The Honda Civic feels like one of those cars that has been around forever but lived largely in the shadow of big selling rivals.
Apart from the manic Type R variants, it has generally got on with the job of providing solid family transport while others such as the Ford Focus, Vauxhall Astra and VW Golf dominate the sales charts and awards ceremonies. But now, finally, it feels like it could be having its moment.
The Focus is good but long in the tooth and heading for the knacker’s yard, the Golf has endured some missteps that have dented its evergreen popularity and the Astra, much improved though it is, is solid but unremarkable.
So the arrival of an all-new Civic couldn’t come at a better time for Honda, especially when it’s as good as this 11th generation. Since launching in mid-2022 it has been showered with plaudits and it’s easy to see why.
At first glance, you might think the new model is a light facelift of the 10th-gen car. There’s certainly a lot of similarities in terms of overall look. However, this is a new car and there have been some major structural changes that make the 11th-gen longer and give it a wider track without changing the overall width. It’s also lower than before and clever reworking of the A-pillars and tailgate mean it’s generally sleeker and cleaner looking. Sport models like our test car get low-gloss black exterior trim and 18-inch gloss black alloys to set them apart from the rest of the range.
You notice the changes far more inside, where the stretched dimensions translate into class-leading legroom and plenty of space for four adults to get comfortable. There’s also a far neater and more modern look and feel to the cabin. Honda talks about a “man-maximum, machine-minimum” approach to the interior and while that sounds like marketing waffle, it equates to a pleasantly simple and user-friendly place to sit. There’s a sensible balance between physical controls for key functions and a crisp nine-inch touchscreen that stops the dashboard feeling cluttered.
The Civic also banishes any lingering memories of shiny brittle plastics thanks to a well considered mix of high-quality materials and smart design touches such as the honeycomb mesh panel on the dashboard that neatly hides the air vents.
That’s just as well, because with prices starting at nearly £34,000 you’d expect a high-end ambience. That’s more than most mid-spec rivals and more, even than the equivalent Toyota Corolla hybrid. That price is partly justified by the Civic’s standard full hybrid drivetrain and partly by a generous specification but it does set the Civic some way apart. In its favour, the Civic is more powerful and more economical than most rivals while feeling more modern.
Unlike the previous generation Civic which came with petrol and diesel options, the new model is sold with a single petrol/electric hybrid setup (we’ll ignore the purely petrol Type R for the moment).
This is a full hybrid setup related to that in Honda’s HR-V and CR-V models, but retuned to offer better power, response and economy. Its relaxed nature makes it clear why the Type R has a different engine, but this 2.0-litre arrangement with its combined 181bhp is well suited to the overall composed and sensible feel of the Civic.
Performance is respectable, with 0-62mph taking under 8 seconds but to get that requires a heavy right foot which exposes the somewhat droning nature of the engine and its electronic CVT transmission. You’re better off easing back a little and allowing the smart hybrid setup to unobtrusively switch between its various drive modes. Do this and you’ll enjoy a smooth, effortless drive and should easily manage economy in the mid-50s.
An easygoing approach also gets the best out of the Civic’s chassis. There’s an underlying balance and decent enough response from the steering but in standard hybrid guise the Civic is very much geared towards comfort. The damping is impressive even on bad British roads and ride, body control and noise suppression are a match for anything in the class, giving an overall undemanding air to the Civic.
To describe a car as undemanding could be seen as an insult but in the Civic’s case it simply highlights the car’s quality. From the simplicity of the interior to the smooth and refined driving experience and impressive economy it’s a car that asks very little but delivers plenty.
Honda Civic e:HEV Sport
Price: £33,720 (£34,370 as tested); Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder petrol/electric full hybrid; Power: 181bhp; Torque: 232lb ft; Transmission: E-CVT automatic; Top speed: 112mph; 0-62mph: 7.9 seconds; Economy: 56.5mpg; CO2 emissions: 113g/km