- Three petrol engines and one diesel
- 1.0-litre three cylinder boasts 129hp
- But the 1.5 punches out an impressive 182hp
With two power units to choose from initially, you might be forgiven for thinking that the range is lacking. Not so – the 1.0-litre 129hp VTEC Turbo is a potent little thing, with huge attention paid to its cooling system and the efficiency of its turbocharger. With 129hp available you get a lot of bang for your buck, despite its tiny size.
The 1.5-litre four-cylinder 182hp VTEC Turbo is also powerful for its comparatively small engine capacity – again, the turbocharger is working hard for its living. We love the gearchange quality and pedal weight though.
Our choice – 129hp VTEC Turbo
Both of the core Honda Civic engines certainly put the disappointing performance of its 1.4- and 1.8-litre predecessors in the shade. But the smaller of the two current powerplants is a genuine star.
With a maximum speed of 126mph, and 0-62mph time of 10.8 seconds, it looks good on paper, but on the road, this eager engine belies its tiny capacity. It feels big-hearted.
It has a slightly gruff, off-beat sound we’ve come to associate with three-cylinder motors, but you’re mainly aware of it when you’re accelerating hard. Once it’s cruising, it settles down to a muted hum.
You will have to work it on hills or when fully loaded, and it can feel lacking (compared with rival turbodiesels) when asked to pull from low revs – but in reality, it’s a minor niggle in day-to-day driving.
Punchier 182hp VTEC Turbo
Fastest of the non-Type R Civics, is also small in terms of size (given its generous power output), but thanks to its turbocharger and clever VTEC variable valve system, which tweaks the engine’s performance to priorities economy or power, it feels like a much larger power unit.
The performance figures back this up – 0-62mph takes 8.2 seconds, with a claimed top speed of 137mph – and on the road it feels quiet at motorway speeds and smooth in traffic. It doesn’t particularly enjoy being revved, however, feeling strained if you hold onto gears for too long.
Despite this, it’s the engine to go for if you’re a high-mileage driver or regularly load the car up.
Punchy and refined 1.6-litre i-DTEC diesel
The Civic line-up was completed early in 2018 with the addition of a 1.6-litre i-DTEC diesel engine to the range.
Packing 120hp and 300Nm of torque and available in S, SE, SR and EX models, it’s a smooth performer with impressively low claimed running costs.
It’ll go from 0-62mph in 10.5 seconds and on to a top speed of 125mph. It doesn’t feel overly rapid, however the way its power is delivered is very smooth indeed.
The 300Nm torque figure helps with strong in-gear acceleration, and if you need to drop a gear or two, the six-speed manual gearbox is as slick as it is in any other Civic.
In fact, it feels an even easier version to drive than the turbocharged petrols, avoiding any kind of jerkiness that we’ve experienced in the 1.0-litre manual. It never feels overwhelmingly urgent, but it feels perfectly judged for the Civic and will suit buyers down to the ground – especially if you spend a lot of time on the motorway.
Automatic gearbox option
You might be forgiven for thinking that a 1.0-litre CVT automatic sounds like a recipe for daily misery, but it’s actually a real gem. Honda has done great work retuning its CVT gearbox to work efficiently by keeping the engine spinning at its sweetest point half-way up the rev range.
Keep it out of Sport Mode and it will run at seriously low revs when you don’t need acceleration, but on a light throttle, it steps through a series of simulated ratios – acting like a conventional seven-speed auto.
If you want performance, put it in Sport and use the steering wheel-mounted paddle-shifters. Here, it responds beautifully. Overall, the CVT version works well as a package, and in daily use, it’s actually preferable to the six-speed manual version because it negates the small ‘hole’ in the engine’s power delivery. There are no appreciable differences in performance and fuel consumption figures, either.
The 1.5-litre engine is also available in CVT automatic form, which also works well, with its simulated seven-speed set-up, but bizarrely, its maximum speed drops by 10mph according to Honda’s own figures.
Hot Civic Type R performance on a different planet
Producing 320hp and 400Nm of torque, Honda’s flagship turbocharged Civic Type-R rivals the Ford Focus RS, SEAT Leon Cupra 300 and Volkswagen Golf R. Performance isn't disappointing, even if it's only marginally quicker than the last Honda Civic Type R. It sprints from from 0-62mph in 5.7sec and tops out at 169mph. On the autobahn the new car feels absurdly fast. On UK roads, it always feels well within its capabilities – so much so that you might question why you've chosen this version.
There’s some inevitable throttle lag from the compact turbo, but it’s well suppressed, and the engine still has an element of the revvy, slightly manic V-Tec character, although its engine note is quite dull in comparison with earlier Type Rs, and their sky-high rev limits. It’s very responsive, helped by a light flywheel and slender crankshaft, and even if there’s been ‘only’ a 10hp power increase on paper, it feels like more on the road.
Unlike these cars, it's front-wheel drive and is only available in six-speed manual form. The automatic rev-matching on downshifts works well, doing an excellent job of smoothing-out gearchanges. But it's worth noting that you can turn it off.
In terms of performance, it's up there with its fastest rivals, and overall, it's a front-running hot hatchback, that in terms of daily usability, it a useful improvement over its hardcore predecessor.
- New suspension layout results in excellent handling
- Now up there with the class leaders
- Safe and stable, but also enjoyable to drive
Given that it has an all-new body and running gear, and the styling carries nothing over from previous Honda Civics, it seems fitting that the new car doesn’t drive like the old one.
The first thing you notice when you get onto twisting roads is how much grip and poise there is in corners – and how well damped it is on less than perfect roads.
It’s not perfect, though, as the rear end is a little more unsettled than a Volkswagen Golf or Ford Focus in particular, but this changes when the car is carrying rear passengers. The steering is accurate and well-weighted, yet feels very much like the last generation Civic in that it lacks the final degree of road feel.
But it’s perfectly good for a family car, more than adequate for keener drivers, and the pay-off is that it’s perfectly set-up for motorway driving.
Honda Civic Type R: how does it drive?
There are many points, so it's difficult where to start. Its steering is sharper, ride is much more compliant, although in terms of damping it's controlled and progressive. In other words, you feel the bumps, but the suspension set-up rounds off the sharpest edges.
As you'd expect from a great hot hatch, the stability is impressive – on the road you get nowhere near pushing it to its limits. The mechanical limited-slip differential works well without dominating proceedings, and the steering relays great feel. There are three driving modes, with a new Comfort mode for urban work (lighter steering, softer suspension – it works well) and a middle Sport mode as the default setting. Comfort mode is good for day-to-day driving.
Where the Type R scores over its predecessor is that it now comes with a 'Comfort' mode, which when selected, results in a less stiff ride, and far more comfortable driving experience. Clearly, Honda has been listening to customer criticism of the old one…
In short, it's one of the very best hot hatchbacks money can buy right now, even with those challenging looks.