With the Accord no longer sold in the UK, the saloon version of the Civic brings normal back to Honda’s line-up. By Colin Overland
THE CIVIC HAS been many things over the years, but the best ones have all been hatchbacks and the worst ones saloons.
The last saloon that made its way to Britain was a particularly grim hybrid that set back the cause of electrification by several years, and made innocent bystanders wince at its ugliness. Some still can’t sleep.
This time around Honda has done the safe thing, which is also the smart thing, and could well prove to be the successful thing: the new four-door version (they’re not even calling it a saloon) is as much like the current hatchback as you could possibly get. Which is to say that both of them are coupe-shaped and low, yet wonderfully roomy inside, with loads of luggage space.
The boot is accessed via a conventional lid, rather than the five-door’s cyclefriendly hatch opening, and you get a regular parcel shelf rather than the hatchback’s side-sliding roll-up soft shelf. The capacity is a mighty 519 litres – a full 100 litres bigger than the boot in the nearest rival, the Mazda 3 Fastback, and 101 bigger than the Civic hatchback.
The rear seatbacks still fold forwards to expand the space, but it doesn’t become such a neatly unified and easily accessed area as in the hatchback.
Honda is clearly aiming the saloon at older, more traditionally minded drivers. So the hatchback’s aggressive, nearpsychotic angles and slashes get toned down, there’s a bit more chrome, no more central exhaust, smaller fake vents, and the engine range favours efficiency over larks. Your choice is turbocharged 1.0-litre petrol three-cylinder or 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel. There’s no sign of the lovely 1.5 turbo petrol four we enjoyed so much in our grey long-termtest hatchback, and no hint of a Type R-style 300bhp-plus 2.0-litre turbo.
The petrol comes with a six-speed manual or a seven-step CVT (we haven’t driven either of those), while the diesel comes with a six-speed manual or a ninespeed automatic. That’s the first time any Civic has ever had the combination of diesel and automatic, which could be a big attraction for retired headmasters everywhere, especially if they haven’t spotted anything in the newspaper about diesels maybe not being such a good idea after all. It’s smoothly competent rather than stump-pullingly grunty.
And yet, for all this subtle positioning of the saloon 12° to the right of the hatch, the way they drive is actually very similar. Especially with the involvement encouraged by the sweet-shifting manual ’box, it’s an agreeable kind of almost-fun: precise steering, decent body control, fuss-free brakes. It’s refined but not detached, roomy but still easy to squeeze through tight spaces.
There are three spec levels, starting with a high degree of standard safety kit and adding extra labour-saving devices as you pay more to graduate from SR (which starts at £19,395 for a manual petrol) via SR to EX (which can reach £27,120 for the diesel auto). As with the hatchback, there’s lots of infotainment but it’s often fiddly to operate.
Not as classy as the Audi A3 saloon. A bit bigger and a bit better than the Mazda. And several months ahead of its only other true competitor, next year’s Mercedes-Benz A-Class Saloon. But reassuringly normal.
M A R K I N G
Roomy cabin, grown-up package
H A T E
Slender engine choice, fiddly infotainment
V E R D I C T
Like the hatch but with its weirder edges smoothed of
★ ★ ★ ★ ★