I loved the old Honda Civic. Back in its prime, a combination of wildly futuristic looks, punchy performance, rock-solid reliability, sharp handling and a surprising amount of comfort and luxury won it not only a strong fan following, but also Autocar India’s Car of the Year trophy in 2007.
It was sad to learn the car was being discontinued, but there was a glimmer of hope when we learnt it would be making a comeback in 2019. And it came back strong, with a striking new set of clothes and diesel engine. It was, however, the petrol version that joined our long-term fleet; you would have read Sergius’ first report of it in the November 2019 issue. While he pressed it into duty for the urban grind, I decided to take it for a short drive into the countryside on New Year’s Eve.
GOT THE LOOK: Few mainstream cars can turn heads like this one.
Three passengers and their luggage were loaded into the car, and though they were sceptical before they got in, once snugly inside, they admitted they were pleasantly surprised. It’s far more spacious and comfortable than it looks, apart from having to duck under the sloping roof to get in and out.
The 200km round-trip began with the agonising task of driving out of Mumbai city – in this case, onto the Ahmedabad highway, NH48. The crawl through the toll gates, weaving in between trucks and buses was infuriating, but I was happy with the Civic’s quick and sharp steering. For the most part, I was happy to be driving an automatic car too; a clutch pedal would only have added another layer of toil to the slow drive. However, the moment I tried to squeeze the car into a traffic gap, I’d feel a hiccup from the gearbox before it sprung into action – and if you know anything about Mumbai traffic, you also know that this could mean the difference between a clean slate and a scratched fender.
GEAR FACTOR: CVT auto not well suited to highway use.
If anything, though, the CVT plays an even bigger spoilsport out on the open road. If you want to increase your pace, kicking down on the accelerator will result in a loud bray from under the bonnet and very little acceleration. You’re forced to switch to ‘Sport’ or use the paddles; but even then, the experience is far from seamless. This also takes its toll on fuel economy, and despite my best efforts, I couldn’t get the on-board fuel computer to show me anything higher than 10kpl. The sad bit – as we know from the last Civic – is that this 1.8-litre i-VTEC engine (bless its old-school, naturally aspirated heart) is a joy to rev out on a highway. It’s just hamstrung by a poor gearbox; it deserves better. What I did love on the highway was the Civic’s rock-solid stability at speed, marred only by quite a bit of road noise.
CLEAN & CLEAR: Has more ground clearance than you might think.
What surprised my compatriots and myself alike, however, was that the Honda never once bottomed out. We’re all familiar with the old Civic’s reputation, and though this one looks low, it actually has a good ground clearance, and its firmer suspension keeps it from grounding on broken roads and big speed breakers, of which we encountered ample on our journey.
One night of revelry later, as we rolled back into Mumbai and into a brand-new decade, it would suffice to say the pace was far slower, and I’d learnt to drive around the CVT’s idiosyncrasies. The diesel is the one you want if you do a lot of highway driving, and this petrol-auto is definitely better suited to the city. The draw of the Civic lies more in its looks and the (surprising) space and comfort it offers. Now, if only they’d give it the petrol powertrain that it deserves.
2019 Honda Civic long term review, first report