First things first, this is a fantastic
car. Anyone new to the 2006/2007 Civic, and in the market for a three door warm hatch is going to be impressed. It's hard not to be - the car we know and love has been re-spun to create a sporty model with something of a nod to the Type-R styling. So there's the good news - Honda have created one of the best sporting 3-door hatchbacks on the market. Yet, in terms of value and to the seasoned 5-door owner, this car comes as a disappointment.
Put simply, there just isn't enough here to make up for the lack of doors, the additional cost, or the reduction of trim choices. Badge or practicality? The choice is yours.
Let us take a fictional trip to the Honda Marketing office....
Employee 1: "So, we need to do a three door, what's going to work well?"
Employee 2: "Well without the back doors, the whole thing looks sleeker!"
Employee 1: "Erm, no. They'll look almost the same now."
Employee 2: "Fair enough - well, obviously the reduced price will pull in more people than the 5 door"
Employee 1: "Except we're aiming to price it as a premium model"
Employee 2: "Right, okay - let's half-heartedly pop a badge on it, make some slightly sticky-out trims and charge more"
Employee 1: "You'll go far, here's a promotion."
Cynical, but it was always going to be clear that a vanilla three door version of the popular 8th Generation Civic was going to struggle against an extremely sporting looking 5 Door, with the same lines and styling. Still, there are some changes to this revision..
So what has changed? Honda claim to have uprated the suspension, and the brakes. Certainly the 17" wheels supplied on the review car looked to fill up the wheel arch slightly better than the 17-inchers on the 5 Door, so we can assume some lowering and stiffening has taken place. Upon taking the car out on the road, you can tell the ride is harsher and firmer - perhaps akin to the feel of 18" wheels on the 5-Door version. Improved brakes are also included, which definitely feel keener than those on the 5-Door models.
The external side skirts are not body-coloured like the Type-R, but keep the same twisted fusilli style shape of the forthcoming hot hatch. The off-grey matched with the metallic Vivid Blue, stands out in a bad way. It's quite a shame, since part of the appeal of the Type-S is the more aggressive styling; something is lost with the skirt colouring. This effect is probably less severe with black or bronze.
At the front, we have a replacement front panel, which looks wide and menacing from the front, but more like a guppy from the side.
This is definitely an improvement from the standard 5 Door equivalent trim. Less different at the rear, but an updated grill reminds on-lookers of the intention of the car.
As we move inside, there are a number of subtle changes worth mentioning. Firstly, the new seats (complete with handles for rear passenger ingress) do look sportier. The material for the central sections feels more substantial than the existing seats, and has contrasting white stitching to complete the effect. On closer inspection, the build quality of the seat seems to have dropped a little - specifically the feel of the mechanical adjustments such as seat height and position levers. In the rear, the styling continues, but with the removal of the central drop-down arm rest, and new side panels. These look pretty nice, with lozenge-shaped speaker grills high up the door, and new silver-rimmed cup holders giving a quality feel to the spacious rear seats.
It's also worth noting that Honda have removed the magic seat functionality, and the seats cannot be lifted up cinema-style as in the 5-door.
Sitting in the drivers seat, one immediately notices the leather steering wheel even on the standard trim level Type-S. Most things feel familiar, and fall to hand as you might expect, but the driving position appears noticeably higher. Even on the lowest height setting, I felt like I needed to drop down a few notches. There are a few minor changes to the seatbelts, including a seat tether loop to keep the holster in place. One concern was the lack of visibility when doing an over-the-shoulder check; altered door/pillar layouts have made things worse since the 5 door (which itself has a few pillar issues).
Setting off, and giving the car a good workout, it's clear that there are some minor changes with the driving feel. The clutch felt slightly easier, and the engine less liable to lurch in first gear, this car did seem very slightly smoother. These changes are more likely revisions of the ECU since the 5 Door has been on the market for 9 months. It will be interesting to see if existing ECUs get altered at service time.
The car feels very natural, and offers an almost identical to drive to the 1.8 5 Door. The small amount of "scrabbling" pulling away quickly from bends was slightly disconcerting, as this is not something that happens on my own 1.8 SE. This could have been down to the brand new tyres, or the new suspension - there's certainly no more grip available on the 3 Door.
Finally, the long-awaited iPod link. Hidden away in the dashboard cubbyhole, this is a proprietary Apple connector, with a small covering cap for when the link is not in use. The cable is brought down from the 'roof' of the hole, and is around 8" long. It's impossible to be kind to this attempt at getting auxiliary input to the head unit.
Mating the iPod and cable results in a Honda logo on the device's screen, and a quick shuffle of the head unit "mode" setting reveals the CDC (CD Changer setting) option. There are no track listings, artist details, or any information about the music whatsoever. This, coupled with the locking out of the iPod's screen and controls during connection means music is virtually uncontrollable. Albums are selected at random (with no apparent means of stopping this), then tracks can be accessed sequentially within the album. Something of an own goal, and far less useful than a basic 3.5mm AUX jack.
Apparently playlists are supported, but this merely adds the playlist name to the display. Even the physicalities of the link are dubious. You can only place the iPod in the cubby hole, which of course is much larger than the device itself. Every single corner results in a thud of iPod against dashboard, as it slides around inside. The price for this magical combination? Between £220 and £300.
Addition of the GT pack adds serious expense to the car, but includes dual zone climate, cruise. front foglights, auto lights, auto wipers, glass roof, power folding mirrors.. essentially an EX with a glass roof.
In conclusion, and despite the criticisms, we are looking at a superb vehicle. It is key to remember this review is mainly in comparison to a remarkable 5 Door car which offers much more flexibility in terms of trim, rear space and to housing back-seat passengers. The chassis improvements are minimal, and the updated skirts are not going to convince many buyers. It feels not so much a "Poor Man's Type-R" but more like a "Rich Man's SE".
Best 3 door coupe in it's class? Absolutely. Best Civic in Honda's range - no way. Bring on the Type-R!