30 January 2012

First Drive: new Honda Civic

The new Honda Civic pictured with the previous and first generations behind it.

With what is claimed as the highest level of standard specification in its class, Honda in Ireland are directly targeting the mainstream players in the compact family car arena with their new generation Civic, writes Brian Byrne.

And on a first run in the car on Irish roads, it looks like they have a fairly potent weapon in their arsenal to do just this.

It's the ninth generation of the Civic, a car that accounts for half of all Honda sales in Ireland at the moment. In style terms it has evolved from the very high-tech look of the outgoing car to something a little smoother, but still highly distinctive.

Interior upshifts in quality—an element where Honda was always at the high levels anyhow—will also help the distributor to extend market share, it hopes to around 750 units this year despite the delayed arrival of the car.

In powertrains there has been a shift too, in efficiency and improved refinement. The engines are 1.4 and 1.8 petrol, both Band B, and a Band A 150hp 2.2 diesel which is being competitively priced against the 1.6 diesels of its competitors from VW, Ford and others. That will be maintained until a new 1.6 diesel with 120hp is made available this time next year.

We're the first country in Europe to get the new Civic. After a rough year for Honda production because of the devastating effects of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan and the subsequent floods in Thailand, a source of key components for the company's cars.

There's a solid base of loyalty to the brand and the model on which the Irish Honda network can build. In almost 40 years of selling Civics, more than 42,000 copies of the model in its various generations have been sold.

Although the Irish market has been swung strongly to diesel under the current road tax systems, with four in five cars using diesel powertrains, Honda in Ireland reckon they'll sell the respective powertrains on a fifty-fifty split. Not least because the petrol offerings are so efficient anyhow.

A few relatively short drives in and around the drumlin county of Cavan this weekend showed me a car that is arguably the best built in its segment, certainly it feels that way. The improved interiors also challenge seriously the so-called 'prestige' brands. Honda has always considered premium to equate with quality and engineering rather than bling and swank.

In both versions experienced, the new Civic handled very well indeed—Cavan is a good test area for such things. The diesel is certainly the punchier of the two, but I was quite happy with the performance of the 1.4 too.

It was just a taster, and I'll be lining up opportunities soon to give the car a more extensive trial. I don't expect to be anything except further impressed.

Prices from €21,395 in petrol and €25,445 in diesel.