Honda Civic Diesel Road Test: Finally, an exciting sedan and not another SUV!

The old Honda Civic showed India that regular family cars can also be extremely fun to drive. Honda says the new one improves on it, but everyone wants an SUV. Here’s why everyone might be wrong.

By: | Published: September 24, 2019 1:41 PM

Every brand has its own identity, like Toyota is the byword for dependability, Mercedes-Benz is renowned for sophisticated technology and comfort. Dig deeper and you'll find out that history will show that things that are interesting in the world of motoring have come from Honda quite often. Whether its cars like the Honda NSX mid-engined supercar, or the Honda Monkey Bike or even the Honda Cub. But lately, economics has dictated what Hondas should be like and more often than not, we are left with things like the Honda BR-V or the WR-V, which were built to please a price-conscious audience but didn't turn out to be exciting. One could blame it on the stringent requirements of the market but in the end, the oomph factor was missing.

Honda in India had rolled out the eighth-generation Civic then there hasn't been a car that has made me want to drive it by just for sheer looks of it. At that time I was still in middle school and by when I was old and experienced enough to drive one, Honda discontinued the Civic and ended that chapter. The ninth-generation never arrived in India and as SUVs became more popular, the future of the Civic, a low slung sedan coming to India seemed bleak.

However, when the tenth-generation Civic was introduced, Honda had no choice but to bring it to India because some demand for a sedan was still there. After careful market research, Honda launched the new Civic with a petrol CVT automatic and a diesel manual with a price tag that eclipses the Rs 22 lakh barrier ex-showroom. This left us scratching our heads as the powertrain combinations and price tags at first glance seem a bit strange. Yes, no manual gearbox for the petrol motor because Honda's data says most people in this segment prefer the rear seat. That said, I had to drive the new Civic and find out what it was all about.

The first Civic diesel
When the earlier Civic was on sale in India, Honda at the time didn’t make diesel engines. But as time went on the manufacturer had no choice but to succumb to market demand like many carmakers and that gave us the Honda i-DTEC engine line up. So naturally, I had to drive what the Civic was like with a diesel motor and as it was the only manual option so my mind was already made up.

Upon initial cold-start, the engine is a little bit noisy and some noise does seep into the cabin. But as you begin to drive, there are a few things that are noticeable. First, the noise from the engine just disappears when you are on the move as Honda has worked very well to refine the motor over the years, and the additional sound dampening materials that the Civic has does help a lot. Secondly, those touches that refine the engine have also helped smoothen out how the car behaves. Acceleration from the diesel engine is eager and linear. Like all i-DTEC motors, the engine loves to revs and the Civic is pretty quick. Although on paper 120PS may not seem much for a car of this size, the 300Nm seems sufficient. However, due to the turbo lag, neither is available under 2,000rpm. That is quite bothersome in city traffic or when driving slowly or tackling speed breakers as you must shift down to first in order to maintain momentum and not stall the engine.

So, due to the lack of low-end torque, you may be forced to constantly change gears but the good thing is that the gear lever allows for short throws, and the tactility of each shift is impressive. Every time you change gear, whether up or down, there is this sense of achievement. Each shift is an occasion and is ever so satisfying. You begin to enjoy the fact that the engine requires frequent gear shifts. The ratios are also kept quite short which is also a case that may annoy some in city driving but for spirited driving it is ideal. Additionally, the clutch travel is not too long and it is quite light for a diesel which only adds to the excitement.

That Civic DNA

The Honda Civic is known to be an affordable, practical car that is accessible and allows for an exciting driving experience. The new Civic, however, has been modified for the Indian market with a different suspension set up but is still fun to drive. One of the biggest complains with the older model in India was that it was too low and would bottom out on the smallest of speed breakers. So for the new model, Honda has raised the car up to make it easier to tackle Indian roads and I’m happy to report that after extensively driving on highways, city and narrow roads, I never bottomed out even once. All you have to do is be a bit careful and take it easy when going down a basement parking slope to not scrape the chin at the bottom.

To drive generally, the Civic is impressive and that Civic DNA is so evident even for someone who has never been behind the wheel of a Civic before. The seating position is near perfect and you can go really low down to get a better sense of the car, dynamically. With a rake-and-reach adjustable steering wheel, you can precisely set your perfect driving position. The steering is light, direct and impressively quick to respond. Despite being electronically assisted; it isn’t difficult to find the centre especially when it weighs up at higher speeds. The Civic loves to be pushed and you can get a sense of it egging you on to go harder, particularly in the corners and the 215/50 R17 section Yokohama tyres provide very good grip to exude confidence. It's like the one friend everyone has that every mother complains is a bad influence on their child, but you know you can’t stop hanging around with them.

On the highway, you can easily cruise in sixth gear at even high double and low triple-digit speeds. But should you require to brake even slightly, you have to drop down all the way to fourth to regain the lost momentum. But any gearshift is a satisfying gear shift in the Civic.

With the India specific suspension set up, the ride is actually very comfortable. It tackles the undulations very well and although it seems a bit firm, you never feel anything significant transfer into the cabin. Additionally, the seats are extremely comfortable and amply supportive through the bends for the front and rear passengers. The front seats cocoon you in place and allow for minimal body movement through the corners. The overall refinement of the Civic was unable to tire me even after covering over 600km in two days on a trip to Jaipur and back to Delhi.

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When it comes to the styling, the Civic undeniably stands out. Despite its quirky design, it still manages to be elegant. Sharp design cues give it an aggressive look and the sloping roofline is probably one of the design cues that could save the sedan from becoming obsolete by SUVs. The rear three-quarter angle is by far my favourite angle of the car as the quirky shaped tail lamps and the boot look really nice and somehow makes you feel just a little bit more special.

Wearing the sensible hat
The Civic comes with a 47-litre fuel tank. And after driving it extensively we came to the conclusion that in the slow stop-and-go city conditions the Civic wouldn’t return anything less than 12-13kmpl and on the highway we were getting around 18-19kmpl, averaging around 16kmpl. We were able to cover around 680kms on a full tank of diesel.

When it comes to the cabin, one won't be complaining about space for sure. The build quality is also very good. While the seats at the rear are extremely comfortable, the build quality on the sides could have been better. The plastic quality used is very good, the infotainment is really nice and comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. At first, the USB ports seem weirdly placed, but once connected and the phone is on the dock the design is just so seamless. But the dock itself could have a bit a little larger to accommodate larger phones. I love not being able to see cables all around the centre console! The cabin is littered with storage spaces and at the back, the Civic offers very good boot space with a 430-litre capacity, more than enough for a weekend getaway for four.

The blind-spot monitor is my favourite feature ever on a car and I wish I could have it in my own car. Very helpful on the highway and in tight spaces in the city traffic. But, a set of front parking sensors wouldn’t have hurt for a car that is priced at Rs 22.34 lakh (ex-showroom).

While Honda has always engineered their products remarkably well into attractive, ergonomic and clever packages, one does need to pay a premium for the Civic. I can’t help but feel I would have enjoyed it more with a petrol manual and a set of front parking sensors maybe. The reduction in price for a petrol variant with a manual gearbox would make the Civic the perfect package in my mind. But to answer the question if the Civic is finally an interesting model from Honda that I have been waiting for? Without a question of a doubt, it is!

2019 Honda Civic 1.6 Diesel Technical Specifications
Engine: 1,597cc, 4-Cylinder, Turbocharged, DOHC, 16 valves
Transmission: 6-speed Manual
Power: 120PS @ 4,000rpm
Torque: 200Nm @ 2,000rpm
Fuel: Diesel
Drive: Front-Wheel Drive
Dimensions (LxWxH): 4,656mm x 1,799mm x 1,433mm
Wheelbase: 2,700mm
Brakes (F/R): Disc / Disc
Fuel Economy:13kmpl (City), 19kmpl (Highway)
Price (of variant tested): Rs 22.34 lakh (ex-showroom)

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