Wheels24 correspondent Egmont Sippel names his top 10 cars of 2016. Below is his review of the new Honda Civic.
Cape Town - There are a couple of vehicles vying for the final spot on my 2016 list, like the Jaguar F-Pace, Mercedes E-Class, Ford Mustang, Audi A4, Renault Megane and Honda Civic.
The F-Pace and E-Class are brand new, of course, but I’ve not had enough seat time to judge properly.
The Mustang, strictly speaking, belongs to 2015, although I only drove it in 2016.
Straight into premium
But it’s the latter three that all made unexpectedly huge leaps in terms of sophistication, so much so that the Megane and Civic’s new-found refinement combines with a plethora of high-tech features to lift both sets of wheels out of the traditional mass market econobox segment straight into premium, and - in the Civic’s case - entry-level luxury.
Even the weakest design feature on both cars - namely dashboards (and the Renault’s is particularly drab) - nevertheless represents an improvement over what used to be the C-segment norm. As an example: the Megane boasts a large, portrait-sized touchscreen a la the Volvo XC90’s, albeit with fewer functions and far cheaper graphics.
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Why climate control would be buried inside the touch screen is beyond me, however. Some things - like temperature settings and fan speed - still work best with a simple twist of the wrist, although the elimination of the exact same twist of the wrist in unlocking doors and starting up engines is a huge gain.
As always, Renault has taken the process of easy keyless entry one step further by eliminating even the need to push a button or fiddle with the door handle, as the system locks or unlocks the car all by itself when moving out of or into range; a big convenience plus.
Sticking to the same theme and you can start up the Honda’s engine via remote control to warm the car or cool it down before boarding.
High-tech doesn’t stop there, either. The lists go on, especially in the French offering, as Renault is on a real give-them-cake mission to democratize the driving experience; the options list even boasts a self-parking feature. But it is really the progress made on mechanical, structural and aero fronts that’s blazing a trail. Both the Renault and Honda are smooth operators with outstanding levels of ride quality and noise suppression, even at speeds approaching 200km/h.
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It is probably in this regard that the Honda plays its trump card, in the shape of sophisticated new multi-link rear suspension which not only improves handling and specifically ride quality, the latter beyond measure, but also plays its part - in combo with a MacPherson strut front and some good sound dampening - to banish road and suspension noise to a degree that Mercedes can only offer in far more expensive cars.
The Megane, by contrast, still rides on a torsion beam at the back and it shows - if only just.
Transmissions and drivetrains
Other obvious differences between the French and Japanese offerings would be engines and transmissions.
All locally available Civics now utilize CVT to send either 1.8-litre normally aspirated or 1.5-litre turbo petrol power to the front wheels whilst middle ground in the Megane range is covered by a 1.2-litre turbo coupled to an auto or manual box, the all-petrol range capped off by a normally aspirated model at the bottom and a 151kW 1.6 turbo hottie at the top.
What’s immediately obvious about both the Renault and Honda is how easy they are to drive, amongst other reasons also because of much improved weighting on the steering systems.
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Renault’s automated gearboxes, even with dual clutch technology, are not the sharpest tools around, but manual boxes are a lot slicker nowadays (although still with vague remnants of shift shock), whilst Honda now leads the CVT charge with a new generation of belts and pulleys largely devoid of the terrible droning that gave gearless technology such a bad name, not to forget the importance of calibration which accurately mimics the characteristics of an auto box.
Ultimately, the Megane and Civic both deliver in spades, but don’t expect fireworks from either. The focus is on calm, comfortable, relaxed and fuel-efficient drives in quiet, refined cabins devoid of wind and road noise
On average, the Megane - at lower price points - makes do with less power, whilst the Civic provides slightly more shove plus a touch of real class in its quest to justify bold pricing, the car’s calibre best defined, perhaps, by how thoroughly the suspension absorbs shocks and sounds; a marvellous achievement, with a real touch of Zen.
That’s, ultimately, why the Civic nudges the Megane out of my 2016 Top 10 cars.