Here’s the all-new Honda Civic hatch. Really all-new. Fairly striking, eh? Well you’ve got a while to get used to it. Petrol versions don’t go on sale until next spring, and the diesel is nearly the end of 2017. Yup, Honda is once again indulging its habit of tantalising us with vapourware.
The car’s project leader Mitsuru Kariya tells Top Gear they need time to get it right because us European drivers are the most demanding in the world. The Americans, you see, get the five-door very soon. He says that version is a bit inferior to ours in its chassis. And the US has had a very similar-looking four-door for many months now – another notch down, he admits.
Kariya was project leader for the last generation Civic too. And, quite unprompted, he says what we could easily have told him. It had fallen behind the game. Rapidly improving Korean opposition, and new rivals from the German premium three, have caught it in a pincer movement.
Well the new car certainly speaks of commitment from Honda. At the peak of its development cycle, Kariya’s team were spending one-third of all Honda’s R&D spending. And this is a company that was doing at the same time the NSX, any number of motorbikes and an F1 power unit. Oh and a super-advanced turbofan engine for the new Honda bizjet. Not to mention the critical Ridgeline pickup for America, any number of items of power equipment and little Asimo.
The new Civic is, for the first time in generations, a global car. Except for tuning and some equipment, it’s the same back to the rear wheels as the American and Asian saloon. Different versions (the US also gets a coupe) will be made in different plants around the world. The Swindon plant has had a £200m investment to do its part. With R&D plus the factory investment, Honda is spending around £2bn on getting it to the market.
Better be good then.
Style first. Beaky of nose and fast of tail, it has a racy silhouette that should carry the looks of the next Type-R a treat. The side creases emphasise the broadened track. At the back the whole confection is jewelled by bracket-shaped tail lights and that characteristic split tail glass. The one in these pictures wears the optional sports body kit, by the way.
Compared with rivals and indeed the previous Civic, it’s lower than a snake’s belly. Length is just shy of 4.5m, which is about 25cm more than a Golf.
It’s an all-new platform, claimed to be far more rigid thanks to better steel and new joints. F’rinstance we walked round the factory and saw robots gluing in the windscreen. That bond is so strong they say you could attach suckers to the glass and lift the entire car airborne.
It has two brand-new engines, a 1.0 turbo three-cylinder of 129bhp and a handy 147lb ft of torque, and a four-cylinder turbo of 1.5-litres and a healthy-sounding 182bhp.
The diesel, when it does eventually arrive, is a modified version of the current 1.6, making 120bhp, with an optional 9-speed auto. All three engines have a manual six-speed as standard, while the auto option in the petrols is a CVT with seven virtual ratio steps.
Under the floor resides new suspension. It’s newly multi-link behind. Up front the strut system gets fancy hydraulic bushes. Adaptive damping is an option, which gives you a sense of the new level of technical ambition.
Also new is a far more pleasing and better-connected navi system. The crunky old graphics are replaced with a smoother look, and Carplay/Auto will mirror your iOS or Android device.
There’s a mass of safety and assistance tech. Every single model gets this list. Deep breath: auto-brake to mitigate imminent rear-enders, lane keeping assist, traffic sign recognition, blind-spot assistance, a reversing camera, and adaptive cruise control – which is said to be able to predict cars cars cutting into your lane and react more smoothly.
The whole cabin and dash have taken a leap up in quality, even on the prototype I grubbed around in. The ‘split-level’ instruments are gone, replaced by a new TFT system. The dash looks shallower and the bonnet is lower, to the benefit of your view out.
The driving position is great, far more sporty than most hatches. You sit a lot lower, in a way that reminds Top Gear of the old three-door Civics up to the sixth generation – and this is now the 10th. The fuel tank is no longer under the front seats, so the ‘magic’ folding rear seat has gone. Honda says there’s still lots of room in the back seat, but in truth it’s really only for two, because the curved bench and tapered roof line push the outer passengers towards the middle.
So it might not be as self-consciously practical a car as the old one, but it really does seem a heap more desirable. Prices? They won’t say yet, but claim the increase will be small. Given the extra equipment, it should wear that fairly easily.
So factory workers of Swindon will be kept busy. They’ll be building the hatchback version wherever in the world it’s sold, including for the first time the US. Right now they’re ramping up this gen-10 car for export. But the same line still makes the entirely different gen-9 hatches for Europe, and will do for some months. There’s also the Type-R and Tourer, which have a couple of years left.
I stood at the line-side as one or other of these cars rolled by every 69 seconds, each getting the right bits bolted in with calm efficiency. I got confused just watching.