Having taken delivery of my 1.8 i-Vtect Sport a couple of days ago, I've since covered just over 450km on a combination of smooth motorways, varying quality A roads and poorly maintained, potholed B roads.
My first impressions of the car are as follows:
No qualms here. Being 5ft 9" I found it extremely easy to find a comfortable place at the helm of the Civic (doing so in less than a minute). What's more, both front seat headrests adjust up and down very easily, whilst the offset handbrake lever (which allows for a useful central stowage area) falls easily to hand.
Perhaps flightdeck is a more accurate way of describing the Civic's dashboard layout. Intuitively laid out and a joy to behold, the two-tier design allows for an easy visual switch between speedometer and rev counter. And, whilst initially I thought the multi-function display (placed centrally within the rev counter) to be rather over designed, it's actually easy to grasp all of the information shown, particularly when flicking through each display with the steering wheel mounted "info" button.
As for the steering wheel itself, JC was spot on when he said "Examine, if you will, exhibit A, the steering wheel. It is fashioned from at least three separate parts and has all sorts of buttons on it for the cruise control and stereo. So how much do you think it costs Honda to make it? I have no idea, but I bet a wheel like this is three times more expensive than the wheel on a Ford Focus or VW Golf".
Aside from the dinky dimensions of the wheel itself (which only adds to the Civic's sporty feel) it's good to the touch, with the radio/CD, cruise control and info display buttons all having a solid, tactile, quality feel. My only grumble here is with the fan control buttons being slightly obscured and fiddly to use when switching between modes i.e. air to face, air to legs etc.
Of course, the "boiled sweet" engine start button (and indeed the similarly coloured warning triangle button), help make the Civic feel even more special than its rivals, though upon closer inspection the lack of soft-touch plastics becomes evident.
That said, once you turn the key and you're greeted by the glorious blue backlit displays, then you realise how much trouble Honda went to in designing the Civic's driving environment. And, without a shadow of a doubt, it's a big success!
On the Road
I think Basegreen summed the i-Vtec engine up well when he concluded it was a case of "how would you like to drive today?". Under normal city driving conditions, the engine and gearbox pair well, with gearing that allows the i-Vtec to go about it's business in a restrained, docile fashion (even though a quick glance at the speedo will show you that it's no slouch on the road).
Shod with 17" alloys, the Civic is a supreme motorway cruiser at the legal limit. But at higher speeds on European roads (where allowed), the drone from the i-Vtec starts to be become tiresome (at over 4,000 rpm in 6th). So, even though Honda's i-Vtec engines are world renowned for their high revving nature, I'd be inclined to treat this latest incarnation as a relaxed cruiser rather than an out and out barnstormer.
On very smoothly surfaced, slightly rutted roads (i.e. Budapest's city streets which are less well-textured/grippy than most British roads), I've found that the Civic has a disconcerting tendency to feel as if it's tramlining. Having come from a Jazz SE sport in which there was a good deal of positive road feedback, this is one aspect of the Civic's overall performance that I'm so far disappointed with. I would summarise it as being skittish under such conditions, although more textured road surfaces allow for the Civic's accomplished driving manners to shine through. Certainly traction is very good, allowing the car to quickly and surefootedly sweep through bends.
When I first test drove the Civic, my biggest worry was the lack of rear visibility. Now, however, having put a few miles on the clock, I can honestly say that it's really not bad at all. Certainly, the oversized wing mirrors help matters significantly, but it's still not the terrible view that What Car described. And, at night the rear lip spoiler deals brilliantly with Hungarian tailgaters!
Aside from the dreaded fuel flap gremlin making an an appearance at first fill-up, build quality seems very good on my Civic. Panel gaps and shut lines are spot on, while the paint finish is also good. I do have some concerns about the height from which you have to "drop" the bonnet upon closing (bearing in mind the rubbing paint, spacer issue), whilst the black upholstery fabric, particularly on the door trims, doesn't seem that durable. No squeaks or rattles as yet, so that's a good sign too!
A Couple of Things I've Noticed
In operation, the CD head unit makes discs become very hot, with my wife commenting "I thought it was just supposed to play them, not toast them too!". I tend to agree, with the expectation that my CD collection will be turned into a Daliesque work sometime within the next fortnight. Has anyone else found this to be true?
2nd to 3rd sometimes feels quite notchy. Perhaps it's my imagination but the quality of the change seems to worsen after a few hours on the road. By no means bad, but not as slick as my old Jazz between those gears. The rest of the six speeder though is faultless!
At night, the reflection from the rev counter/radio display onto the windscreen is quite annoying. Cured obviously by turning down the illumination level from it's brightest setting, but a problem which surprised me initially.
Sound quality from the standard speakers isn't bad at all, providing you tone down the treble from the fronts and let the rears do a bit more work. For an audiophile, it's never going to rock your boat, but for us mere mortals it's good enough!
4/5 overall. I tend to disagree with the view that its a triumph of style over substance. Yes, there are failings with the new Civic, but once you press that big red starter button all is forgiven! Moreover, long term, providing the car can live up to the traditional high standards associated with Honda, then I'll be a happy bunny.
For sure, the Focus drives slightly better, but it's oh so dreary to look at, the Golf is too expensive by far and offerings from the likes of Peugeot, Citroen, Vauxhall and Toyota seem dull by comparison. All told, it's almost impossible not to like the Civic and its idiosincracies. This car is a seriously addictive driving machine!
P.S. Will post gallery pics soon, once I've cleaned the mud off me tyres (looking like a tractor at the mo).
Thank you for listening