Autocar - Final report.
Autocar magazine have been running a Galaxy grey 2.2 ES for the last year. This is their final report before presumably selling it from their fleet.
Covnention is an effective killer of clever new things. "Oh no, we could never do that - it's far too unconventional", actually means "Oh no, we could never do that, we're far too afraid of it going wrong". Car companies are often a lot better than other big manufacturers at taking risks with new products - oddities such as the Mercedes CLS make our roads a much more interesting place to be - and this sort of adventurous spirit should be encouraged.
So I shouldn't be saying this, because it seems wrong to have a go at a really big company for trying to do something different. But if there is one thing really wrong with the Honda Civic, it's the bizarre interior. There is, in fact, more than one thing wrong with the Civic, but the interior is the most noticeable. Not only do bits of it not work very well (the speedo is obscured by the steering wheel and the stereo controls are curiosly offset from the driver, almost on the other side of the dash, which makes the hard to reach) but it will also date faster than an ironic mullet.
Still none of this seems to be putting people off buying Civics. In the last year they have multiplied and are now all over the place, which probably means I'm a picky sod and most people are worried by space, economy, build quality and value than by how something is going to look in 10 years. And most people who travelled in the Civic were amazed by the car's dash, especially at night, when it's illuminated by bright, clear blue and white dials that give it an impressive space-age feel.
But our car has done its job very well. It did the bulk of 25,000 miles we put on it in the hands of a staff photohrapher which meant a relentless schedule of pan-european drives and lots and lots of time on UK motorways. It didn't get washed very much, we serviced it once and it never broke down. In fact, apart from the service, the only time we had to take it back to the dealer (Chiswick Honda in London) was when the boot lock worked loose, meaning we couldn't shut the boot properly. The call to the service department went like this:
Me: "Hello, I've got a Civic and the boot lock has worked loose, so we can't shut the boot".
Them: "Fine, bring it in tomorrow morning and we'll sort it out".
Me: "Okay, see you tomorrow".
That worried me a bit. They didn't take my name or number or registration. So I turned up, fully expecting them to have precisely no knowledge of our conversation. But they did. And they fixed it in 30 minutes. And they were polite and helpful. It was the same when we had it serviced - quicky, efficient and on time. Just how a dealer should be.
So thats a good thing. Another good thing is the driving position and the steering. The seat goes low enough to let you get down on the floor of the car, the wheel adjusts to just the right place, and when you turn it, it's much more responsive than you expect. Diesel Civics have different steering from petrol ones - more feelsome and quicker reacting, if a bit keen to self centre too quickly.
Enough nice stuff for a bit. Here comes another serious moment, and this time its not just down to personal taste. The Civic has torsion beam rear suspension; that's essentially a large metal bar joining the rear wheels together. And it's noisy. I remember driving one at the launch of the Civic and thinking, "They're going to have to re-engineer the suspension because it's really noisy". But they didn't. So it knocks and thumps from the rear like something fundamental hasn't been done up properly. It cannot absorb the potholes and bumps and all the other stuff you have to drive over every day in the city. Yes, it means you get more boot space (the more sophisticated independent suspension employed by the Golf and Focus intrudes into the boot) but I had to hold my jaw shut every time I drove the Civic.
The noise and lack of dampening may not have been helped by the large glass roof, standard on ES models. It does a lot for the interior ambience, flooding the dark cabin with light, but cutting a hole that big in a five-door body shell can't be good for the cars rigidity.
But despite it sounding like the back axle was due to part company with the rest of the car, nothing fell off the Civic. It broke down once. Well more 'didn't start' than actually broke down. The engine cut out - a designed in feature that isolates the fuel and electricity in the event of a major crash or the car turning over. Odd, because the car hadn't been crashed or turned over. It had been sitting outside a colleagues house overnight. It's easy to reset - you just pull off a cover on the dash and press a button - and the manual actually tells you how to do it, instead of referring you to the nearest dealer, which seems to be the default setting for most handbooks. Which bring me back to the interior. All that silver plastic looks very Buck Rogers, but after 25,000 miles it was looking more like something my five-year-old Godson had made at school and then taken to the park for a kickabout. The silver paint had scratched badly on the door pulls, and the plastics around the bottom of the doors and on the seat backs were covered in scruffs scrapes where the surface of the material was scored, not just dirty.
We also couldn't get the Civic to manage anything like Honda's claimed 55.4MPG, averaging just 39.8MPG although this may not have been entirely the car's fault. It's first owner was a little heavy with his right foot and I suspect nine months of this seriously dented the car's economy. When he left it started to return around 42MPG, and I reckon longer in the hands of an easier going driver would have resulted in more improvements.
I have spent the last year trying to be convinced by the Civic. As a car for longer journeys it's great - punchy engine, admirable economy (if short of Honda's claims) and it's comfortable. It has never seriously broke down, needing only a couple of litres of oil and a pair of front tyres in 25,000 miles. And it's well though out; neat touches such as the hidden compartment in the boot floor which stops bags of shopping from falling over are very welcome. But as a car for a city dweller, and for someone who likes cars that ride well, the constant fidgeting from the rear suspension is enough to put me off. And I still don't like the interior.
Test economy: 39.8MPG
Expenses: 12,000 mile service (£175), two new tyres (£176), one litre of oil (£14.99)
Faults: Self-activating fuel cut-out switch, loose boot lock.
Price at new: £17,275 Current value (expected): £12,050
Last edited by czechplastik; 25th May 2007 at 06:11.