First Drive - 2006 Honda Civic
Monday, 27 February 2006
There haven’t been many big changes to the Civic in a long time. After all, if it’s not broke, why try to fix it? Well Honda decided to mess with a good thing anyway - and made it even better.
The Civic is all new. Its styling builds on the puckered and podgy-look of the recently redesigned Accord. The aerodynamic profile is one of the first things that strike you about the design. It doesn’t stop there.
Honda has made the Civic’s interior as radical as its exterior. Honda took a new approach to the dashboard by splitting the instrument panel into two levels. The most important information such as speed, fuel level, and engine temperature is displayed in the top pod, just below the windshield. Secondary information such as engine RPM and the like are in the lower pod.
Apart from the obvious aesthetic benefits and an elevated cool quotient, this arrangement also has a useful practical benefit.
The essential information is always in the line of sight of the driver, who doesn’t have to take his eyes off the road - a useful innovation that works and is sure to be followed in the future.
Though not a big quibble, we wish Honda could have included the tachometer too in their list of essential information. Overall, there is a blue glow inside the cockpit.
The aircon controls, CD/radio displays and the traditionally positioned tachometer also has luminescence and looks suitably attractive.
The three-spoke steering wheel is sporty with a large boss and hollow spokes further giving the Civic interior that funky cockpit-like look. The steering wheel tilts and telescopes, the driver seat height is adjustable and there is ample legroom for tall drivers too.
The cab forward architecture has freed up space and rear occupants get generous head and legroom. The car is quite roomy up front, and with sufficient leg space for rear-seat passengers and a completely flat rear floor - one of the old Civic’s slickest features, which is back for 2006 again.
With its spacious dash and considerable legroom, the first impression is that you’re really in the larger Accord. Honda has always been known for its technical prowess and silky smooth engines.
The new Civic also follows suit. Until last year, Honda provided the Civic with two powerplants: 1.7- and 1.5-litre, depending upon the variant. This year and for the eighth-generation Civic, Honda has toned it down to just one – a potent 1.8-litre iVTEC unit making 140bhp at 6300 rpm.
Honda claims to have tuned this new motor to deliver the fuel economy of a 1.6 - a fact that most customers will be happy about. The Civic is great to drive in traffic thanks to the electric power steering’s quick ratio, though there is a lack of real feedback at the wheel.
A half turn of steering lock is all it takes to turn the car around most corners. Throttle responses are decent and the brakes are strong and beautifully weighted.
The car clearly has sufficient performance at low engine speeds to keep it moving smartly, but it becomes slightly sluggish when kicked down hard, especially when quick overtaking is necessary in urban driving conditions.
The five-speed auto box is not the most responsive gearbox around and this shows up quite clearly during engine kick-down.
Body control and overall poise are superb, even when the car is being driven hard with the tyres howling in protest. The stiff chassis swallows poor sections of the road painlessly and silently.
But it’s what’s underneath the skin that we like best. Honda designed the Civic using what it calls “advanced compatibility engineering”. Translation: It’s designed not to get pummelled when hit by a bigger vehicle.
Civic has always been the small-car trendsetter, and the new Civic sets new standards for safety, styling and comfort. We love the new interior design and applaud Honda’s commitment to safety.
But we must confess to missing the small-car exuberance of the Civics of yore. If you’re looking for the safest, cushiest, and most advanced compact car on the market, you’re going to love the new Civic.