28.1.2018Honda Civic 1.6 i-DTEC first drive
Despite diesel's low scoring results in the most important of opinion polls - namely sales - Honda has just released a new diesel version of its Civic. The argument is that, even though diesel sales are dropping off a cliff in certain sectors, not having a diesel option in the family hatchback market is not financially worthwhile. As such, Honda's tenth-generation Civic has had the company's 1.6 litre diesel engine fitted under the bonnet.
Review by Chris Lilly
The i-DTEC unit available in the Civic produces 118 bhp, which is about par for the course in the market, but is the least powerful of Honda's hatchback range. However, with 300 Nm of torque the Civic diesel has plenty of punch, and at low revs too. The resulting performance time of 10.5 seconds 0-62mph is not exactly pacey, but it feels sprightly enough when accelerating hard. Like the power figure, the Civic diesel is in the mid-range when compared to its rivals, and out-right acceleration is not the Honda's focus. Instead, the i-DTEC unit is designed to provide effortless pulling power and refined performance. The Civic diesel, when matched to a six-speed manual gearbox, works well around town thanks to a quick and smooth shift. It's ideally designed for the open road though, where the relaxed nature of the i-DTEC unit makes easy work of flowing roads and motorway miles. It's refined at speed and a comfortable cruiser, which will suit those buyers looking for high-mileage motors.
The Honda Civic petrol is a well balanced car, with a solid set-up that provides both a comfortable ride and agile handling. The good news here is that the switch in fuel type up front hasn't upset any of that poise. The Civic isn't the most dynamic car in the world, or the most comfortable. But it is a very fine example of doing well across the board in terms of handling attributes. Along the twisty roads of the test routes around Rome, the Civic diesel provided an engaging drive for a car that isn't graced with Honda's Type R hot hatch badge. Equally, it soaks up the pock-marked surfaces of built up Italian roads well too - and there is little to suggest the Honda won't perform just as well in the UK.
It might sound strange, but the Civic is a relatively understated car. When you look at the design - with plenty of creases and angular elements - few would think of 'understated' as an adjective, but the Civic is a more subtle design than a casual glance might reveal. A sporty stance with beefed up wheel arches and low grille can make the Civic look a bit back heavy, but overall it's a well thought out design. It works well from a practical point of view too, with a large boot to load up, and relatively good access to it too. The rear seats have a good amount of leg and shoulder room, but tall occupants could be caught out by the sloping roof line. Up front though there are no such issues, and the driver in particular has a good seating position. There are plenty of cubby holes dotted throughout the cabin too, so the Civic makes for a practical family workhorse, particularly with the wide-opening rear doors.
COMFORT & CONTROLS
The Civic's driver sits nice and low in the car, in seats that are about on a par with its class for outright comfort. The cabin wraps around those behind the wheel too, but not in a way to make it impractical. It's a good effort from Honda to instil a bit of driver focus for the cabin, without going too far. Honda's instrument display has evolved gradually over the past few years, but anyone who has driven a Honda during that time will be familiar with the general lay-out. A central screen allows for a variety of different displays, all surrounded by a large rev-counter. There's nothing ground-breaking about it, but the lay-out works well, and drivers sit behind a steering wheel that feels a good size in their hands. The infotainment screen isn't up to scratch compared to class leading units, and almost looks aftermarket by today's high standards. It's pretty intuitive to use though with large buttons to prevent things from getting fiddly. There are much better options on the market though in this regard. The rest of the switchgear similarly can't compete with efforts from some competitors, but it feels very solidly built. General reliability tests would indicate that it might not feel as plush as a VW Golf for example, but it's likely to last a long time.
MPG & RUNNING COSTS
The whole point of adding a diesel engine to the Civic range is for this section. Yes, the diesel unit allows for different driving characteristics, but the main reason for its inclusion is for high mileage users that would struggle to make a petrol Civic work financially for them - excellent though the 1.0 litre petrol is. As such, the Civic i-DTEC's official fuel economy is 80.7 MPG, with CO2 emissions calculated at 93 g/km on the NEDC combined cycle. This kind of economy is just about impossible to achieve in the real world - though diesel Honda Civic's always score well in the annual MPG Marathon. This being a first drive event, there wasn't the chance to really test the fuel economy scores, but the numbers showing on the trip computer were encouraging anyway, with everything comfortably over 50 MPG, and many much better than that. To tax, all Civic diesels will cost the Â£140 standard rate, with a first year rate of Â£120 - though this is included in the car's OTR.
Honda has worked hard on the Civic - both the tenth-generation model in general and the diesel model. Looking at the Civic as a whole, the family hatchback is built on a lightweight but stiff platform. The diesel unit has been comprehensively overhauled, with great attention to detail to improve efficiency. Elements like new forged steel pistons reduce cooling loss within the engine. Low friction materials allow for the engine to work more efficiently too, and an aluminium cylinder head reduces weight. Small improvements have been made everywhere to bring about significant improvements in weight reduction. There's a new turbo design too which reduces lag and improves low- to mid-range performance. Honda has also tested the new 1.6 i-DTEC to Real Driving Emissions tests - the first unit to be put through the tests by the company. This means that Honda is confident that the NOx and particulate emissions levels are accurate, and the engine is about as clean as any diesel on the road currently. A NOx Storage Container and particulate filter have both been fitted, and the engine has also features Honda's Idle Stop system as standard. Even the six-speed manual transmission has been revised, with reduced gear friction by 40% over the previous generation's gearbox. There's an Econ mode too that restricts throttle response and a gear shift indicator. According to our calculations, the Civic diesel range has a Next Green Car Rating from 34.
All Civic models come well equipped, with elements such as 16-alloy wheels, DAB radio with USB and Bluetooth connectivity, air conditioning, and parking sensors front and rear featuring on the SE trim. SR offers greater value with climate control, rear parking camera, privacy glass, Honda Connect with navigation touchscreen infotainment system, automatic wipers and lights, and 17-inch wheels. EX boosts that further with a sunroof, keyless entry and start, and leather trim the key features. Finally, EX Tech Pack adds LED headlights with washers, LED fog lights, heated rear seats, and wireless phone charging.
It might be an unfashionable time to launch a diesel option, but you can see why Honda has done so with the Civic. There are a pair of very good petrol engines available, but for high-mileage drivers, the Civic diesel will offer significant savings in running costs. It's frugal, but also adds to what are the existing strengths of the Civic range as a whole - an engaging but comfortable drive, and good levels of practicality and refinement.
Model tested: Honda Civic i-DTEC
Body-style: Family hatch
Engine / CO2: 1.6 i-DTEC diesel / 93 g/km
Trim grades: SE, SR, EX
On-road price: from £20,120.
Warranty: Three years / 90,000 miles
In the showroom: Now
Review rating: 3.5 Stars