Honda Civic Review
The Honda Civic has a reputation for reliability, but with the high-performance Type R version now something of a cult hero among petrol-heads, Honda has spent the past few years giving its family car a sportier edge. The current generation comes with muscular haunches and a chiselled front end, as well as a wide rear end. And inside there are sporty red accents everywhere. Adding that extra sportiness to the already capable and practical Civic has really made it a contender in the family car market – albeit a slightly left-field one.
Select's rating score* - 3.7 / 5
At a Glance
Though the Civic’s perceived popularity with birthday-rich drivers might put some customers off, they’re missing out on a really good alternative to the common-or-garden Ford Focus and VW Golf. Majoring on practicality, safety and driving dynamics, this is one of those cars that ticks a lot of boxes for a lot of people.
Youngsters might prefer the sporty looks of the Sport and EX Sport Line models, but the wealth of standard equipment found on more mid-range SR and EX models makes those cars the versions of choice for us.
For many, the presence of the sporty-looking Sport and EX Sport Line models will be a really attractive proposition – particularly given the links to the bonkers Type R. But although the looks might draw you in, the on-board features seal the deal.
For us, though, the Civic doesn’t sell itself on the basis of the features themselves, but the sheer number of features available. Few cars come with so much kit in mid-range models, and the fact second-from-bottom SR trim comes with pretty much everything you need tells you all you need to know.
Performance & Drive
The five-door Civic effectively comes with a choice of two engines, both of which are petrol powered and offer a choice of gearboxes. As standard, both the 1.0-litre VTEC engine and its bigger, more powerful 1.5-litre sibling come with six-speed manual gearboxes, but customers can choose to opt for a continuously variable transmission, or CVT, which works much like an automatic gearbox.
Opting for the smaller of the two engines gets you 126hp and a 0-62mph time of around 11 seconds, which is sufficient, but no better than that. The engine feels quite peppy and eager, though, which does make up for some of the shortcomings in performance.
The larger 1.5-litre engine ups the power to 182hp, shortening the 0-62mph time for those who want a little more get-up-and-go. Get out your stopwatch and lead feet, and you’ll be looking at 62mph just over eight seconds after you set off.
Of course, if you really want to go fast there’s always the hooligan-spec Type R, with its huge rear wing, 320hp and enormous rear wing. And did we mention the massive rear wing? Actually, you can have the Type R without the wing, if you so wish, but that’s a bit like buying a Lamborghini and painting it black. It kind of misses the point.
Anyway, the Type R is a completely different kettle of fish and almost completely irrelevant to your average family hatch customer. So we’ll skip past that wonderful lump of madness and leave it for its own review.
Thankfully, though, some of the qualities that make the Type R so special have seeped into the standard Civic. Except the wing. Still, you get surprisingly sprightly handling for a car that has something of a reputation for attracting the more mature, conservative customer. The steering is far too light, but the response it elicits is instant, and even 1.0-litre Civics are quite good fun on a decent back road.
But that doesn’t mean this car is uncomfortable. Admittedly, some models come with a special sports suspension setting that makes no great difference to the handling but absolutely ruins an otherwise supple ride. Sometimes car journalists slam cars for driving modes that make no difference to the vehicle’s characteristics, but this particular button makes too much difference. Leave it well alone.
You should also leave the CVT ‘automatic’ well alone, too, even though the figures suggest it’s slightly quicker than the manual. That’s because that manual gearbox is a peach, with short, snappy shifts that make changing gear surprisingly satisfying.
There is, however, one catch with the Civic’s design. As with previous-generation cars, there’s a rear spoiler that bisects the rear window, leaving you with a tiny letterbox of uselessness at the bottom and a slightly larger letterbox of slightly more use higher up. Between the two there’s just a massive swathe of spoiler, causing a notable lack of rear visibility. Thankfully it’s better at the front, and high-end cars come with parking sensors and reversing cameras that make the issue less problematic.
Those seeking long-range fuel economy might be disappointed to hear Honda has binned off the diesel versions of the Civic. But fear not, because the petrol engines are hardly wasteful. Whether you opt for a 1.0-litre or a 1.5-litre, official figures show your Civic will be capable of 40-odd miles to the gallon, and that’s achievable on a long run. You might struggle to achieve such high figures in town, but that goes for most cars.
There’s little to choose between the engines and when it comes to economy, and even the gearboxes are closely matched, but the winner by a whisker is the basic SE model with its 1.0-litre engine and manual gearbox. According to the official economy test, that will get 47.9 miles from a single gallon of petrol.
For company car drivers, and for the eco- or cost-conscious private motorists among us, emissions are critical. With no hybrid or electric models in the range, the least polluting Civic is the 1.0-litre SE model that’s also the most fuel efficient. Pumping 134g of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere with every kilometre that passes, that car will attract company car tax of 30% in 2021/22. But even the thirstiest engines emit fewer than 155g/km before options, meaning the most a Civic will attract in Benefit-in-Kind (BiK) taxation is 34% – as long as you haven’t touched the options list.
That said, there’s a wealth of similarly sized cars on the market with diesel, hybrid and plug-in hybrid powertrains that are more economical, less polluting and less heavily taxed than the Civic. You can even get electric cars in this class that attract single-figure tax rates.
The Civic’s chunky, futuristic exterior design has been mirrored inside, with angular features and bold red dials, as well as an assortment of screens. Not only do you get a central touchscreen and a digital display in the instrument cluster, but the gauges have been restyled with colourful lights to show you just how much fuel is left or how warm the engine has become. It’s like driving a video game.
Fortunately, the seats are as comfortable as your average gamer’s office chair, with plenty of support – particularly in high-end cars with clever electric seats. Lowlier models’ manually adjusted pews miss out on some of the adjustment afforded by the fancier chairs.
But for all the comfort, there’s still a sense the Honda has been built to a price. Some of the plastics feel brittle and scratchy, and some of the seat upholstery feels a little low-rent, too. Don’t get us wrong – it’s all built to last – but it feels more PlayStation 2 than XBox Series X.
Here lies the greatest chink in the Civic’s armour. The touchscreen infotainment system found in the middle of the dashboard is by far the worst feature of an otherwise very competent car. The graphics are as blocky as a 1999 video game and the response times are irritatingly long, while some of the ‘buttons’ on the screen don’t quite do what you might expect of them.
That said, it works acceptably once you get used to it, and the Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration schemes allow you to effectively swap the clunky Honda system with the more fluid, more intuitive Apple/Google versions. These systems work well, and they are so well integrated with the car that the Android Auto/Apple CarPlay sat-nav directions will even show up on the driver’s instrument display. It sounds like a small thing, but so few cars do it and it makes life much easier.
Also helping to make life more pleasant are the wireless charging pad that can be specified beneath the climate controls, and the two USB ports, which allow you to plumb your phone into the system and take advantage of that Android Auto/CarPlay goodness. You can even plug devices in using an HDMI cable, if you so wish.
Practicality & Boot Space
Interior space is – on paper, at least – one of the Civic’s great strengths. The boot is massive, at 478 litres for cars with the 1.0-litre engine. For some reason, the 1.5 ‘only’ has 420 litres of space back there, but even that’s more than you’d find in a VW Golf or a Ford Focus. A lot more.
So the boot space is great, but there are a few issues in the cabin. Yes, there’s plenty of rear legroom and there’s more than enough space for those in the front. But taller rear passengers might find the slight lack of rear headroom a bit of a bind. It isn’t horrendous by any stretch, but other cars in this class are more adept at carrying tall passengers.
If you’re after a safe family hatchback, look no further. The Civic scored well in the Euro NCAP crash test, earning itself a five-star rating with a solid showing across the board. In fact, the Honda didn’t score below 75% in any of the four areas tested, and it managed 92% for adult occupant protection.
But part of the reason why the Civic scored so highly is its plethora of safety gadgets that are fitted as standard across the range. Even basic SE versions come with autonomous emergency braking that can slam on the anchors if it thinks you’re about to crash, as well as a system to help keep you in your lane and adaptive cruise control, which maintains a safe distance between you and the vehicle in front. Blind spot monitoring, which tells you when a vehicle is lurking in the blind spots over your shoulders, comes in with the more luxurious EX trim.
When choosing your Civic, you’re faced with a choice of five different trim levels. Which you choose will not only affect which goodies you get as standard, but it will also affect your engine choices, so be sure to check what you’re getting.
The range kicks off with the SE model, which is only available with the 1.0-litre engine and six-speed manual gearbox. You can’t even upgrade to an automatic without climbing the Civic tree. Nevertheless, you do get plenty of other stuff, including 16-inch alloy wheels and automatic LED headlights, as well as climate control, parking sensors at both the front and rear, and a five-inch touchscreen infotainment system in the dash.
All the essential boxes are ticked by the SE, then, but you really want the SR. That not only frees up the option of an automatic transmission, but also gets larger 17-inch alloy wheels, two-zone climate control and rain-sensing windscreen wipers. Better still, you get the larger seven-inch touchscreen with satellite navigation and a reversing camera. Yes, we spent the Technology section of this review panning that screen, but it comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which are the systems you need most.
For a bit more luxury, you can have the EX model, with its leather upholstery, electrically adjustable driving seat and keyless entry system. That car comes with heated seats in the front and rear, too, as well as a panoramic glass sunroof, wireless charging and a premium audio system.
And if you want some of the Type R’s outrageous sporting accessories, you can have the EX Sport Line, which comes with red stitching, black alloy wheels and red interior illumination. It has a sporty body kit, too, which comes as a disappointment to some onlookers who ask about your sporty Civic, only to find it’s available solely with a 1.0-litre engine.
Finally, you can have the Sport model, which has a little more performance by dint of its 1.5-litre engine. Power aside, though, it’s no more luxurious than a mid-range 1.0-litre SR model. It does, however, come with a more aggressive body kit, which includes some flashy exhaust pipe finishers poking out from under the rear bumper.
Alongside these trim levels, Honda will also offer some personalisation options in the form of three exterior colour packages. Named Bronze, Black and Red, they add flashes of their respective hues to the Civic’s exterior, along with some garish 18-inch alloy wheels.
Those can be combined with a fleet of paint jobs that’s dominated by shades of grey. You can get a sporty red and a rather nice electric blue, but those looking for something a bit more sophisticated, yet still colourful, will love the Obsidian Blue Pearl, which is a really rich, deep colour.
The Civic is aimed squarely at the family hatchback establishment, taking the fight to the likes of the Volkswagen Golf and Ford Focus. In many ways, the Focus is the more natural rival thanks to its sportier image and less premium cabin, but the Honda is a more practical proposition than the popular Ford.
Other options include the Seat Leon, which is essentially a Golf in a more angular frock, as well as the Skoda Scala and Fiat Tipo – both of which are more value-orientated choices. The Renault Megane is a more stylish rival, along with the Mazda3 – although the Mazda is also a more involving driver’s car. The Hyundai i30 and Kia Ceed are both worth a look, too, and if you want a more high-tech hybrid car, the Toyota Corolla should also be on your radar.
But hatchbacks such as this are no longer competing solely with each other – they have to challenge the flock of SUVs that also fight in this corner of the market. That means the Civic is up against the rather impressive Volkswagen T-Roc and Ford Puma, as well as the Mazda CX-30. There’s a new Nissan Qashqai on the way, too, and there are other options on the table, too, including the Kia XCeed and Niro.
Verdict & Next Steps
The Civic’s looks might not be to everyone’s taste, but there’s no doubting its capability. It might not feel particularly premium, but there’s a sense of solidity that makes it a dependable set of family wheels. Add in space, a sporty image and handling to suit, and you’ve got a great alternative to the Volkswagen Golf and Ford Focus.
Where to next?
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*Score based on Select’s unique meta score analysis, taking into account the UK’s top five leading independent car website reviews of the Honda Civic
**Correct as of 14/04/2021. Based on 9 months initial payment, 5,000 miles over a 48 month lease. Initial payment equivalent to 9 monthly payments or £1,781.24 Ts and Cs apply. Credit is subject to status.