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Sunday, July 8, 2012

HONDA SA LAUNCHES NEW CIVIC HATCH






Honda South Africa, in fact Honda globally as a whole, survived the 2011 Japanese earthquake and subsequent Thai floods by the plastic of its bumper. Thank goodness it did, because had it not, we wouldn’t be able to report on this great addition to the family. So here, finally, is the brand new Civic hatchback.


If Volkswagen’s Golfwas a right-hander, the Civic hatch - as opposed to the Jetta-rivaling sedan - would be its left-hand equivalent. For the Japanese are renowned for their innovation, performance and balance. The new Civic ticks all three boxes without blinking, all three except the performanceone. Honda SA will know I’ve been hard on them regarding the lack of vumadisplayed by their 1.8-litrenaturally aspirated petrol. When I’ve suggested they go ask their parents to seriously consider turbos to boost performance and fuel economy, their (official?) answer has always been “how about maintenance costs?”

And yet, they also sell the outstanding 2.2 iDTEC turbo diesel engine with 110kW and a commanding 350Nmof sweet mama torque. What, they can build a cost-effective turbo diesel but not a similar petrol turbo? Pah! Anyway, I do believe they will soon join the force-fed brigade, especially since Honda wants to make a bigger impact in Europe where C02 emissions are as strict as an army sergeant with four daughters.

Nonetheless, I did drive both the 104kW /174Nm 1.8-litre i-VTEC petrol and 2.2 iDTEC at the launch in wintery Johannesburg, and came away very impressed. Honda is really about improving each and every area with every edition. The Civic is now in its 9th generation, but it used to be called Ballade in South Africa since 1982 when Honda first arrived in the country. Of course we now have the smaller entry-level Ballade, and thus the larger car is now named along the same lines as other international markets.

Continuous improvement means an overall lighter Civic compared to its predecessor. At the same time, better quality materials have been used to upgrade the cabin experience, and elevate it to unprecedented heights. When I first opened the driver’s door for instance, and began touching the textiles, I did notice a softer, homely interior, more welcoming. Yet, there is still something futuristicabout the way these cars are designed. Soft blue lighting surrounds the dashboard area, which now features a thing called Integrated Multi Info Display or iMID, actuated via a toggle on the multi-function steering wheel. It does what it says, which is to access all sorts of info about how the car is doing at any particular moment, including fuel consumption, speed, outside temperature etc. Also integrated are Bluetooth functions, a USB port for your music collection, climate control and others. Very handy. Honda SA does not offer satellite navigation though.

Where the Civic hatch excels, really where most Hondas take the cake apart from bullet-proofbuild, is in driving enjoyment. And this new car is no exception to this confirmed rule. The petrol engine roars towards the red line in an exciting crescendo fashion, not once pausing for a breath of air. By the time 2nd and 3rd gears are due, smiles are all sold out.

The stubby, short-shifting gear lever instantly unifies driver with the front wheels at all times, making sure both are singing from the same hymn book. It really does beg for a more powerful motor, although I am one to admit that it’s not exactly pitched at the itchy-foot types. In the 2.2 iDTEC turbo dieselhowever, is where Civic shines. The sipper only comes with a 6-speed manualgearbox, and pull is quite magnificent, while the return on fuel invested quite satisfying. Claimed average fuel usage is 4.7 litres per 100km, while the 0 - 100km/h sprint supposedly goes by in 8.7 seconds.

I suppose for now, in the absence of a screaming Type-R, this would be the performance choice. Speaking of which, I hope said Type-R brings us joy to the tune of over 180kW, in line with its current main competitors. Otherwise it’s better off just warming the bench off the field.

Honda has not exactly lit up the tree with its range of offerings lately. The brand is quite some way off when it comes to offering different products for ever-expanding different market segments. For example, there is no Honda equivalent of the VW Scirocco, or the Toyota Fortuner, or the Hyundai i10. However, we’ve been promised a swift change of ways in the form of new and exciting cars. One of these is the upcoming all-new NSX sports car, said to be powered by a hybrid engine of over 280kW. Mzansi is definitely being strongly considered for this halo car. Similarly Acura, Honda’s Lexus equivalent, is expanding beyond its traditional home base of the United States, and again, we might see this premium brand enter our market within as early as 2015.

Test-drive the new Honda Civic hatch for yourself and feel the tingle of excitement within your fingers. Try both engines, or wait for the smaller 1.6 iDTEC (88kW / 300Nm) turbo diesel, arriving by February 2013. The 1.8 won’t go as fast as you might wish, but it will be much more fun to pilot than a number of its direct rivals. Plus it looks way cooler, especially when painted in most of the 9 available colours and fitted with the Sports Pack.


Honda Civic hatch Pricing
1.8 Elegance manual (R248 000)
1.8 Elegance automatic (R261 000)
1.8 Executive manual (R270 000)
1.8 Executive automatic (R283 000)
2.2 i-DTEC Exclusive manual (R343 800)

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//PART 2