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Friday, December 14, 2012

Honda Civic 1.6 i-DTEC review (2012 onwards)

The eco-diesel family hatchback battle just got a lot more interesting, as Honda introduces a new 1.6-litre diesel Civic that combines 120hp with 94g/km CO2 emissions and 78.5mpg.

What: Honda Civic 1.6 i-DTEC
Where: Nice, France
Date: December 2012
Price: £19,400 - £23,175
Available: On sale now
Key rivals:Ford Focus, SEAT Leon, Toyota Auris, Vauxhall Astra, Volkswagen Golf

We like: smooth, refined, economical, exceptionally practical for a family hatchback, great gearbox
We don’t like: looks inside and out aren’t for everyone, not quite as dynamic to drive as the best rivals

Find a cheap used Honda Civic on Auto Trader
Read our Honda Civic 2012 first drive

Honda Civic on the road (© Honda)


Why, you might be wondering, are we bothering to first-drive a new engine variant of a Honda Civic? Well, we’d do it for an EfficientDynamics derivative of a BMW – and it’s not outrageous to make a similar fuss about the advantages of this new 1.6-litre i-DTEC turbodiesel.

A smaller turbodiesel has been a long time coming for Honda – it’s been building award winning 2.2-litre diesel units since 2005, but the latest version of this somewhat exceeds the needs of the buying majority. It also looks a little unnecessarily endowed with capacity, in an era of parsimony and downsizing.

Hence this is an extremely important new development for a company that prides itself on its engineering prowess, and one that will also come to benefit the new CR-V in 2013. But perhaps that still doesn’t answer the question of why you should care.

How about this then – the new Civic 1.6 i-DTEC combines 120hp with CO2 emissions of just 94g/km and on-paper fuel economy of over 78mpg. Giving it a performance and efficiency combo that instantly outflanks everything else in the family car C-segment.

It’s also first in a new family of “Earth Dreams Technology” power units, with more to follow as the entire engine range is renewed within the next four years. Whatever you think of that label, you’d better get used to it – Honda is intending to make it as recognisably eco-centric as EfficientDynamics and Bluemotion.

We found first gear surprisingly necessary

Being relatively late to the turbodiesel party, Honda has always chosen to focus on refinement – or Noise, Vibration and Harshness (NVH) in industry speak – as way of helping it to stand out from the crowd. This latest effort is no exception.

It is a little gruff sounding when started from cold, a definitely diesel noise that reappears whenever you accelerate particularly hard. Yet actual vibration and harshness is entirely absent from the experience in the Civic, as it delivers a smooth slug of power whenever it’s required.

With 0-62mph taking 10.5 seconds it’s not gobsmackingly rapid. But with 221lb ft of torque available at just 2,000rpm, it makes effortless progress in day-to-day driving and a relaxing companion on the motorway.

However, we did find first gear surprisingly necessary for slower manoeuvres around town – even with an especially small turbo specifically intended to provide lively low-speed response. Stalling it isn’t exactly an issue, though, since the standard stop-start system catches any clumsiness.

Honda Civic from behind (© Honda)


Compared to the 2.2-litre diesel Civic, the 1.6 represents a sizeable 54kg reduction in overall drivetrain weight. The engine alone saves 47kg – it’s the lightest of its type in class – with the other 7kg saved by a new six-speed manual gearbox, introduced specifically here. Honda does like to do things properly.

The gearbox is typically Honda, too – light of action but beautifully weighted and mechanically precise, we can well believe people buy the firm’s cars just for this kind of shift action alone. Still, more relevant for most will be the overall benefits of the weight reduction.

Good news for Britain’s broken road surfaces

Compared to the 2.2-litre diesel, for example, there’s now less mass ahead of the driven front wheels. This makes the 1.6 just that little bit keener into the corners, and generally a touch lighter on its feet – good news for Britain’s broken road surfaces. Being built in Swindon helps with this kind of detailing.

It isn’t as engaging as the best Ford can offer in the Focus range – there’s something not quite authentic about the steering weighting – and the latest Volkswagen Group rivals (Golf, A3, Leon) are lighter and more polished overall. Considering it’s other talents, the Civic is still a fine car from behind the wheel.

And so, to those other talents: the Civic is the most practical conventional family car choice on the market. It has a huge 477-litre boot – that’s getting on for 100-litres more space than any rival – and a rear seat setup that not only offers great rear legroom but one that flips and folds with enormous versatility.

This is all made possible by the unusual placement of the fuel tank beneath the front seats, and a comparatively simple rear suspension design; if this causes the slight handling compromise outlined above we’re sure that’s a trade many will be happy to make.

That said, not everyone will appreciate the dashboard design – which manages to look like something out of Star Trek from the driver’s perspective yet rather plain and boring from the passenger’s position. Cabin quality is solid without any sense of wow – a description that’s equally applicable to the standard kit levels.

Honda Civic interior front cabin (© Honda)


At this stage we can only go on what Honda says about the new engine’s efficiency – but hell, even then, you’ve got to tip your hat: 94g/km with 120hp is mighty impressive. Although the next Golf Bluemotion will almost certainly eclipse that CO2 performance it’s unlikely to match the Civic’s power.

94g/km also means zero road tax

The official fuel economy calculation is a massive 78.5mpg. In order to achieve this, Honda has done all the usual stuff – thermal management, stop-start, high pressure injection, clever alternator (which in this case only provides the voltage level absolutely required) – and also worked extremely hard to reduce friction.

Mechanical friction is 40% less in this engine than it is in the 2.2 – bringing the 1.6 down to levels more commonly associated with petrol engines, a considerable achievement. Many of the internal components are now lighter as well, which helps. Enabling the engine to rev with less effort is good news all round, really.

94g/km also means zero road tax at present. In terms of safety, the current Civic comfortably achieved five-stars when Euro NCAP tested it earlier in 2012, and nothing Honda has done here will change that. Six airbags and stability control feature amongst the standard equipment on every model.

4 stars

A great British-built car, the Honda Civic – and now it has a great British-built diesel engine to go along with it.

There are more dynamic rivals on the market, and heaven forbid we get into arguing about image and appearance. But with Honda’s enduring reputation for reliability, if you’re in the market for a family hatch that’s practical, punchy and has the potential to be brilliantly efficient the 1.6 i-DTEC is an ideal place to start.

Find a cheap used Honda Civic on Auto Trader
Read our Honda Civic 2012 first drive

Honda Civic 1.6 i-DTEC information

Specific model rated: Honda Civic 1.6 i-DTEC EX

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