Sedan-pure start to Civic drive

The 10th generation of Honda’s most famous car line has arrived with an RS kicker.


RACE sport, rally(e) sport, Renn Sport - the RS badge is famous for signaling ultimate performance, except when ....

Honda New Zealand doesn’t think people will confuse its new Civic RS, pictured, with those like-badged Porsche, Ford and Audi models also selling here, and not just because the latest member of this family lacks the kapow, big wheels, low-profile rubber, aero, carbon fibre and super-sized price tag.

It’s pointed out, quite reasonably, that RS has been a Honda designation for quite some time now. We’ve seen it previously on Jazz. For that company, it translates as ‘slightly sporty’ rather than ‘hard out racey’: The latter is designated, of course, by the Type R status.

Did they nonetheless consider asking Japan if the Civic RS might perhaps be rebadged as a ‘Sport’, just to make things that little more obvious?

Replied Honda New Zealand brand manager Natalie O’Brien: “No, we did not consider changing the RS badge.”

So how sporty is it? As one of three Civic models running a 127kW 1.5-litre turbocharged petrol engine and CVT transmission, housed within an orthodox sedan shape, it’s obviously not equipped to stand out as a junior NSX in a family-friendly format.

Still, Honda here reckons this slightly spicy variant, that sites $4000 above the $35,500 entry Turbo and $3000 below the luxury-focused $42,900 Civic NT Turbo will be the most popular Civic choice. Even beating the entry edition, which in being sited as the entry choice runs a less techy, less powerful 1.8-litre mill.  Maybe there’s something in a suggestive bradge after all.

Buyer consideration will not, of course, be purely fixated on such things. This is an all-new car insofar as the platform, main engine and transmission and body is concerned.

Chasing sales with a sedan goes against common convention these days; hatchbacks have long established as the passenger preference here and even those are now losing ground to slightly higher-stepped crossovers and sports utilities. In that mix, a booted four-door car stands out like a typewriter would at Apple headquarters.

But Honda’s relaxed about that too. Internationally, the sedan is still big business, not least in Honda’s primary markets, Japan and most countries throughout Asia. Also, it confirms we will see a Civic give-door in 2017, this coming out of the Honda plant in the United Kingdom.

Civic is also important to the brand for being the first ground-up new car from the maker in the wake of the 2008-09 global financial crisis, and comes with an unprecedented five-year investment.

The 1.5 turbo unit is the first complete ‘Earth Dreams’ drivetrain. On paper, it stacks up: 127kW is one of the most potent in this class, 13kW more than its predecessor, and the 220Nm torque output also looks smart. Better is that fact that it uses 1.5L/100km less fuel, at an official 6.0L/100km.

The CVT has stepped ‘gears’, accessed by steering-wheel mounted paddle-shifters. More like a conventional automatic? That’s what they are saying, but being ground in Melbourne last week for an extra night – when an air conditioning fault had potential to turn Air New Zealand’s 787 Dreamliner into a nightmare plane – meant I had to skip the Civic launch. Such a shame, it would have been intriguing to see how it ran at Hampton Downs’ circuit.

Styling-wise, this 10th-generation Civic is a significant step up in the styling department. The athletic design, with muscular haunches – look at those front guards – starts with a low nose that sweeps over to a coupe-like roofline. The RS has a bootlid spoiler and 17-inch alloys.

The body shape is bigger, too: 104mm longer to stretch 4644m; 44mm wider at 1755mm; but it sits 19mm lower. The wheelbase is stretched 30mm to 2700mm – longer than the original Accord Euro – for 55mm extra rear legroom, and a 519 litre boot.

Unlike most distributors, Honda NZ hasn’t been reluctant to air a sales count forecast. It reckons it can achieve 600 sales by March next year (they’ve long preferred to talk in financial, rather than calendar, years).

The anticipation is that this car will appeal to people downsizing from sedans as well traditional Civic buyers seeking good value respectively.

And not just older people. This car has tailored for millennials, with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto installed on all grades.

Safety-wise, it also steps up, though it’s a pity just the flagship takes the Honda Sensing suite, which delivers collision mitigation braking, road departure mitigation, forward collision warning, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, and adaptive cruise with a low speed following capability. The Civic NT Turbo also has Garmin navigation as a standard feature. Seems those gravitating to the other grades need to keep those AA road map sets handy.