Headlined by an elevated new look and an elevated price, the new-gen Civic is a fine car with deeply impressive handling. But is its excellence worth the entry ticket?
As far as returns to form are concerned, the Honda Civic has taken longer than most. Many would say the rot started with the fifth-generation model in 1991 – itself a premium-priced car in its day – though compared to many of the appliances that followed it, the EG-series Civic was actually a pretty decent thing.
Same applies to the outgoing 10th-generation Civic – the first riding on Honda’s all-new ‘Earth Dreams’ platform and a big step in the right direction when it launched here in mid-2016, though not without several flaws. And now we have the Japanese-made 11th-generation Civic here to right some of that car’s wrongs.
Based on a development of the previous Civic’s platform, the 2022 Civic expands the wheelbase length by 35mm, the rear track by 12mm, and its field of vision while shrinking the rear overhang. In line with its elevated $47,200 driveaway price, the new-gen Civic VTi LX is all about bringing back the best of the nameplate’s past, starting with elegantly low bonnet and beltlines, a much cleaner appearance, and a more restrained, but also refined interior treatment befitting a premium hatch.
Think what you want about its exxy new price – we reckon it’s about $5K north of its natural positioning – because at least the new Civic can back that up with premium finish and a genuinely classy air. But if only Honda Australia chose something other than ‘VTi-LX’ for its model name because this single-model Civic is essentially a warm hatch – pre-empting a hybrid version due in the second half of 2022 and an all-new Type R set to arrive before Christmas next year.
If there’s one area where the new Civic genuinely fulfills the promises of its price tag, it’s dynamics. Indeed, the 11th-gen Civic is so polished in terms of handling and steering that it feels two generations newer than the car it replaces.
While the fundamentals of its suspension aren’t greatly altered – it scores a new aluminium front subframe, low-friction front suspension and new rear compliance bushings, among other detail changes – there’s a newfound finesse to its cornering poise, and particularly its steering weighting and response, that elevates this Civic to front-drive 3 Series status.
Just like BMW’s finest sedan, the new Civic’s handling has that special something that makes it wonderfully engaging – from the way it tackles any corner it encounters to the involvement of its rear suspension in making the Civic remain exquisitely balanced. The more steering lock you wind on in a tightening corner, the greater the adjustment from the rear to keep it on balance and on its game.
The re-tuned dual-pinion electric steering is really good too – more firmly weighted than before, as well as more progressive in its response, yet still super-keen to turn in. And Civic is considerably quieter than before, with solid ride control over challenging surfaces, though without low-speed suppleness. There’s a jiggle to the Civic’s ride that implies a lack of suspension travel, and it’s most obvious at urban speeds.
The carry-over drivetrain has been honed too, with considerable time spent on reducing the awful ‘rubber-band’ effect of the CVT transmission and its propensity to hold onto revs. That has almost completely vanished – replaced with much more positive and responsive behaviour, particularly when being pushed hard. There’s even a Sport mode that prevents engine revs from dropping below 2000rpm, as well as a seamless new idle-stop system.
Using the wheel paddles on hilly, winding roads is surprisingly rewarding, and while the 1.5-litre turbo-petrol four – now with 131kW at 6000rpm (or 134kW on premium fuel) and 240Nm from 1700-4500rpm – is hardly a sporting engine in great Honda tradition, it’s impressively strong and can dispatch 0-100km/h in around 7.5 seconds. Pity it doesn’t sound sweeter.
What would really transform the drivetrain, though, is a typically slick Honda six-speed manual ’box – enabling the driver to revel in the shift action while surfing the engine’s considerable torque. And negating that high-rev intrusion that doesn’t suit the brilliance of the Civic’s chassis.
Safety-wise, Honda has expanded the Civic’s repertoire via a brand new camera-based set-up with a much broader view, delivering smoother, more consistent active safety performance – particularly the adaptive cruise control and lane-holding assistance.
They’re joined by traffic-jam assist, road departure mitigation, lane-departure warning, front AEB with pedestrian detection, a pop-up pedestrian bonnet, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and knee airbags for the driver and front passenger.
Inspired by the low-cowl loveliness of the third- and fourth-generation Civics (1983-91), the 11th-gen model makes a return to clean horizontal forms, great vision and high-quality plastics. Finally, a Civic cabin with genuine class!
While it retains traditional-looking instruments (integrated cleverly with a 7.0-inch colour LCD display), there’s a new 9.0-inch touchscreen (the biggest-ever fitted to a Honda) with outstanding speed and clarity, navigation with over-the-air updates, wireless charging, wireless Apple CarPlay and an excellent 12-speaker Bose audio system. It will even shush the air-con when you get a phone call or attempt voice-to-text.
In terms of general dashboard layout, the new Civic scores. It’s almost retro in its lack of fussiness, yet the honeycomb panel that bisects the dash and disguises the air-con vents is super-modern and super-cool. Even having a little ridge in front of the touchscreen to act as a finger rest demonstrates the attention Honda has paid to making Civic feel premium.
Yet not everything is quite to the same standard. The heated front seats look great and sit pretty well – especially the eight-way driver’s bucket – but the passenger only gets rudimentary four-way electric adjustment and most of the trim is vinyl. At least the suede-effect centre sections with red perforations are lovely.
In the rear seat, it’s a similar story. The seat itself offers decent comfort and masses of space but the headroom gained is in lieu of a sunroof and there’s no rear USB ports, auto up/down windows, or ambient door lighting (front-only for all that stuff).
There’s also no spare wheel – just injecting goo for tyre repair – but the Civic’s boot is huge. Above the floor there’s a whopping 404 litres and underneath there’s another 45 litres, taking the total to 449 litres.
So in terms of overall room and versatility, the Civic is almost medium-sized.
The official ADR81/02 government combined fuel consumption figure for the 2022 Civic 1.5-litre turbo-petrol is 6.3L/100km, though we averaged a still-impressive 8.5L/100km after 250km of spirited driving.
Recommended servicing is every 12 months or 10,000km, with the Civic’s five-year capped-price service amount totalling just $675.
Honda’s warranty is five years/unlimited kilometres, combined with a six-year rust/perforation warranty and five years’ roadside assistance.
Glassier and classier in similar measure, the 11th-generation Civic really is a significant return to the nameplate’s ‘Japanese BMW’ past, even though it doesn’t quite complete the transformation.
Working hugely in its favour is a superb chassis with a level of handling poise and engagement that bodes supremely well for the forthcoming Type R. In our opinion, its outstanding agility easily compensates for its ride shortcomings, though only you can decide if that fits your priorities.
Then there’s its space, its interior quality and presentation, and super-cheap servicing cost – all of which make it one of the finest small hatches out there, even compared to German premium brands.
But Honda’s modest sales ambitions – just 900 units a year – point towards the fact the 11th-gen Civic is priced like Civics used to be … when Hondas carried considerable cachet. But in 2022 it’s a premium car with a premium price, presented by a brand that’s been a long way from premium (aside from build quality and reliability) for many years.
So that leaves the hugely likeable new-gen Civic in a bit of a pickle – deserving of success but priced beyond where the majority of people feel it belongs.
Key specs (as tested)
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