Honda Civic 1.4 and 1.6 5-door 2001 Road Test

Tue, 07 Nov 2000

In planning the 2001 Civic, Honda realised that sales of mini-MPVs in the UK proved that a significant number of buyers want more versatility than an ordinary car provides.

The Renault Megane Scenic, for example, heavily outsells the Renault Megane hatchback. And it wouldn't surprise me in the least if the Citroen Xsara Picasso soon starts beating the Xsara hatchback's figures. 

Yet still the biggest-selling small family cars are the Ford Focus, VW Golf and Vauxhall Astra hatchbacks. Which proves that an even bigger proportion of car buyers still wants a car, not something that handles and looks like a van.

"If that's the case," thought Honda's designers, "why don't we build a family hatchback with the interior of an MPV?" Pretty simple, really. But a brilliant idea nonetheless.

Sit inside the new Civic and the first thing that strikes you is its spaciousness. Then you notice that the gearshift lever sprouts from the dash like that of a Xsara Picasso and that there's no 'console' or central tunnel. As a result you can easily slide across to get out of the passenger door. A boon when parked against the kerb on a busy road. Or you can nip easily between the front seats to attend to children strapped into the back by the three three-point seatbelts. Terrific for young mums. And the front seats will slide forward far enough to recline the seatbacks to horizontal, so that, with the rear seats, they form a bed. There are also loads of places to store oddments, including bottles, but thankfully no hideous pop-out cupholders. Driver's seat and steering wheel are both height-adjustable.

The car comes with driver, passenger and side airbags and is constructed in such a way that Honda is confident of achieving a four star rating in NCAP crash tests, which is another comforting thought.

So what's it like to drive? The answer is "very Honda Civic". Anyone familiar with the current Japanese model or its predecessors will feel right at home with no nasty surprises. The 1.6 litre VTEC engine is perky; the 1.4 less so, but with the benefit of being virtually inaudible at idling speed.

The gearchange works snappily; better than the floorshifts on some current model German cars and easily on a par with the good shift quality of the Citroen Xsara Picasso. The variable power steering is less successful, robbing the driver of any road feel through the wheel. Ride quality is good; much better than previous Civics. But, though safe, the handling isn't remotely sporty like that of a Focus or Astra. I'd put it in the same league as a VW Golf Mk IV.

On the motorway, the 1.4i did not disgrace itself and actually felt the smoother of the two with less harmonic resonance feeding through to the cabin via the flat floor. Wind and tyre roar was evident, but not to a severe degree. And the low gearing of 20 mph per 1,000 rpm left plenty of punch to get out of danger when cruising at the legal limit.

Spec for spec, prices are reasonable because even the £11,995 1.4iS comes with ABS and air-conditioning as standard. The £12,495 1.6iS is probably the bargain of the range. The mechanical warrantyis an excellent three years or 90,000 miles, whichever comes first. And Honda hasn't made the mistake of extending service intervals to 20,000 miles, though as an owner I'd have my oil changed every 6,000 miles rather than the specified twelve.

The only aspect I felt was slightly lacking is that, unlike almost every other car in the category, including the Citroen Xsara, the body is not electro-galvanized and the no-rust-through body warranty is restricted to six years rather than the 8-12 years of the competition. Not a big worry, though. Just a minor niggle.

Honda reckons the car will sell in double the numbers of the previous Swindon, Japanese and American Civics combined. I see no reason to doubt this. Nor to doubt the company's assertion that in two years time it will be the biggest car manufacturer in Britain

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