Little and larger

for new Civic leader

Honda Civic, front action
Honda Civic, side action
Honda Civic, high action
Honda Civic, rear static
Honda Civic, rear action
Honda Civic, front seats
Honda Civic, dash detail
Honda Civic, dashboard
Honda Civic, rear seats
Honda Civic, boot

BIGGER and smaller, much smaller, might be the mantra for the tenth generation of Honda Civic, now rolling off the Swindon production line in five-door hatch form for sale all over the world.

Let's start with bigger. This latest Civic, subject of the most thorough development programme in the company's history, is longer (by 13cms), wider (by 3cms) and lower by 2cms than the outgoing model.

That means it has a boot as big as anything in the sector - think Focus and Golf - at a cavernous 478 litres, and it can of course be made almost van-like by flipping forward the split rear seatback.

The height reduction has consequences greater than making Civic mark X look more sporty.

It means there is no longer room for the fuel tank beneath the front seats and that means farewell to the clever rear seat Honda called it 'magic') which flipped cleverly to let you pack a smallish bicycle behind the driver. The newly located fuel tank has to go somewhere and now takes too much room for the magic to persist.

As well as stretching the tape measure further, the latest Civic looks much bigger than before, keeping enough of the previous car's feel - that split rear screen to the fore - to maintain the Civic-ness, but adding big false air intakes at the front and matching rear outlets which add a new note of defiant in-yer-face appeal, if you like that sort of thing.

Inside, there's been a bit of a revolution, and all for the better if you value a dashboard that now looks sensible, sober and easily read in place of the old car's mildly arcade game vibe.

Still pretty solidly black unless you specify light leather on top models, it all feels solid and everlasting in typical Honda fashion.

There is room for a six-footed to sit behind his twin brother, with enough leg and head room to give the new Civic the feel of a car above the class of the old one.

Now for the smaller, much smaller part of the new Civic equation. Most of them will be sold with an engine that features a just three cylinders and displaces a mere one litre. Honda top brass know it's going to be a bit of a sell to persuade potential buyers that something as modestly volumed can replace either the old 1.4 or rarer 1.8 litre petrol units from the previous car.

They believe that their new baby's 127 turbocharged horses are more than up to the job and will use less petrol too.

And they're right; driving the car on a testing Spanish hill route revealed a car that pulls with a lusty growl if provoked and never felt even a touch anaemic, helped along by the crispest of changes from a new six-speed gearbox.

A dash readout of 41mpg promised an economical life on more level roads and in gentler hands. A CO2 figure of 106g/km means £140 road tax the first year when the regs change on April 1 and the same annually thereafter, applying to cars registered after that date.

Honda think seven out of ten buyers of petrol Civics will take this new 1.0 litre version but there is also a new 1.5 available, adding a hefty £2,300 to the bill but behaving almost like a mini GTI, thanks to 179 horsepower available at the push of a right foot.

It showed 38mpg over the hilly route and will suit the sort of younger buyer Honda hopes to attract to a model that has a reputation as a solid retirement choice in the UK and needs to tilt the age profile down a bit. Its 133g/km will mean £200 in the first year, falling back to £140 in following years.

A diesel Civic appears later this year, you'd guess with the current and excellent 1.5 litre engine on board and a fire breathing Type R surfaces in 2017 too.

For the moment new Civic prices start at £18,335 for an entry level SE and top out with the £27,295 Prestige with larger 1.5 petrol engine and automatic transmission, a development of the company's CVT system that uses expandable steel pulleys to match engine revs to driver demand and which sounds busy and a bit too brusque behind the smaller engine and rather better with 1.5 litres aboard.

All new suspension, newly independent at the rear, brings a ride that verges on the soft (but comfy) but the push of a button in some higher grade versions stiffens things up and makes the car feel much more playful on the corners.

Its new little powerhouse growls away nicely and forward progress is greatly aided by a delicious manual gearchange.

Ticking the auto option box changes the newcomer's feel more than you'd think, making it feel fussy and noisy by comparison.

Honda has caught the current wheeze of offering the Civic in only one paint finish - rallye red - that does not add to the bottom line. Everything else, from passion red, through golden bronze to brilliant sporty blue means finding another £525.

Still, there's plenty to feel passionate about in this new Civic.

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