Earthquakes, tsunamis and floods thousands of kilometres away from South Africa delayed the arrival here of the latest Honda Civic – version nine of a name that has been around for 40 years. Believe us; it was worth the wait...
Stock of the four-door versions has been building at dealers since the beginning of 2012, though early 2011 reports on Wheels24 said the cars would arrive towards the end of that year. The cruel side of Mother Nature took care of those plans with the earthquake horror in Japan and the subsequent devastating floods in Thailand which halted production of the smaller Ballade – but Honda is working hard to catch up with demand.
ALL MODELS BY MARCH
The Civic was finally launched to general journalistic acclaim this week with a drive through the Outeniqua mountains north of George in the Western Cape where the cars – all top-end 1.8 (104kW/6500rpm and 175Nm/4300rpm) models, half of them five-speed auto/manual sequential and normal five-speed manual – showed their paces through the that area’s glorious passes.
Pace – and excellent handling thanks to engine and suspension improvements – they certainly have. And the UK-built four-door hatchback will be here within three months.
The 1.8i models are available now; the 1.6i will arrive in February, 2012. Honda is looking to sell 300-350 units a month. And an ‘R’ version? Yes, in five-door guise, but nobody is sure when thanks to the Mom Nature-forced production delays.
Yoshiaki Nakamura, managing director of Honda Southern Africa, explained: “2011 was a difficult year – in particular in SA. The earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan and the flooding in Thailand had a major impact in supplying all product, particularly the Ballade (smaller but very similar in appearance to the Civic that is assembled in Thailand)) and the Civic four-door that is assembled in Japan...
Thailand was a major supplier of parts for many Honda models.
The Ballade was launched in South Africa early in 2011.
“The disasters caused a nine-month production delay. No sooner had we launched the Ballade in South Africa than supply dried up and we lost significant market share – our competitors had a golden opportunity! – but our brand is still second in the SA market.”
Honda SA does still have limited stock of the Ballade, but that is likely to dry up in the next couple of months.
Nakamura added: “Our brand strength and the launch of three products over the next two years will ensure we recover market share as a leading supplier of high-quality products.”
Of which the C-segment Mk.9 Civic is undoubtedly one... There are eight models – an entry-level 1.6i Comfort (92kW/6500rpm, 151Nm/4300rpm) in manual and auto form, and Comfort, Elegance and Executive units, each also auto or manual.
The cars are 15mm shorter in overall length but the architecture has permitted 75mm more shoulder and 40mm rear leg space with the cabin moved slightly forward. The former split-level fascia and with horizontally split digital info panels, the upper displaying important data such as speed, the lower less necessary info, including a rev counter. Various screens with information choices can be scrolled-through.
NINE OF A KIND: This the ninth iteration of the now iconic Honda Civic (the Ballade for some years in South Africa) in 40 years has fresh good looks but still follows the computer-generated, anodyne shape of most modern compact family cars.
You can even install your own “wallpaper” through a USB connection – perhaps a picture of the family to help encourage safe driving!
Which will be further aided by “motion-adaptive electronic power-steering” working with passive stability control; the latter is described as “a passive safety feature that enhances the driver’s control of the vehicle in difficult driving situations”.
Translated: It helps the driver to combat over- and under-steer, particularly on a greasy road. “Together,” Honda says, “EPS and VSA control braking and engine torque and apply assist force on the steering wheel to help maintain control.”
All models also have an ‘ECON’ mode, “an intelligent fuel-saving assistance system that coaches drivers on the most-efficient driving style”. Honda says to expect a six percent saving using ECON, rising to nine percent by obeying (and learning from) the shift indicator.
Other safety-promotion goodies, standard only on the range-topping Civic 1.8 Executive, includes latest-generation stability assistance which units stability control, traction control and hill-start braking. A tyre-deflation warning system is also part of this package.
INFORMATION CENTRES: Two layers of information screens lie behind the steering wheel – the upper one with a trip data computer screen that also contains a speedometer and the lower dominated by a large rev counter. The display is programmable – put a picture of the family as a screensaver to remind you to drive safely.
The Civic, sales and marketing director Graham Eagle claimed, has class-leading aerodynamics to help reduce fuel consumption: despite some enthusiastic driving the auto returned 7.3 litres/100km and the manual 8.7 on our 300km test drive through the mountains – expect around seven from both under normal driving conditions.
You can help keep fuel consumption down by responding to the “beep” and flashing gearshift points indicated by the car’s computers. The auto gearbox also has what Honda calls G-shift control – no sudden shifts while cornering at speed; third gear will be held until the steering straightens out, at which point upshifts will be permitted.
Steering-wheel shifts are included with the 1.8 Executive auto. Play nicely, now...
The lower consumption is also helped by engine improvements (the 1.8, somewhat improved, has been carried over from the model launched five years earlier. Eagle also pointed out that the steering system will respond exactly to driver input – no argument there – the units I drove were superb up and down the three passes traversed.
If you enjoy fast, precision driving, then you’ll certainly enjoy this Civic. And it won’t be noisy – Honda has installed for sound insulation in what is also a stiffer body; attention has also been paid to muffling the starter motor’s operation and gearshift acceleration.
MAKE YOURSELF COMFORTABLE: The Civic’s steering wheel is reach and height-adjustable, the instrumentation comprehensive and the upper-end models come with leather and extra crash protection.
The 1.6 Comfort comes with 15” alloy rims (and a full-size spare), and power mirrors and windows. A height-adjustable driver’s seat is standard, as are a tilt/reach-adjustable steering column, MP3-compatible single-CD receiver with speed-sensitive volume control and an auxiliary audio connection, manual aircon with dust and pollen filters, an info button on the steering wheel and speed-sensitive auto door locks with selective unlocking.
The 1.8 Comfort adds heatable external mirrors and curtain airbags, the 1.8 Elegance 16” rims, leather-trimmed steering wheel and seats, hands-free Bluetooth cellphone connectivity, iPod and USB slots, a multi-function steering wheel, cruise control with speed limiter and auto aircon.
The range-topping 1.8 Executive further adds chromed door releases, front fog lights, power folding mirrors, paddle-shift controls for the auto version, stability assistance, tyre deflation warning, auto headlights and rain-sensing windscreen wipers.
Personally, I’d bite the bullet on the price premium and go for the 1.8 auto; not only is it fun to drive but it cruises 1000rpm slower (and consequently quieter) at 120km/h than the manual – 2300 against 3300rpm.
1.6i Comfort - R209 900
1.6i Comfort a/t - R221 900
1.8i V-TEC Comfort - R229 900
1.8i V-TEC Comfort a/t - R241 900
1.8i V-TEC Elegance - R259 900
1.8i V-TEC Elegance a/t - R271 900
1.8i V-TEC Executive - R269 900
1.8i V-TEC Executive a/t - R282 900
The above prices put the cars in the middle of the price range for C-segment models – less than Mazda and VW, more expensive than Toyota and Chevrolet.
Prices include a five-year or 90 000km service plan, and three-year or 100 000km warranty. Service intervals are every 15 000km, alternating between “oil change” level and “major”.