Packaged for perfection

Unlike its lacklustre predecessor, the all-new Civic is tasked to bring its once-loyal followers back to the shrinking segment. But can it redeem itself once more? Keegan Dorai takes it around for a spin in Kota Kinabalu

by KEEGAN DORAI
Test Location: Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia
GPS: 5.9804, 116.0735

he C-segment is a fading area — well at least in Malaysia currently — as most manufacturers are throwing whatever they have at both the lower or upper degree that attracts most of its buyers in. For example, take a good look at its lower-end sibling, the Honda City. It’s so famous that even Honda finds that an update is nowhere near pending. However don’t get me wrong cause the City is — by far — one of the best B-segment cars you can buy today in the market.

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It is properly equipped, and it drives well, and it feels well put together. This remains a testament that Honda is back to conquer that growing gap it once experienced with its dated models. Heck, you don’t even need to look further than this to note a remark. Take a good look at the Vios. There is nothing much to rave but excoriate for its drab dynamics, imageless cabin and underwhelming safety features. Shockingly, it still sells in thousands.

If we take two steps above, then you’re looking at the impressive Honda Accord at the prestigious D-category. The biggest saloon that Honda is willing to offer you if you can cough out RM144,800 for one. And that money buys you an entry-level 2.0-litre variant. Not enough? Then it looks like you need to add on some serious cash to gain access to the range-topping 2.4-litre. Yes, it comes with all the toys you’ll ever need, but what if you’re just in for that fancy LED-powered headlamps?

Now this is where you’re getting it wrong. So instead of wiring your entire paycheck to the bank in monthly instalments just to buy yourself into a set of fancy headlamps, why don’t you take a look at Honda’s all-new Civic? Yes, it comes with a nice space-age design, a modern dashboard, and those deceiving headlamps that will ensure you’re keeping up with modernity.

Yes, the Civic is indeed a great car. But blessed be, Honda is not going to complicate you with a list of options that could potentially drive you mad. Its either you’re in for the regular 1.8-litre model, or suited up for the suave-looking 1.5-litre VTEC turbo variant — which is primary party piece that brings me here to Kota Kinabalu to give it a try.

Priced at RM131,880, it looks like the new Civic will be a strong-selling car. Back at home, bookings have shot through the roof, and customers are still pouring in to get themselves on board the Turbo VTEC bandwagon. But there is a different twist over there, all because Honda believes that the Civic should be more received in the land where Land Cruisers and pick-up trucks rule.

Yes, the picturesque state of Sabah is well known for its scenic mountains, nice coastlines and succulent food. Withal, you still need to get yourself a proper off-roader to penetrate through mother nature’s dense greeneries and rough roads. However, that was once how Sabah is, and you don’t need some modified SUV with oversized off-road rubbers to tackle a well-paved road in town that looks like its done by a bunch of Swiss perfectionists.

And trust me on this, the Civic does perform, drive and feel very well suited over here. That’s my very first impression after taking the keys to a Turbo variant. Having driven its dreadful predecessor, the FB4, it looks like Honda’s mid-range marauder FC1 is on course to attract some prospects over here in the land below the wind.

Being a complete makeover, the Civic now sports a redesigned silhouette that holds a pair of handsome-looking headlamps, sportier lines, bumpers, rear lights, and so on. Likewise, the Turbo also differs itself from its naturally-aspirated cousin by having LED-powered headlamps, a set of swankier 17-inch alloys, all-round leather seats on the inside and a miniscule badge tacked on at the back which spells out the auspicious word: Turbo.

Despite its rakish outer appearance, the Civic boasts a remarkable headroom and legroom space at the back, echoing the spacious rear accommodation that I’ve once experienced with its bigger brother, the Accord. At the driver’s corner, you’ll get a multi-adjustable electric seat that pats you into place, a well-designed and ergonomically-efficient dashboard dotted with numerous quality-laden buttons and panels.

Class leading interior I would say, as it is the most attractive and yet well-glued together part of the car that currently looks like the best in business. Yes, it might not give Ford’s nice-to-drive Focus a scare, but in comparison to its Euro-focused rival, it looks a whole lot better overall. Fuel economy clocked during my drive around was remarkable enough — achieving a combined 12.4km/L.

Equipment count for the Civic is pretty high. To further enhance its buying standpoint, the Turbo gets a digital meter cluster, paddle shifters and remote engine start. The media interface comes with Apple’s CarPlay or Android integration, and the system works pretty well if a phone is connected via its bluetooth function. While experiencing this on the go, the Civic feels very well cocooned, excluding unwanted road noise and harshness into the cabin. The suspension returns a plaint ride quality, though a bit firm over uneven surfaces in town.

While heading up the mountain roads, it steers with great feedback. The suspension copes at sharp bends very well, and body roll is well controlled. Surprisingly, the CVT transmission feels sorted out too, and it kicks down a cog or two when you apply the brakes during downhill — despite being a one-speed unit — or two, to be precise as there is a reverse gear function. Performance from its sprightly 1.5-litre turbocharged motor returns you a respectable 173bhp and 220Nm, and it feels properly fast and yet economical at the same time if driven sanely.

Verdict

A Ford Focus would be the definitive choice in the dynamics sector, but the Civic is so well-rounded that it even trumps the Focus in other key areas. In a class now filled with monochrome and straightforward rivals, the new Civic somehow beats any of its competitors within the C-segment quarter by a country mile in many ways.

The Civic proves a point that mid-sized family saloons should still persevere on as both fun and practical at the same time. It is both efficient and powerful at the same time, too. But most importantly, the Civic is now back better than ever. And to all of its closest rivals — you’re gonna be in for a hard time.

Honda Civic 1.5 Turbo

Engine Inline-4, 1496cc, turbocharged
Co2 N/A
Power 173bhp @ 5500rpm
Torque 220Nm @ 1700rpm
0-100km/h 7.0sec
Top speed 180km/h (tested)
Weight 1325kg
Price RM131,880

evo rating: ★★★★

'And trust me on this, the Civic does perform, drive and feel very well suited over here.'

'In a class now filled with monochrome and straightforward rivals, the new Civic somehow beats any of its competitors within the C-segment quarter by a country mile in many ways.'