If you were to ask me which traditional car maker has lost out the most to more recent rivals such as Kia and Hyundai, Honda would probably be the name that first comes to mind.
There was a time when Honda had every part of the market sorted, particularly with its Civic. Younger people wanted one because of the fantastic high-revving nature of the VTec engine. The older generation wanted one because they were reliable, comfortable, well equipped and they never, ever broke down.
Then things got a little confusing. The company created the sedan which was not a bad looking car, but which perhaps lacked imagination. To counter this, the interior design team put in a split level instrument cluster that could have come from the USS Enterprise. It was a car designed to appeal to all segments of the market, but in trying too hard unfortunately lost a great deal of appeal.
Honda then went completely the other way with the Civic hatch, a vehicle which threw out the rulebook on design and said “look what we can do!” It brought back the wide appeal factor from the basic versions to the incredible Type-R.
In the latest and tenth generation, the company has put a little more thought into things. We had the 1.5T Sport which sees Honda finally joining the turbocharging era. Lesser models are normally aspirated but this sits at the top of the flagpole with its 127kW and 220Nm of torque. The numbers aren’t going to get petrolheads excited, of course — 127kW is hardly a decent figure these days and the torque number will be laughed at by any diesel engine.
The word Sport is perhaps a slight over exaggeration. It should really be called the Sporty, because it is definitely a sportier mainstream offering than we have been used to from Honda.
The sporty treatment includes a rather odd-looking rear spoiler mounted on top of that small bootlid. It might look like a hatchback, but this is in fact a sedan, with a coupe look. The hatch, revealed at the Paris Motor Show, is still to come — or not, because Honda SA is not sure it will bring the hatch model.
In the looks department, Honda has got it mostly right. The new Civic is fresh and modern and has creases in all the right places. The facade has a more dynamic look than former Civics and you get narrow multisection headlights complete with daytime running lights. The rear has stirred some debate in the office though. I think the spoiler looks naff, but others in the office think that models without it look rather fat-bottomed.
The interior has received a great deal of attention with long, stylish lines in the dashboard and choices of colour and trim that give it a more premium feel. Some of the plastics are a little hard, but hardly detract from what is a really nice cabin. The starship instrument cluster has gone, replaced by a more straightforward three-compartment design which features a digital display in the centre.
The touchscreen infotainment system is also rather good, although it was clearly tested in a country where the skies are normally grey. The screen is angled upwards which means when the sun shines brightly you can barely see it at all. Some of the touch items such as the volume control are also temperamental.
What the Civic does really well, though, is drive. It is extremely comfortable around town and the driving position is excellent. You have a choice of modes and you get to monitor driving style through a graphic in the instrument cluster.
It does have a continuous variable transmission (CVT), which we generally are not fans of. However, Honda has done a decent job with the CVT box in the new Civic. Only when you floor the accelerator hard do you experience that painful single gear scream. In town it is rarely an issue but it would have been nice to have one of the modern automatic gearboxes instead.
You do get a really good list of equipment too, including safety systems and multiple airbags, but then you should because now I get to my real gripe — the price. At R430,000 the Sport is simply not worth the money.
You could save cash and buy a Hyundai Elantra, Toyota Corolla or Ford Focus. You could even buy a larger Ford Fusion at this price. Models lower down the range are perhaps better value, but while Honda has created a decent overall package in the Sport, the price is just too much. – Mark Smyth
Fast Facts: Honda Civic 1.5T Sport
Engine: 1498cc four-cylinder turbo
Power: 127kW at 5500rpm
Torque: 220Nm from 1700 to 5500rpm
0-100km/h: 8.2-seconds (claimed)
Top speed: 200km/h (claimed)
Fuel: 5.9l/100km (claimed combined)
CO2: 140g/km (claimed)
Price: From R430 000