The 2009 facelift at first seems like a minor cosmetic slap onto cars that we know very well, but in fact Honda have been hard at work and have split the model range into two distinct paths.
Previously, all the non-R cars had approximately the same focus - being a useful hatchback. The three door was slightly more sporty, but only slightly. What Honda have done with the 09 cars, is to positively separate the three door from the five door. The five door has become more of a traditional Honda - mainstream, conventional, comfortable (softer) and practical. The three door has taken a sporty shift, with a look pinched from the Type R. Both the three door and five door have allegedly had the main issues of the older cars addressed, namely road noise and refinement in general, as well as the addition of bits that should really have been there in the first place (notably the ipod and USB stick interfaces).
The following spider graph shows how the 5 door has become more comfortable and quiet, at the expense of response:
I only had a limited amount of time on the test day, which had to be spread amongst briefings, more briefings, plenty of laps in the different Type Rs and an S2000, Accord diesels and new Civics. So I tried to choose the Civics that would be most significant, or most changed. Unlike the other reviews you may read, I'm going to try and stick to the differences between these 09 cars and the previous ones - so no excessive waffle about stuff you already know about (magic seats, boot space, funky dash, no rear wiper and so on).
1. 1.8 Type S i-Shift
Firstly, it has to be said that the new Type S is a great looking car. The split in the range is working - with the Type S becoming more Type R in looks with the R-like grill and colour coded external plastics. The Type R is still clearly identifiable, and yet the Type S has gained some of the assets that make the Type R look so good.
Climbing in, the interior is much the same. The subtle changes in the colour of some of the plastics and fabrics do help make the car feel slightly classier though. Just as I was about to set off, the passenger door opened and I was accosted. We had all been briefed on the major changes that have been made with this new i-Shift transmission - the clever new gear change maps, the use of the yaw sensor to prevent changes whilst cornering and the new "Sport" mode, but a likeable and senior Honda chap really wanted to make sure that I was prepared for the car. Drive it with the throttle, he said - different throttle actions will give different results. All I wanted to do was to jump in and get going, but they were going to make damn sure I was going to drive it correctly. Eventually, I was off.
The three door car has a lovely solid feeling to it. The ride seems similar to before, but oddly there is no tramlining now and no road noise. Into corners it turns in well and on smooth roads it does so with good precision. It didn't take much in the way of bumps to upset the car - on a rough road the suspension clonking started in a muted way, and as the road moved so did the car's direction. But not enough for it to be a major issue, at a guess you felt like you were correcting about 6 inches of lateral movement with the steering. And it felt just that much more refined than the previous Type S. So much so when I swore out loud at the car, I could do it with a slightly softer voice.
Swearing? At first I did roundabouts, and more roundabouts and simulated roundabouts. This i-Shift is good! The old days of pressing the accelerator to merge onto a roundabout only to get a heart-stopping nothing as it changes down seem to have gone. You can give it a good half throttle and it just holds onto the gear and goes. Full throttle should be avoided, because it will still often try to drop a gear, and you will find yourself with nothing, for quite a while. The clutch work is also excellent. When setting off and doing hill starts, the car gets it just right - it's as good as a conventional auto.
Out on the open road, things changed. The auto worked well, with what felt like loooong gear changes. Apparently they are shorter now, but to me they still seem to take an eternity. Remember - this is not a DSG box with it's two clutches and lightening fast gear changes; it's a regular manual controlled by a computer (maybe people's expectations are raised by the brilliant but expensive VW offering). But once again I have to try and avoid full throttle. What I found was I'd go round a long corner at mid revs and come out onto the straight and floor it (maybe for fun, maybe to overtake). But as soon as you floor it you get... deceleration. Exactly the opposite of what you want, and your body flops forward as you instinctively brace against a force that not only isn't there, but is in the wrong direction. The engine revs up from the smooth and quiet zone into the rough and gratey zone, and you are off. For just a couple of seconds though, before a long gear change again. Every time this happened I found my self saying "no no no" as it changed down, and then "****ing stupid car" as it changed up. And once it starts the down change, there's no point in relaxing the throttle to cancel it - it won't happen.
Frustrated, I switched to plan B. Sport mode! Now where is it? Down here somewhere? Fumble... Swerve... Well, I'd put the button somewhere visible and reachable, but hey-ho. Once pressed, the car changed down and it was in "pre-overtake" mode. You know - you just keep the average revs a bit higher. This was fine, so long as you kept away from full throttle, because you are back in plan A, and before long you will suffer the same fate as me - a hoarse voice and a first time in my life feeling of motion sickness. So plan B was better, but still you were best driving in a smooth middling kind of way, trying to avoid random unwanted down changes. Maybe plan C?
Switching to manual, normality was restored. The car did just what you wanted - the gear changes were quite acceptable and you could make smooth progress. I even got lazy and let it change up at max revs, and likewise when you forget to change down (because you are in an automatic, aren't you?) it did it for me. Almost as good as a manual car then when in plan C.
Handing it back, I was met with "did you like it?" (imagine the hopeful smile). My initial thoughts were no, and I need to be sick. But in hindsight I should be more accurate. In traffic jams it would be fine. On the open road driven gently, it was OK. In manual mode, I'd prefer a manual but it was OK. And in automatic mode when driven hard it was pretty nasty. Maybe it's just me (I don't really like someone else changing gear for me, especially when that someone else is doing it unprompted and with their eyes closed) but I don't see the point. Manual or auto - nothing in between. I would suggest a long A road test drive before buying this car - it may well suit you if you like to go easy most of the time and don't mind having to switch mental and operational modes on a regular basis. One thing it isn't is a lazy, smooth drive.
2. 1.8 5 door Automatic
Now, bear in mind what I said above; I generally am not a fan of automatic cars and the 1.8 is not my favourite engine. But up front, now, I shall make the following statement: This is one of the best cars I have ever driven.
Let me try to explain why.
The 5 door I'm in is a deep metallic blue with a sumptuous leather interior. Walking round, from all angles, the car now looks smart. Not sporty, not really too modern, just smart - in a strangely oriental way. The clean rear with it's straight lines, the controversial grille and the dark leather interior all add up to a car that is not trying too hard to look avant garde, just to look respectable, clean and simple.
Still feeling a bit queezy from the i-Shift, I climb in and set off. No one accosting me this time! Within seconds I was smiling a huge smile and feeling relaxed. Breakfast retained. Press the go pedal, and you get a surprisingly quiet and powerful surge forward. I can't quite believe that the normally slightly gutless 1.8 works so well with this gearbox, but it does. And the whole car is quiet, and, wait for this, comfortable. The suspension has been altered - it's a bit softer, and a bit quieter. No - it's considerably softer and quieter. Like a normal car. And all the while the gearbox is behaving impeccably. Press for more, release for less. Instant, lazy acceleration, and again, more than you'd expect. Honda spoke to us about "tuning" the gearbox to work well with this engine - and they were telling the truth! By the time I'd made it round the handful of roundabouts and onto the open road, I was grinning like a Cheshire cat. In a Jaguar. A truly amazing drive.
Surely it must all fall over, I thought. Well, a hard acceleration onto the motorway was a bit noisier, but still pretty refined. I didn't quite press the kickdown switch and we got easily enough acceleration without the 1.8 getting rough and raucous again. And on the motorway the softer settings were perfect, I just cruised along in total comfort and quiet. Perfect. Onto the back roads the initial feelings were good too. The extra body movement was fine (with the suspension absorbing the larger bumps) but things only went awry when I started to drive the car like a nutter on the properly bumpy bits. The 5 door shell gives the car a looser feeling, the suspension starts to clonk and the steering is even more vague and random that the S. The engine (in kickdown) is howling with a sore throat.. but stop
! Clearly this car is not meant to be doing this. And how many people drive their Jags like that? Slowing down a bit and serene normality resumed. Quiet, smooth, comfortable travel, with no effort at all. Big cheesy smile restored.
This car does what many good cars do - it has a focus, and it does that niche job very well. This car is designed to be classy, comfortable and easy. And it really is; it's so relaxed, quiet, refined and smooth - and even looks smart to boot. It has more performance than most people will ever need, and all the parts work so well together. I imagine that the prospective buyer will want the Honda reliability and support that he got with his 7th Gen Civic, but wants the driving experience of a Jaguar. He should look no further, and I'm sure that with the relatively small annual mileage that will be involved, the tiny economy penalty over the i-Shift will be of no consequence. In fact it would be worth paying for - twice over. It may even suit a downsizer coming from a mid sized automatic saloon.
This car is excellent, all the way from its black nostrils to smoothed out rump. It deserves to sell by the runway-full, and I'm sure will make many buyers very happy indeed.
3. 1.8 Type S manual
I thought I'd give this car a whirl, because I suspect it may well be a popular seller. With the price of petrol being that much less than diesel, this car becomes more viable, especially with its cheaper purchase price. And there are many people who will want the look of the Type R without the financial penalty of actually owning and running a real one.
Not much has changed with the 2009 models - the painted plastics and Type R grill outside and the small tweaks inside. The 3 door shell again feels rock solid, and the relatively firm suspension works nicely on smooth roads absorbing small bumps without issue. Interestingly, I detected no tramlining and the road noise was now negligible. A big improvement. On back roads the car is teasing you to go quickly with its air of ability, but as usual you have to work to keep the car carving a constant arc over bumps. As I mentioned above, not a major issue but not as good as a Golf 5. Or even an Accord. Nothing appears to have changed with the engine - quiet and smooth at low revs (but not quite
as grunty as you'd like) turning into a slightly rough and much too noisy thrash at high revs. It's all good to ok, but not as smooth, silky and grunty as the excellent 2.2.
I drove this car longer than any other on the day, but have little to say about it. It is a very complete package, and so very good in many areas. In fact, I'm tempted by a diesel one of these with all the bits in to replace my car. The stiff shell makes the most of the suspension, the refinement is now what you expect and hope for, and the car remains supremely practical. There are also so many small changes from way back in 2006 - stuff doesn't fall off, sliders don't squeak and most bits we have been asking for are now there. Just remember to specify reversing sensors or a rear view camera.
4. 1.4-100 5 door manual
Why? Why am I choosing to drive this one as everyone else has gone home and even the most polite Honda people are looking at their watches? Well, we have all been punished by the 1.4. In repayment for handing over hundreds of pounds for the pain of having invisible but necessary stuff done to the insides of our cars, our dealers often "repay" us with the "pleasure" of the 1.4 Civic.
Apologies to the 1.4 owners on this site, I do realise that there are reasons to buy one (especially in certain European countries with bizarre tax systems). But let's face it, whilst the 1.4 is good round town, as soon as you ask anything of it it replies with a gruff growl and not much happens. At all.
So, off I went into the setting sun. Just like the 1.8 Auto, the new 5 door suspension settings are really quite pleasing. And I'm left feeling relaxed. The 1.4 seems slightly lighter as I tootle around the Silverstone complex at low revs. Or is it a touch more grunt? Hmmm. All in all, not that bad.
And now onto the open road. Well, I suppose someone might be interested (for when they get their next courtesy car) so in the public interest, I floor it and look down at a slightly annoying thing in the corner of one of my finger nails. I need to do something to fill the time...
But hold on - this is different. Firstly the car is making a pleasing sound. Like a proper smooth likeable engine. And we are accelerating - quite well. And as the revs build, the sound gets better, and we are accelerating more! This car is good! I'm smiling again and now we're off. Barrelling into roundabouts and having fun through the gears on the way out. Up to the red line - every time - and the car is fun and quick. Not hugely quick, but easily quick enough. And there's the new challenge - I'm in the baby one but I can have you! It's like being 18 again, and I guess that, in Type S form, this is where many of these cars are going to end up. Forget the mocking (I know there will be arguments about this) but if you need a car with a small engine for whatever reason, then the new 100 bhp 1.4 is an absolute cracker. Even as a regular 5 door like this, it has easily enough performance to make the car not just acceptable, but actually great fun. I know I'm going to live to regret saying this, but I actually had more fun
in the 1.4-100 5 door than I did in the 1.8 Type S. Bizarre, but true!
5. 2.2 EX 5 door manual
Click here: 2006 Civic diesel vs. 2009 Civic diesel vs. Golf 6 diesel
So there you go - the surprises for me were that the two cars that you may think were going to be as dull as ditchwater (the 1.4 and the 1.8 Auto) were absolute crackers, the i-Shift I was expecting to be brilliant made me feel sick, and the Type S has gained some useful refinement. As usual though, pay no attention to car reviews - test drive the cars to find out for yourself.
5door1.jpg 5door2.jpg group.jpg 70s5door.jpg
The tyres fitted to these cars were Bridgestone Turanzas.
1.4-100 i-VTEC: 47.9 mpg, 135 g/km
1.4-100 i-VTEC i-Shift: 49.6 mpg, 132 g/km
2.2 i-CDTI (SE): 55.4 mpg, 134 g/km
2.2 i-CDTI (ES up): 55.4 mpg, 139 g/km
1.8 Auto (SE): 39.8 mpg, 165 g/km
1.8 Auto (ES up): 38.7 mpg, 169 g/km
Other related links: USB input screens
, White Type R
, Diesel Accord Automatic
This article was written in a private section of the forum on Nov 28, but not made public until 1/12.