- Published: Saturday, 01 July 2017 17:40
A Honda Civic hatchback with 173bhp and a non-Type R price sounds like a spiritual successor to the iconic ‘E series’ Hondas, but could it be a modern best-seller too?
SINGAPORE — It’s been 17 years since the last mainstream Honda Civic hatchback was officially. That party ended in 1999 though, when the Civic EK three-door ceased production. 2007 saw the FN2 Honda Civic Type R hatchback return, but that was a top-tier model in a different league altogether.
With nearly two decades and three whole generations between them though, one big question comes up: Is the 2017 Civic Hatchback still the performance bargain it once was?
The question is already partially-answered with the 1.5 Turbo sedan we found to be a very grown-up, refined and all-round capable sedan than boy-ricer, but there are differences between the two.
Naturally the Hatchback is built upon the same bones as the sedan, and is available only in 1.5 Turbo form. At 4,515mm long, 1,799mm wide and 1,434mm high, the Hatch is 115mm shorter and 18mm taller than the sedan, and weighs a near-as-makes-no-difference 2kg less. Wheelbase is identical at 2,700mm.
Other changes? Well apart from the obviously truncated rear end, the Hatch sports different bumpers, with non-functioning “air intakes” at each corner that make it look a lot like the upcoming FK8 Type R. The Hatch also loses the sedan’s sunroof, but gains electric adjustment for the front passenger’s seat in addition to the driver’s. As far as differences go, that’s your lot.
Given the Civic’s history, arguably one should by default expect more from the hatchback, although to be fair, Honda isn’t marketing it as having any edge over the sedan.
There’s quick steering (two turns lock to lock) and rest of the handling package is very confidence-inspiring. There’s little body roll to speak of, and even when pushing at 7/10ths on a wet, narrow road, provoking it with sudden steering and braking inputs didn’t upset it at all; the tail didn’t step out, there was no feeling of instability, just plenty of grip and go. It handles bumps pretty well too — somewhat fidgety over small imperfections perhaps, but remaining composed over speed bumps or large undulations.
With 173bhp the Civic’s acceleration is definitely what one might call brisk, it just never feels as fast as the rapidly rising digital speedometer suggests. That’s down to the Continuously Variable Transmission, which despite what any car brand labels or says, is not a gearbox suited to sporty driving.
With manual mode, you’ll remain smack in the powerband, though the virtual shifts are slurred so slowly you’d think the “gears” are being changed in a vat of cream cheese.
Drive it in a more sensible manner though, and it all starts to make more sense. The engine revs quite happily when you’re pressing on, but it also pulls competently at the lower end of the tachometer, in a way that naturally-aspirated Japanese cars never do. And of course, having a CVT allows for better refinement and economy at a cruise, the engine easily maintaining 1,500rpm on the highway.
Further back, the hatch loses 41-litres of carrying capacity compared to the sedan (478-litres vs 519-litres), but crucially the load area is much more useable. For one, you now have a massive boot aperture and fold down rear seats for 1,308-litres of space.
As with the sedan, the equipment count is decent, with electric front seats, rear aircon, a walk-away auto lock feature, a convenient brake hold function (no need to step on the brakes at traffic lights) and the rather excellent Lanewatch system that uses a wing mirror-mounted camera to show you what’s in your blind spot.
Whether it’s due to engineering limitations, product planning decisions, or simply just the choice of gearbox, the Civic Turbo Hatchback can’t offer cut-price Type R thrills like the EG VTI or EK SiR could. It would have been nice to have the hatch as a warmer option (like VW’s GTI that’s a go-between for the normal Golf and Golf R) but here, as in other markets, it seems it was never in Honda’s plans.
There’s no getting around the fact that the Hatchback costs $12,000 more than the sedan, though this also partly due to the fact that the Hatch is 1g/km into a CEVS demerit of $5,000.
What the Hatchback does bring to the plate are the same attributes that make the sedan so appealing - excellent cruising abilities, deft ride and handling and a spacious interior, but with the added bonus of a pert new rear end, an even more functional load area, and if you’re so inclined, relative exclusivity. One thing is clear for fans of the old Civic hatchbacks: nostalgia comes at a hefty price.
This paint colour, Sonic Grey Pearl, is unique to the Hatchback
NEED TO KNOW
Honda Civic 1.5 Turbo Hatchback
Engine 1,498cc, 16V, inline 4, turbocharged
Power 173hp at 5,500rpm
Torque 220Nm at 1,700rpm
Top Speed 200km/h
0-100km/h 8.4 seconds
Fuel efficiency 6.0L/100km
Price $138,999 with COE