more exciting with the use of the paddle shifters. The CVT gets a sport mode but all that does is gives you higher revs and a more sporty sound (okay you can call it a growl!) from the engine. In performance terms not much changes, Yet I will say the CVT is a good idea - most people buying the car for a self-drive option will be using it in traffic, and here the CVT's mileage prowess and sheer comfort will shine through. The car's claimed mileage is 16.5 kmpl - which certainly better than expected. On the highway too it cruises very comfortably and smoothly - largely in the realm of typical usage. If you want things to get more engaging - opt for the manual - though yes that's only on the diesel.
So the diesel being driven by Auto Today's Yogendra Pratap had been in my sights either in my rear view mirror or in my windscreen view for quite some time, as we each put our respective cars through the paces. I did switch to the 'Radiant Red' diesel once we got up to Nandi Hills - which allows for some nice twisty driving on the way up. The petrol had handled admirably on the way up, and the steering - though not as stiff as I'd have liked - was rather precise. On the diesel, the handling feels even crisper, as the marginally heavier nose end launches into and out of corners a bit better. There is a slight loss of traction on the rear wheels if you try and intentionally oversteer the car but that is within acceptable limits. The turbo diesel is well tuned for mileage - and has a massive 26.8 kmpl claim. That sadly is all too obvious as you begin the drive. I had expected a lot more power and the car to feel quicker in this variant. While performance is not disappointing, it lacks the punch you'd expect. Low-end torque kicks in a tad later than you'd like and so if you want to stay quick, lower gear driving becomes the i-DTEC's Achilles heel.
But taking my motoring hack hat off, and placing myself in the space the buyer is in - and like the petrol, the diesel too will seem attractive enough. That mileage claim helps, and in city traffic, the car will still give you ample performance to smile about. But like the petrol, the diesel is also all about the ride quality and handling. The former in particular is the new Civic's standout feature and will be appreciated aplenty - especially by the rear seat passengers. The old car's flat floor is gone, but Honda says it has lowered the seating height so as to avoid having taller rear passengers hitting the roof.
And this is why the company has also taken cognisance of the feedback on the 8th gen car in India. The ground clearance for this India spec has been increased by 20 mm in front and 15 mm at the back. Having driven over a variety of roads, I can safely say that the ground clearance is not an issue whatsoever. I know you are now probably wondering where I stand on this car. It has some obvious flaws and some great strengths - but to me its also about its legacy and therefore the return of the Civic nameplate to India is just terrific. I welcome it warmly - and also now hope that Honda prices it sensibly. That won't just be great news for Civic fans, but also for the ailing midsize segment that badly needs a hit.