September 15, 2016 @ 04:11 PM

Review: Honda Civic 1.5 TC Premium - Older, wiser but just as eager

We’ll be clear from the get-go... you’ll be disappointed if you’re expecting VTEC or the turbo to kick in with a slug to the gut but the new Civic grows up to ensure that isn't necessary anymore.


News that Honda was dropping a turbocharged VTEC block in the new tenth generation Civic made waves far and wide. Needless to say, the anticipation that accompanied it was colossal. Further compounding that was the ninth-generation Civic that subscribed to the plastic-fantastic mantra and wasn’t one of its more memorable efforts.
 
This new Civic however is the final piece of the puzzle to complete its revamp of the local line-up. Honda is on a roll currently and appears to be incapable of blundering. The City owns the B-segment and the Accord has similarly cut itself a large slice of the executive class while the HR-V juggernaut shows no signs of hitting a wall with its sales.


 
Even with the previous Civic not earning rave reviews, the lack of a gold star on its report card weighed little with buyers but the onslaught of new C-segment options that brought their A-game was beginning to nibble away at its slice of the pie. From the appliance-like Toyota Corolla Altis to the reasonably-fun-to-drive-for-its-price Mazda 3, there were now worthy adversaries and the big H couldn’t afford to let its guard slip.
 
Yet, if any of its recent models were to go by, Honda’s rapid product development pace doesn’t restrain it from producing a quality product that was going to strike a chord with all buyers alike. Regardless if you were after a Martin Scorsese thought-provoking motion picture rather than a Michael Bay demolition derby, the new Civic had something for everyone.


 
Taking the previous generation’s bland and angular lines behind the shed to be shot, the Civic now finds itself in the company of curvier cars. A slight resemblance to the questionable US-only Accord Crosstour is offset by the drop in ride height that translates into some serious sporty sentiments behind the wheel, even if it is somewhat smoke and mirrors.
 
This sedan only appears to be a hatchback at first glance but squint hard enough and you just might realise stole inspiration from the Audi A7; which is no bad thing.


 
It’s definitely a more aggressive creature with sculpted lines and muscular shoulders that lend it a presence its predecessor severely lacked. Shift over to the rear and those taillights outshine everything else; even taking your attention away from the rakish C-pillar that dives inwards and blends seamlessly with the boot lid, leaving the rear guards extended prominently for a brutish rear silhouette.
 
It’s definitely got a more youthful vibe and, dare we say it, a boy-racer feel initially. A flurry of lines draws up a busy picture but you need to step back and take in all the details to appreciate the fluidity of everything gelling together.


 
Under the hood though is where things have really taken a turn for the better. The whole world and their neighbours are waltzing down the downsizing route with forced induction levelling the playing field.
 
Honda isn't going to miss that boat and the flagship engine will be a 1.5-litre Earth Dreams VTEC turbocharged mill. A soft, single-scroll turbo pumps in air at around 1.1-bars of boost that equate to 171bhp at 5500rpm and a 220Nm of torque from 1700rpm.
 
It loses out the Ford Focus that packs a 180bhp punch but the Civic makes its peak power the earliest for a wider powerband and all the ponies are usually present and accounted for. There’s no sensation when the VTEC or turbo kicks in and given how the Civic needs to leave that part of its past in the past, the engine’s performance is best described as matured.


 
The Focus on the other hand has repeatedly been accused of not feeling like a 180bhp machine, leaving suspicion that some of the horses may have fled the barn.
 
It’s all unicorns and fluffy kittens so far but Honda dropped the ball with the transmission, opting for the bane-of-motoring-scribes and one of the most cringe-worthy acronyms in the auto world, the CVT.
 
Although the CVT does a decent job of keeping up with the engine’s power and torque plateau that, you never can pull yourself away from thinking that a proper torque-converter automatic would have truly unleashed the engine’s potential and given it the conviction to be pushed hard.


 
Even with the small snail, some lag is apparent from a standstill but is quickly banished and is generally in the powerband unless brought to a complete stop. Slotting the shifter into Sports mode holds the revs higher but apart from a marginal increase in response, the only thing that follows that is the signature whining of the CVT.
 
Paddle shifters add to the sportier perception but in reality, tapping on the left paddle hardly serves up the expected engine braking that a conventional torque converter would have dished out to slow down the Civic considerably. Heat is a bane of the CVT and Honda admitted that the units sold in Europe were equipped with a transmission cooler; something the local market had to make do without.


 
None of the cars and their CVTs put a foot wrong during the drive, even with the absolute slave-era flogging that we gave it. However, the long-term effects are hard to gauge and given the eagerness of the engine to rev, you wouldn’t be blamed for a heavy right foot although you may be held accountable if something snaps.
 
Handling has been given a dose of protein shakes with a stiffer structure that secures the four corners together solidly. Thicker anti-roll bars on both ends (25mm in the front and 18mm in the rear) binds the front struts and rear multilinks tautly to keep body movement composed.


 
Gone is the slushy understeer that is common among its peers. Torque-vectoring witchcraft and wizardry brakes the inside wheel to pivot the car into turns almost neutrally and the electric power steering has a variable ratio that is quicker but saps feedback and the artificial weighting is more akin to meaningless banter rather than candid conversation that tells you what the front wheels are doing.
 
Given the sporty ride that harked back to the glory days of Civics that would stir the loins of racerboys, damping was spot on and isolated the occupants with convincingly from the harshness of the roads on the outskirts of Kota Kinabalu. Thicker sidewalls on the tyres contributed to that with the 215/50R17 rubbers adding to the ride comfort without subtracting from its road holding.


 
If the exterior has hit the gym, the interior is where it has grown up the most. Gone is the two-tiered dash that has been binned for a back-to-basics single binnacle consisting of a full LCD monitor with crisp displays and a digital speedo readout with the virtual gauge catering only for the engine speed.
 
Taking the cabin to the next level is the choice of materials and quality that is apparent from the tactile feedback. It feels sophisticated to the touch and certainly looks the part too.


 
Honda’s engineers proved that they knew how to squeeze every inch of space from the cabins with the City and Jazz. Now the Civic is on the receiving end of their magic design Vaseline with a cabin that feels more spacious than it actually is although figures indicate that it is class-leading anyways.
 
A longer wheelbase adds a generous amount of rear legroom and the vertically-gifted will have no issues occupying the rear on long journeys. Slipping into the driver’s seat, you can’t help but be overwhelmed by the sensation of sitting so low, something achieved with a one inch drop in the seats.


 
Additionally, the raised centre console places the shifter higher and closer to your hands; further adding to the driver-oriented, sporty feel.
 
Entertainment is via the seven inch touchscreen front and centre of the dash and the left side of the steering wheel houses the buttons for it, including a touch-sensitive ribbed button that adjusts the volume the traditional method of pressing up or down or by simply sliding your thumb across it.
 
Every aspect of the new Civic is leaps and bounds ahead of not just its predecessor but its competition as well. It looks, feels and drives the part. Honda has outdone themselves and once again, set the precedence for the rest of the segment to try and live up to.




Honda Civic 1.5TC Premium
Price: RM135,800 OTR with insurance
Engine: 1498cc, DOHC 16V, inline-four, turbocharged with variable valve timing, 171bhp @ 5500rpm, 220Nm @ 1,700rpm
Transmission: CVT, front-wheel drive
Performance: 8.2sec 0-100kmh, 200kmh, 5.0-litres/100km
Dimensions (l/w/h): 4630mm, 1799mm, 1416mm
Weight: 1316kg

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