BMW teams up with Italian styling gurus at Pininfarina for slick new coupe
On test: Honda Civic 1.6 review (2004-2006 model)
- Model:Honda Civic 1.6
- Bodystyle: Five-door hatchback
- Engine: 1.6-litre petrol
- Transmission: Five-speed manual
- Date of Test: January 2005
What is it?
Honda’s popular, British-built hatchback has faced a barrage of new competition recently. Honda updated it in 2004 in response, but can it still cut it? Certainly the detail changes it’s made to the styling work well. Drawing heavily from that hot hatch favourite, the Civic Type-R, they include new headlights, bumpers, alloy wheels and even a sporty bodykit. The interior is better-trimmed, there have been revisions to the suspension and steering, but no changes to the 1.6-litre engine. It was always the car’s strongest point anyway, so Honda has rightly left it well alone.
Where does it fit?
We tested the Civic 1.6 SE five-door, which is the most mainstream of models and compares favourably on price with Ford’s Focus, Vauxhall’s Astra and the Volkswagen Golf. It offers comparable value to its Japanese arch-rival, the Toyota Corolla, and it’s only models such as Renault’s lavishly-equipped Megane which makes it seem lacking in standard kit. Mention must be made of the Civic’s body; it’s one of the largest five-door family hatchbacks you can buy.
Is it for you?
Honda has a reputation for appealing to an ‘older’ clientele, something it’s working hard to broaden with its latest models. That’s why our red test car had jazzy alloy wheels, racy backlit dials, aluminium dashboard trim and a mean ‘n moody black interior colour scheme. Trouble is, the five-door still appears rather frumpy next to the lithe three-door, and will struggle to attract younger drivers from their Focus, Astras or Golfs. Mind you, factor in a high standard of quality and build – with British assembly, too – and it becomes a very rational choice.
What does it do well?
The engine is fantastic. VTEC cam timing, the same that makes Type-R models so brilliant, gives this everyday 1.6-litre engine remarkable driveability. ‘Pull’ can be felt from as little as 1,500rpm, yet all the high-rev excitement is still there. Get it over 4,000rpm and it hurtles to the red line with utter smoothness and real bite, releasing genuinely impressive levels of performance and a pleasing rasp. The gearchange is equally fantastic, with a crisp, creamy shift and silky-smooth drivetrain. Surprisingly, handling is also rather eager, with well-controlled body roll despite the Civic’s height, and a fluid accuracy through bends that’s at odds with its practical persona. This is a fun car to drive and, so long as the roads are smooth, a relaxing one too.
What doesn’t it do well?
The stiff chassis means that over bumpier roads, a little too much jiggle becomes apparent; it feels unsettled by gritty surfaces, and a lack of noise insulation around the suspension makes it vocally nervous too. Steering, while accurate through corners, is very artificial-feeling and ‘sticky’ during normal motoring – you find yourself steering in snatches until you get used to it. Low-set seats are too flat and lack lumbar support, and the hard interior plastic ebbs away at the luxury factor. The stereo is also too small, too dated and too cheap-sounding. Close-set gearing means the engine is spinning faster and more noisily than rivals on the motorway, and some slackness in the first inch of throttle travel can make in-town getaways a bit fluffy, despite admirably feel through the light clutch.
What’s it like to live with?
It’s perfect if you want lots of interior space without going for an MPV. The cabin is cavernous front and rear, and feels airy too thanks to the high roof, low-set dash and large side windows. It has a ‘flat floor’ design, just like a people carrier, and those in the rear will think they’re in an executive car. Surprisingly though, the boot isn’t as humungous, with a high floor and lack of length. Reliability needs not be questioned, nor build quality, but hard interior plastics means the perception is not as highbrow as it could be. But fuel economy is as good as superminis, insurance groups as low as key rivals and servicing likely to be affordable. It’s so reliable, there’s never much to do, as legions of satisfied owners will testify.
Would we buy it?
We like the idea of a three-door Civic, and love the Type-R model, but feel the completely worthy five-door lacks the appeal of stylish new models from Ford, Renault and Vauxhall, not to mention the class of a Mercedes A-Class or VW Golf. It’s good from behind the wheel, a real driver’s car with a terrific engine and gearbox, and sporty handling entertains too, even if this does compromise the ride quality. But it’s not a head-turner and the hard interior plastics, not to mention dated aspects of the dashboard, don’t give off the same showroom vibes as newer metal. We’d take a sporty-look three-door Civic Sport, but probably leave the five-door model. Would, with all the Honda’s interior space and long-term dependability, we regret our decision? Sometimes, but the everyday thrill of a new Focus would compensate. That would be our choice.
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