HONDA describes the new Civic hatchback — the car that signals the electrification of the brand’s UK range — as “the driver’s hybrid”.
As it prepares to swell its range from four to nine models in 2023, and introduce a couple of new flagship electrified coupes along the way, the dynamics of the Japanese manufacturer’s 11th generation Civic form a statement of intent for a new era.
On an international launch event in Madrid the Civic struck a more dynamic figure in the metal than I had expected.
A healthy 31mm longer and 27mm lower than the outgoing model, with a rear track some 18mm wider, it looks larger than most C-segment hatchbacks, yet low and sleek.
The result, Honda claims, is a platform perfectly suited to a new e:HEV hybrid drivetrain promising greater efficiency and performance.
Emitting 184PS and 315Nm of torque, it combines a two-litre direct injection petrol engine and a powerful electric motor to deliver 7.3-second acceleration to 62mph and a 112mph top speed.
Honda Motor Europe technical advisor Korato Yamamoto took time out to explain to me how its e-CVT transmission is not actually a transmission at all, rather an electrical control unit that meters the drivetrain’s output.
It forms part of an unconventional drivetrain. The Civic’s front wheels are predominantly powered by the electric motor, the combustion engine generating the electric power needed for the motor to turn the front wheels under medium loads.
The petrol engine only contributes directly to propulsion at high speeds (e.g. on the motorway) or under heavy loads.
Honda claims resulting fuel economy of 56.5 to 60.1mpg and CO2 emissions of 108 to 114g/km across the Civic’s Elegance (£29,995), Sport (£30,595) and Advance (£32,995) trim levels.
Order books are expected to open in August, with deliveries later this year.
A limited number of high-performance Type R variants will also be headed to UK customers and, if the standard car is anything to go by, it should be a winner.
Despite the unconventional set-up, the Civic feels more natural to drive than any true CVT-equipped car.
Its hybrid drivetrain is refined, the e-CVT mimicking the feel and sound of a dual-clutch gearbox.
To cement this illusion, the e-CVT combines a power meter (replacing the rev counter) and Active Sound Control (which utilises the cabin’s sound system) to deliver the visual and oral cues of a petrol-powered performance car.
Engaging and poised, the new Civic serves up excellent refinement and feels like a car from the class above at higher speeds.
It’s a feeling furthered by the interior, where rear legroom impressed, though a 400-litre boot (to the window line) is smaller than many C-segment rivals.
Notable improvements in cabin quality build on themes seen in the new HR-V, resulting in a stylish and tactile cabin.
A mesh grille spans the dashboard, giving the impression of extensive ventilation and adding a key styling feature (bottom, right). Little joystick-like toggles control the vents within.
The Civic’s broad centre console houses gear selector buttons and a smartphone stowage tray at its front edge (a wireless charger in certain trims).
Elegance trim features fabric seats, while Sport combines fabric and synthetic leather and Advance a combination of leather and synthetic leather.
A new version of Honda’s HMI touchscreen infotainment tops the dashboard and incorporates Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone connectivity.
While Elegance and Sport trims get a seven-inch instrument cluster, Advance adds a 10.2-inch customizable digital panel, a panoramic sunroof and an upgraded 12-speaker Bose sound system.
All Civics feature the Honda Sensing safety tech, including lane keeping assistance and adaptive cruise control which operates to a standstill in traffic.
Having spent several hours driving the new Honda Civic it’s hard not to subscribe to the brand’s view that this is a model with the qualities needed to win customers from its rivals.
If the new Civic is an indication of things to come from Honda, there should be plenty to look forward to as its model range expands.