Matt Hubbard takes a Honda Civic i-DTEC SR for an intense test drive
|Honda Civic SR 1.6 i-DTEC|
I called my friend, Michelle. "I'm taking the Civic for a test drive, want to come?"
"Sure," she said, "Where?"
"I'm heading over towards Salisbury Plain. We'll be a couple of hours. Pick you up in 5 minutes."
The Civic I was driving was fitted with the new 1.6 i-DTEC engine which returns an official 78.5mpg and produces 118bhp and 221b ft of torque. It had a manual gearbox. The trim level was SR (second from top of the range) which featured heated, leather seats, satnav, bluetooth, DAB, a rear view camera and a few other niceties. Oh, and a panoramic roof - I loved the panoramic roof.
The Civic is not a conventionally beautiful or handsome car. It has interesting looks that would be a success if it weren't for the rear lights which poke out of the bodywork like googly eyes. It's also not thought of as a fun car, more as a sensible runabout.
The i-DTEC engine is one of the new breed of diesels and has been tested to death for its frugality, and it has returned some astonishingly good results - to whit it doesn't drink much DERV.
Knowing that I thought it would be a good idea to test the Civic in a different way, to give it a real workout on some proper driving roads, and to see how it fared as a warm hatchback.
I picked Michelle up. She liked the interior, the leather seats and the layout of the dash. In particular she liked the heated seats because the heater hadn't had a chance to warm up and it was bloody freezing.
Planet Rock was playing on the digital radio and sounded pretty good through the speakers - clear and with a good spread of sound.
I had a vague idea that we should head for Salisbury Plain. I know some of its best roads like the back of my hand and on a Saturday afternoon they'd be guaranteed to be quiet.
First we stopped in Tadley, Hampshire for a big bag of sweets then headed towards Kingsclere. The road to Kingsclere weaves between, and follows the lines of, the fields either side of it. With high hedges and short straights there's no chance of overtaking and and if you come up behind a slow moving car you're stuck there for a few miles.
It was only towards the end of that leg we ran into a Discovery doing 40mph in the 60mph limit. The Civic had so far shown itself to be lively with a decent amount of pull in the engine. 0-60 takes 10.5 seconds but once the turbo has kicked in the wave of torque makes it feel faster.
Kingsclere to Whitchurch is a different kettle of fish altogether. Straighter roads with either long or sharp curves, and it's open countryside so you can see what's the other side of the bend. It also features lots of elevation changes, some of which are midway round corners.
This is the road I normally bring performance machinery or my motorbike for a tootle down as it really tests the engine and chassis.
We waited at a field entrance for a few minutes to allow the Discovery, which was still in front of us, to get well ahead - I knew we couldn't overtake on the first two miles, as the road weaves up, over and down a hill (with Watershed Down to the right).
The engine pulled willingly up the hill - really quite well. It is less of a sprint from a standstill than an accelerate strongly in gear kind of engine.
|Honda Civic SR 1.6 i-DTEC|
The chassis showed its colours too. Bumps were damped more than adequately yet it held its line through long sweeping corners - evidence that Honda's engineers have been in the game long enough to pull off the magic trick of making a car that can cover both bases of comfort and performance.
Through the short radius corners which involve brutal braking, turn in, then immediate acceleration I could feel the front end pushing wide. It never felt more than safe.
Meanwhile, Michelle, in the passenger seat, was quite happy. She's a good driver and not a nervous passenger but in a hardcore sports car we would both have been thrown around yet she said the ride was smooth and my attempts at chucking the car around didn't cause her to complain.
There's one particular part of the route that really tests a car's suspension. At the bottom of a long, straight, downhill section the road transfers abruptly from sloping to flat. Cars with suspension that is too soft bottom out with a horrible clonk, whilst cars with too stiff suspension get caught out and smash the forces through the cabin. The Civic took it in its stride with ease - impressive.
On through the lovely village of Whitchurch then a short section of A34 and 20 miles on the A303 to the Amesbury roundabout.
I put the cruise control on at 70mph whilst Michelle tried to connect her iPhone 6 with the Civic's Bluetooth. By god it took some finding. In and out of menus, back and forth between screens. Press this button, enter this submenu, press the 'back' button then try something else.
The Civic's satnav and info/sound system looks and feels like an aftermarket one. It is not easy to use and the graphics are pretty poor compared with the best the market has to offer.
It took 15 minutes of faffing around with it to eventually find out how to connect her phone with the Bluetooth, and then we were told it couldn't connect whilst on the move. Marvellous.
On a happier note the Civic has a decent driving position and comfortable seats. Road noise and vibration is damped well enough and it's a good distance cruiser. The dash layout looks fantastic and places the rev counter right in front of the driver (very Honda) and the digital speed readout atop the dash.
This poses a problem. I set the steering wheel so I could see the revs under it and the speed above it but on the dual carriageway I settled in the seat somewhat, which made the bottom half of the speedo invisible behind the steering wheel's rim. I either had to sit back upright or move the wheel.
We got to the Amesbury roundabout and headed right for the village of Netheravon which leads on to Salisbury Plain proper.
A few miles later and we were on the best and least well known roads in the south. Netheravon to Hungerford is a rush through open pasture with a wide variety of corners, lots of elevation changes, tank crossings, cows, plenty of roadside parking, visibility for miles and hardly any traffic.
Even if you do come up behind someone bimbling along as if the world will end when they get to their destination you'll be able to overtake them within a mile or so.
It was here that the little Honda showed its class. Staying comfortable, refined and smooth I wrung the neck of it. Michelle enjoyed the ride rather than complained about being thrown about. As we flew through corners and hammered down straights we chatted away as if we were cruising down a motorway at 70mph such is the confidence we both had in the Honda's ability to keep us pointing in the right direction.
The car's rear end stays stuck to the road whilst the front handles everything you throw at it, and loses grip progressively if you try to push it too much.
It's nimbleness, weight and power mean you can chuck it around and explore its limits quite safely and have a barrel of laughs doing so.
Hit a rough patch of road mid-corner and the agile chassis deals with it without having a tantrum.
We stopped to take some photos and Michelle finally connected her phone to the sound system so she could blast out some 80s hits rather than the 70s rock that had previously been playing.
After the rush of Salisbury Plain we found the A4 at Hungerford and headed back to West Berkshire.
It was here the i-DTEC's torque showed its hand. 118bhp isn't much but 221b ft is fine in a car that weighs 1,400kg, particularly when the 6-speed gearbox it's attached to is fluid and glitch free.
Most of the traffic was moving at 50mph so I overtook when I could. At one point we were behind three cars and as we overtook them saw that the middle one was a Mica Blue Subaru Impreza with gold wheels.
The Scoobie driver was miffed at being overtaken by a humdrum hatchback. Within a couple of miles he was right up our chuff. I would have let him vent his frustration and pass us but by then we were in Newbury.
We turned left and headed up to the M4 where we finished the trip with a one junction cruise back to home.
It had taken 2 hours to cover 99.4 miles and eat one big bag of sweets. We'd both enjoyed the ride and were both impressed by the Honda Civic, but also agreed the infotainment system was rubbish.
Despite pushing the engine for most of the time it returned an average 46.2mpg. This might be well under the claimed 78.5mpg but was nonetheless damned impressive.
The Honda Civic in this trim is not known as, or marketed as, a performance car but if you want to test its limits you'll have fun doing so, and it will reward you.
Price - £24,360
Engine - 4-cylinder, 1.6, turbodiesel
Transmission - 6-speed manual
0-62mph - 10.5 seconds
Top Speed - 129mph
Power - 118bhp
Torque - 221lb ft
Economy - 78.5mpg
CO2 - 94g/km
Kerb Weight - 1,428kg
|Once we got back the Civic was in desperate need of a jet wash|
|Looks a bit better afterwards|
By Matt Hubbard