This comparison has been over five years in the making. Ever since the current-gen Skoda Octavia whooshed onto the scene at the tail end of 2013, its position as the petrolhead’s choice has remained unchallenged. The humdrum Toyota Corolla was never intended to get your pulse racing and though a fine drive, the Hyundai Elantra has also never cut it as a driver’s car. If there’s one car that could have taken on the might of the Octavia, it was the Honda Civic. But it never came.
The wait for the Civic has been long but after a near seven-year hiatus and a skipped generation, the legendary nameplate is back in India and has already racked-up 2,000 bookings since launch. Things just got a lot more interesting.
In the red corner
We’ll be driving up to Lonavala today. The route comprises a slow crawl through Mumbai traffic, a quick run through Navi Mumbai, a steady cruise on the Expressway and a final blast up some fantastic twisty roads towards Aamby Valley – the cars are guaranteed a full workout. But before even a wheel has been turned, a crowd favourite emerges. There’s a steady stream of people within the office compound enquiring about the Civic. And it’s not got to do entirely with its newness and novelty value. The latest Civic is a sexy, sexy car (particularly in this shade of Radiant Red) and has proper magnetic appeal; much like the last version to be sold in India. The low-slung shape is classic Civic but what lifts the design to a whole different plane is the fastback-like tail that’s embellished with slick C-shaped tail-lights. It’s all fantastically executed and even I find myself admiring the Civic’s shape through the windshield of the Octavia. For now, it’s time to get inside and get going.
You sit low in a Civic, the driving position is spot-on and it all makes you feel at one with the car.
Getting into a Civic is not that straightforward, however. You have to lower yourself considerably and free fall the last few centimetres on to the seat; a process that owners of the first Civic will be all too familiar with. But as low as you sit in the Civic, the driving position is spot-on. The driver’s seat is beautifully cushioned, the steering, pedals and gear lever are perfectly positioned and these things mean you immediately feel at one with the car. And if you aren’t a boy racer already, the cabin will surely put you in that frame of mind. The layered dash looks sporty and I like the way it seemingly envelops the driver, a feeling helped, in part by the high-set console between the front seats. The three-part dials with a digital display for the speedo and tacho at the centre are cool too.
Now on the road, the Civic comes across as rather nice to drive. The suspension rounds off bumps fairly well and, thankfully, the old Civic’s inadequate, almost sportscar-like ground clearance is not an issue on the new car. The 141hp, 1.8-litre i-VTEC engine also comes across as ready with its power; and low-speed responses are particularly good. In the hustle and bustle of Mumbai, there isn’t much to complain about the CVT gearbox either. It’s doing its bit to keep progress smooth but I do experience an uncharacteristic jerk in the on-off throttle transition at times. As the roads open up, the Civic continues to impress. It feels composed at high speeds, with the suspension smoothening out imperfections well, and even the steering has a nice weight to it. However, there’s a bit more road noise than I’d have liked.
And then things go south. At the very first stretch of open expressway, I floor the accelerator only to have the Civic erupt into a sound of strained resistance. Of course, you know what’s to blame. The CVT gearbox’s rubberband effect rears its ugly head at full throttle, and mashing down gives you more drama than motion. Sure, the build of speed isn’t bad but you just feel like the gearbox sucks out a crucial bit of connect with the car. Paddleshifters do help shuffle through the CVT’s seven steps and bring back some involvement, but more often than not, you’ll be a spectator to the engine and gearbox’s activities. And this is something that plays spoilsport even when we turn off to Lonavala, where the corners come thick and fast. But all’s not lost, for the Civic is a fine-handling car. The steering is quick, turn-in is sharp and, additionally, the Civic also remains very fluid from one corner to the next. It’s great fun to string together a series of corners; the low centre of gravity plays a big role in the way the Civic drives the way it does. If only for that gearbox.
|Honda Civic||Skoda Octavia|
|Tyre size||215/50 R17||205/55 R16|
In the grey corner
The last few times a Skoda Octavia has featured in the magazine, it’s worn larger 17-inch rims, a spoiler and has also flaunted ‘RS’ badges. With us today is the ‘standard’ Octavia, and I don’t know if this has anything to do with the Civic being around, but it’s looking a bit staid. It’s a handsome car, no doubt, but it just doesn’t have the flash value of its Japanese rival. On the inside, too, while the dashboard is clean-cut and well-thought-out, it’s all a bit too business-like. Poke around, however, and you’ll note a greater concentration of soft-touch materials in the Octy, tighter shutlines and even keener attention to detail – even the door pockets are felt-lined! And it won’t take you long to conclude the Octy is also the one with the better infotainment system. The Skoda’s 8.0-inch touchscreen unit might be a fingerprint magnet but it is larger, slicker and nicer than the Civic’s 7.0-inch touchscreen system. Our top-spec L&K trim test car also features Audi-like Virtual Cockpit digital instruments. The digital display is superb (pun not intended), but the sight of an analogue tacho needle swivelling forcefully through the gauge is special in its own right.
Audi-like digital dials new on top-spec Octavia L&K trim.
And swivel forcefully, the tacho needle will. Boost is the secret of the Octy’s energy. The Skoda’s 1.8-litre engine uses direct injection and turbocharging to push out 180hp and 250Nm (versus the Civic’s 174Nm) of torque and all that power is channelled through a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission. Within the first kilometre alone of driving, I’m sold on the Octy; that espresso-like kick of power in the mid-range and lusty pull to the 6,000rpm-plus top end gets my vote. And then there’s the dual-clutch gearbox. It’s ever-ready with a shift and plays its supporting role to the T in keeping the engine in the powerband when you’re in the mood to play. It’s also a joy to work your way up and down the gears via the paddles or shift lever; the gearbox is just so in tune with what you want.
With the power and torque numbers on its side, the Octavia was sure to be the faster car. But even we were taken aback by its margin of victory. Where the Civic takes 11.48sec in the 0-100kph dash, the Octavia takes all of 8.01sec. It’s virtually a Skoda walkover in in-gear acceleration too, with the Octy’s 20-80kph and 40-100kph time of 4.95sec and 5.53sec trouncing the Civic’s respective 6.68sec and 9.04sec times. Make no mistake, the Civic’s engine is good. It’s just that the Skoda’s engine is fantastic. Not merely fantastic for this class of car or displacement – it’s a fantastic engine. Period.
Octy drivers might admire the Civic’s design but will be smug in the knowledge they are in the faster car.
But for all its power, the Octavia can’t quite match up with the Civic in the area of handling. For one, you sit considerably higher up in the Skoda, and in the bends, the overall sensation is of driving around a big car. It is neutral-handling and there’s good grip, but it doesn’t feel agile like the Civic does. And even though the Octy steering is light and precise, it has that trademark VW Group car inertness to it. All said, the gap to the Civic in the area of dynamics isn’t large enough to swing the petrolhead’s vote.
Back on the straight and not-so-narrow of the Mumbai-Pune Expressway, the Octy feels reassuringly stable but there is that smidgen bit more vertical movement than what I experienced in the Civic earlier on. A quick driver swap also confirms the Octy is the quieter of the two cars. In town, it’s the engine’s smoothness that stands out but, at times, you can tell the 1.8-litre unit is happiest when you build up a few revs.
A word on fuel economy. In our standard city and highway fuel runs, the Octy had the edge with figures of 8.5kpl and 14.1kpl to the Civic’s 7.8kpl and 11.8kpl, respectively. However, like other turbo-petrol engines, the Octy unit’s economy is a function of driving style. Frequent the redline often and expect to see efficiency nosedive.
|Engine and Performance |
|Honda Civic 1.8 I-VTEC ZX ||Skoda Octavia 1.8 TSI AT L&K|
|Engine||4 cyl, 1799cc, petrol||4 cyl, 1798cc, turbo-petrol|
|Power||141hp at 6500rpm||180hp at 5100-6200rpm|
|Torque||174Nm at 4300rpm||250Nm at 1250-5000rpm|
|Gearbox||7-step CVT||7-speed dual-clutch|
|20-80kph (in kickdown)||6.68s||4.95s|
|40-100 (in kickdown)||9.04s||5.53s|
The other things
That’s that for the driving comparison. How does the duo compare in other areas? Let’s talk practicality. Your passengers (or you) will be well taken care of on the back seat of either of these two cars but there are differences. Thanks to the seats being higher set, the Octy is the easier car to get into and out of. There’s a bit more headroom too and the larger windows also make the cabin feel airier. The Civic matches the Octy on rear legroom and goes one up with its softer cushioned and more supportive seats. Those familiar with the old Civic will note the presence of a central hump on the new car’s floor and the absence of audio controls in the unusually low-set rear armrest. What’s even more disappointing is that Honda has not provided any charging solution at the back (the Octy gets two rear USB ports) and even the USB ports up front that sit behind the centre console are hidden from view and are inconvenient to access.
The Skoda is not much roomier but you get a greater sense of space at the back.
Both cars abound in in-car storage spaces, although the Civic’s use of an electronic parking brake has freed up space for a larger box between the seats. It’s pretty one-sided when talking boot space, however. The Civic’s 430-litre boot, accessed via a conventional sedan boot opening, is useable but simply cannot match the 590 litres of space the Octavia’s rear hatch opens to reveal.
It’s a drop down to the Civic’s rear seat but otherwise comfort is good.
|Features and Equipment |
|Honda Civic 1.8 I-VTEC ZX ||Skoda Octavia 1.8 TSI AT L&K|
|Camera||Left and Rear||Rear|
|Park Sensor||Rear||Front and Rear|
|Electronic parking brake||Available||NA|
|Android Auto/Apple CarPlay||Available/Available||Available/Available|
|Powered/memory driver’s seat||Available/ NA||Available/Available|
|Powered passenger seat||NA||Available|
Civic sense or Octav-yeah?
At Rs 20.99 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi), the petrol Civic ZX is not cheap but it’s still the car with the lower price tag. The fully loaded Octavia 1.8 TSI L&K featured is quite a stretch at Rs 23.59 lakh. However, if you are willing to forego features such as auto parking, a sunroof, digital dials and a powered passenger seat, you could have the more sensibly priced Octavia Style that comes in at Rs 20.49 lakh. Sure, the Civic ZX gets you a sunroof, digital dials, the cool Lane Watch camera and snazzier wheels for Rs 50,000 more, but all things considered, it’s a compromise we’d be happy to make.
Lane Watch camera system proves surprisingly handy.
And that’s because while the Civic has standout looks and the sportier cabin, it can’t translate the visual appeal into enough driver appeal. The Octavia is quite the opposite. It’s a sprinter in a last season business suit. The engine and gearbox are just next level, and, honestly, there’s little else to fault the Octy as a product. If anything, it’s Skoda’s poor reputation for aftersales that makes us hesitate in recommending it more readily. Thankfully, strides have been made in that area too.
Would things have turned out differently had the Civic had a nicer gearbox or the international model’s 173hp, 1.5-litre turbo VTEC engine? Perhaps. But as things stand, Honda might make the more popular executive sedan but Skoda sure makes the more exciting one.
|Price and Verdict|
|Honda Civic 1.8 I-VTEC ZX ||Skoda Octavia 1.8 TSI AT L&K|
|Price (ex-showroom, Delhi)||20.99 lakh ||23.59 lakh|
|Verdict||Stylish and comfy but not as exciting to drive.||Even so many years on, it remains the driver’s pick.|
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