I watched a Battle of Britain documentary the other day. Ewan McGregor and his brother, Colin, presented it, and the difference between them struck a chord. One brother is a successful actor, travelling the world, attending glittering parties and enjoying fame, fortune and critical acclaim. The other learned to fly as a cadet and went on to be a fighter pilot in the RAF, serving in the Gulf. Two career paths that are diametrically opposed and provided me with a useful metaphor for this review.
Hot on the heels of the recently reviewed Civic Type R is another Honda Civic – No, there isn’t an “arrangement” that’s just the way it worked out. This time it’s the Civic Tourer 1.6 I-DTEC under scrutiny and in its’ own way it’s every bit as good as its’ sibling. It shares the same DNA but the Tourer has eschewed the glamorous actor lifestyle of the Type R and taken on the role of the dependable pilot. Alright, the analogy probably worked better in my head but you get the point. The Tourer is a solid, reliable car that does exactly what it says on the tin – if it came in a tin.
Taking a regular hatchback and turning it into an estate car is one of the best moves the car industry ever made. It opened up a market for the people who wanted the practicality of an estate but on a slightly smaller scale. The Civic Tourer is not a big car in general terms but the amount of room inside is impressive. The cabin feels spacious with plenty of head and legroom front and rear. It’s roomy, comfortable and can easily seat 4 adults without any unnecessary touching of knees or shoulders. The boot is a 624 litre black hole that expands to 1668 litres with the seats folded down, an action that literally requires just one finger. In other words it’s big enough to swallow pretty much anything you care to feed it with plenty of room left over for a slice of cheesecake and a wafer thin mint. Space is certainly not at a premium here, there’s acres of the stuff.
The interior feels modern and contemporary with the curved digital display sitting above the deep set dials, 7″ touchscreen and chrome pedals. All the buttons you are likely to press are laid out neatly within reach. The touchscreen could be a little more intuitive but once you’ve figured out where everything is it’s a doddle. The SatNav is particularly good – so many systems are a just too longwinded to program but this one is a joy to use. Add this to the leather upholstery, keyless entry, rear view camera, LED headlights and many other features and you have a fantastically equipped car. My favourite addition is the automatic headlamps that measure light levels and switch between full and dipped beam when they sense approaching traffic – it’s one less thing to think about and it makes night driving just a little bit easier. I probably should point out that the model I tested was the top of the range EX-Plus which does come with the kitchen sink as standard but even the base model S is well equipped.
Like the interior, the outside has been revamped to give it a more contemporary feel and the Civic now looks a lot more stylish than its’ predecessor. The bland curves of the old Civic have been smoothed out into a much sleeker and more purposeful shape. The front has been enhanced with a new bumper and headlamps with integrated daytime running lights. The side skirts accentuate the lines down the side and the sloping roof gives the Civic quite a sporting look – it looks especially good in Pearlescent White (£525 option) with tinted privacy glass. I’m not entirely convinced by the way the rear lights bulge out from the corners but continuing the line under the tailgate window is a nice touch. I suspect it’s one of those design features that will grow on me over time but it’s a good looking car nonetheless.
As far as the actual driving is concerned the Civic delivers as you would expect. It’s got a good solid feel with a nice chunk of get up and go. The 1.6 litre diesel only delivers 118bhp but the torque is a very useful 300Nm so there’s plenty of pull under the bonnet which makes a regular overtake a simple task. Given the space in the Civic I have no doubts it will pull a full load quite happily. What’s more important is that combined mileage is a pocket-pleasing 72mpg and CO2 emissions are 103g/km, in other words running costs will be excellent. There’s also an adaptive damper system that comes as standard on the SR and EX-Plus. You can switch between 3 suspension settings depending on how you are driving and it really does make a difference to the way the Civic handles. Personally, I found the comfort mode a bit soft and squishy on normal roads but on a long motorway drive I suspect it would be exquisite. The normal and sport modes were all I needed during the test.
Overall the Honda Civic is a really good car, I can’t think of anything that would put someone off buying one…..until you look at the price. Yes, I know cars are the second biggest investment we make but I can’t help but think that the £27,265 list price for my test car is a little bit steep. Ok, it was the top of the range and it did have £1100 of extras but that’s an awful lot of money for what is still a medium size car. You can pick up a base model S with either the 1.6 diesel or 1.8 petrol for under £20,000 which is still a well equipped car, the SE-Plus is better equipped and is listed around the £21,000 mark. As much as I enjoyed driving the top dog I wonder how many people are going to want to hand over an extra £6,000 for a few extra toys when the rest of the car is just as good in the cheaper specifications?