Less is more with

latest Honda

Honda Civic, front static
Honda Civic, side static
Honda Civic, rear static
Honda Civic, dashboard
Honda Civic, dash through sunroof
Honda Civic, dash detail
Honda Civic, boot detail
Honda Civic, boot 1
Honda Civic, rear seats
Honda Civic, boot 2
Honda Civic, rear detail
Honda Civic, engine

BIGGER isn't always better, especially in today's car world where more from less is the modern mantra.

That's why you can now buy a big car with an engine so apparently small and feeble that there's no hint of its size in chrome on the boot lid.

In truth, the clever people buried deep in the car makers' engineering departments have cracked the less-is-more conundrum and given us a new generation of tiny petrol engines that perform like lions.

Most - 70 per cent - of the latest Honda Civic will be sold with an engine that features only three cylinders and displaces a mere one litre.

In compensation, it puts out 127 horsepower and rows the new car along with complete conviction while using (on paper at least) less fuel than either the old 1.4 or 1.8 litre units of the old model.

If you insist on something bigger under the bonnet there's a 1.5 litre petrol engine ready to assist, but it will be a rarer sight on your local dealer's inventory.

Whichever engine you go for (the diesel from the old car arrives later this year), the new Civic, is longer (by 13cms), wider (by 3cms) and lower by 2cms than the outgoing model.

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

You don't need a tape measure to know the latest Civic is larger than before - with much more aggressive lines and big black (fake) air intakes and outlets front and rear it looks larger from a hundred paces.

Lower, though, in a effort to add a sporty touch and a height reduction that means there is no longer room for the fuel tank beneath the front seats and that means farewell to the clever 'magic' rear seat which flipped to let you pack a smallish bicycle behind the driver.

The newly located fuel tank has to go somewhere and now takes up too much room for the magic to persist.

Also lacking from the newcomer is a dashboard that looked more like an arcade game display than a sober information dispenser. The new one is much more conventional, which you'll either think a positive move or lament the quirkiness now lost.

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.

The manual gearbox is smooth and light enough to make a sensible choice for most drivers, but the auto will go down well with owners who spend their lives in town or traffic jams. A significant 40 per cent of Civics are likely to be autos.

How well it works depends greatly on the engine that's driving your car. The CVT transmission sounds busy and a bit brusque behind the smaller engine and much better with the 1.5 litre aboard, which stayed quiet even under acceleration.

Over similar Midlands' roads the smaller engine - perhaps because it was working harder - showed 42mpg on the trip computer to the 1.5 litre car's 45mpg.

The official figures give the 1.0 litre engine a CO2 output from 106g/km and 55.4mpg overall with the 1.5 litre from 133g/km and 46.3mpg average.

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.

The latest Civic represents the largest single model development programme in Honda's history, so there's a lot riding on the success of the bigger, yet smaller new baby.

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