First Drive: Honda Civic 1.6 i-DTEC S-T

The British-built Honda Civic is the epitome of no-nonsense motoring

The British-built Honda Civic is the epitome of no-nonsense motoring

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What’s the main factor that influences someone about to buy a car?

Obviously the price tag is high on the list, along with the car’s colour, the make and corresponding status, as well as running costs and whether it has the space or ability to do the job that’s going to be asked of it.

But there’s one other major element which only rarely features in car companies’ advertising, probably because it’s not very sexy.

Reliability is what we all want from our car. The confident knowledge that when we go out to it in the morning it will start first time and will continue to run without complaint all year round.

We’re guilty of forgetting just how much progress has been made over the years. Cars have never been more reliable and simply don’t need the constant care, attention and maintenance that they demanded just a few years ago.

Way up in the league table of reliability is Honda, regularly topping owners’ surveys of hassle-free motoring.

I’ve had a couple of Hondas in my time and they gave no cause for complaint. I know one Honda owner whose only observation about his car was that in five years of ownership, all he’d ever put in it was fuel, never even having to pump up the tyres or put water in the cooling system.

That doesn’t happen by chance. The company spends almost double that of its competitors on research and development and is renowned for its engineering and technical expertise which then leads to its superb reputation for reliability and dependability.

That’s one of the reasons why its top-selling hatchback, the Civic, has so far notched up sales of more than 650,000. The current model, which is the ninth generation since it first arrived as a very Japanese-looking runabout in 1973, is the best yet. Its reliability record is first class, which gives competitors Ford Focus and Volkswagen Golf a good run for their money.

To the untrained eye, it looks pretty much like the previous model but a lot has been improved under the surface and the body detail has been tweaked to give the car more presence on the road. Unfortunately, and I know I’m not alone on this, the designers have kept the massive beam which strides the boot lid but crucially runs across the rear window, effectively reducing visibility just where you need it most.

I simply can’t believe it does anything in the way of an aerofoil in keeping the car on the road. The 1.6-litre diesel engine in the test car is a very fine piece of kit but I never felt at any point that the raw power was going to send me uncontrollably skywards.

From what I gather it is just a design feature but one which annoys every time you get in the car. It fills the rear-view mirror and is an obstruction when reversing. Ironically, the car now comes with a wiper on the rear window. It’s a pity you’re left without a clear sweep.

That apart, the car is very good and appeals to a wide range of customers – what the company calls the “Honda Heartland” – from young families to middle-aged couples and retired people. They may have different lifestyles but share the same demands of straightforward motoring and reliability.

The car is not the most exciting to drive but is effortless, comfortable and efficient and comes with a lot of equipment which is easy to use and less complex than that in some alternatives.

To help with economy and reduce emissions, start-stop technology is fitted as standard and there’s an economy button which improves that even further by adjusting the throttle response and other functions such as the air-con.

I was able to get close to, if not actually achieve, the claimed consumption figure of almost 80mpg. In the week with the car, I averaged low 60s mpg, with start-stop city driving and a couple of fast runs along the M8.

The ride is silky smooth, thanks to improvements to the suspension, and the aerodynamics mean there’s very little road noise on a range of surfaces including at speed on the motorway.

The new car comes with improved electric steering which is light and effortless which may suit some owners, but I would have liked more feedback.

The clever rear seats make it practical for a range of loads or a combination of luggage and passengers. One move of a lever drops the back-rest and moves the squab to create a fully-flat cargo space of 1,200 litres, which is more than the Focus or the Golf. Unfortunately, the boot has a high lip which means a bit of heaving is required to get anything into that big space.

But if you’re looking for a no-nonsense piece of kit which will do exactly what you ask it to do, this British-built car is a very good bet.

VITAL STATS

Price £20,920

Engine 1.6l, 4-cyl diesel

Power 120bhp; 221 lb ft

Performance Max speed 129mph; 0-60mph 10.5 secs

Consumption 78.5mpg

CO2 emissions 94g/km

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