Honda’s 2006 Civic is a radical change and an affordable, aspirational car – at least that’s according to the local distributor. What’s more, Honda New Zealand believes the latest Civic will do for the small sedan class what the Accord Euro did for the medium sedan segment. “We see no direct competitors for this car,” says Honda NZ managing director, Graeme Seymour. “(Buyers) will come out of hatchbacks and medium sedans.”
Unlike the previous Civic, there’s just the one body configuration – a four-door sedan. Only Europe sees the funky hatchback with its radical styling: as is the way with notchbacks, the sedan is more conventional looking. It’s bigger all round, only marginally smaller than the Accord, and priced to a razor edge with the well-equipped entry-level version selling for a remarkable $26,000.
Seymour says minimal small car profits and cheap small cars were driving the trend towards sedans. Yet who would have thought in the 1970s that Honda’s baby car would grow to such a size by 2006?
Compared with the original 1973 Civic that measured a modest 3560mm from bumper to bumper, the latest version is almost a metre longer at 4540mm. Its width has expanded from 1505mm to 1750mm, and overall height is up 105mm to 1435mm. What’s more, the wheelbase has zoomed from 2200mm to 2700mm – a surprising 30mm more than the current Honda Accord Euro’s.
Of course, being a much larger car and carrying a host of safety equipment that would have been unimaginable three decades ago, the new Civic in entry-level form weighs in at 1194kg: the 1963 three-door was a featherweight 706kg.
There’s little doubt that though the new Civic will enjoy conquest sales from rival brands, it will also steal some Accord sales. It’s just 125mm shorter than the bigger brother, 10mm narrower and 10mm lower, but is just on 100kg lighter. At 450 litres, the boot is only marginally smaller than the Accord Euro’s, and interior accommodation is outstanding, with excellent rear seat legroom. Aerodynamically superior, the new Civic is 60mm lower than the outgoing model but 255mm longer and 55mm wider. Both 1.8-litre and 2.0-litre engines are also more powerful than the previous Civic’s 1.7-litre.
Honda is promoting the new model as a sports sedan, although it’s a moot point whether consumers will regard the car that way.
Unlike the hatchback, the sedan breaks no new ground in external styling, but step inside and the dashboard is cutting edge.
The dual display meter concept splits the speedometer from the lower mounted rev counter. A digital speedo, fuel gauge and engine temperature gauge are housed in the upper level, to make them easier to read. Yet we found the steering wheel rim often obstructed a clear view of the speedo and required a steering column adjustment.
The car is built on Honda’s global compact platform, and half of its structure is made from high-strength steel. Honda’s G-CON technology collision compatibility body design is said to allow for a collision where the structures of the cars are not height compatible and would otherwise intrude into the passenger compartment. Aerodynamics have improved and the coefficient of drag (Cd) is 0.31, and the Hybrid version’s is an enviable 0.27. Air turbulence is minimised by careful design of the A pillars, door mirrors, wiper layout and underfloor pans.
Innovative opposable windscreen wipers use a flat blade design for improved wiping. The arm shape is aerodynamically configured to provide good blade down force at higher speeds and the actual blade is a unique design that is easy to replace. Mechanical noise is extremely low, partly due to high levels of torsional rigidity. Doors have two seals for lower noise intrusion.
All new Civics bound for the New Zealand market are made in Japan.
2.0S models have high intensity gas discharge headlights as standard, offering twice the luminosity of halogen equivalents. Front seats have been redesigned and proved extremely comfortable on a Nelson to Christchurch test drive. The front seat active head restraint system reduces the potential for a neck injury in a rear-end shunt. Satellite navigation is an option for the new Civic, but the screen is mounted rather low for driver comfort.
On the road
In its class, only the Mazda 3 beats the 1.8 power output in the least costly Civic, and the Honda’s manual gearbox is both slick and positive. Top spec 2.0-litre Civics have neat paddle switches on the steering wheel for manual override of the auto gearbox. Cruise control and audio control buttons are also on the steering wheel. In manual form, the larger motor powers the Honda to 100km/h in 9.7 seconds, compared to 10.1 seconds for the 1.8.
The Civic’s steering is sharply geared to 2.5 turns of the steering wheel from lock to lock, and an even tighter 2.5 turns on the Hybrid.
Four-wheel independent suspension comprises MacPherson struts up front and a double wishbone, multi-link arrangement at the rear. Ride is good and directional stability fine, with the 205/55 tyres on 16-inch rims providing good grip. Two styles of alloy wheels are standard on 1.8 and 2.0 models, and the Hybrid Civic uses 195/55 tyres on 15-inch diameter alloys. The car turns-in reasonably well, has good body control and low wind noise. Four-wheel discs are found on the petrol models but the Hybrid comes with a