Sunday July 1, 2012
Making its presence felt
The all new Honda Civic looks better, is more efficient and safer.
THE latest Honda Civic, which is in its ninth generation, was introduced in Britain and the United States almost a year ago.
Its entry here had been delayed, due mostly to the natural calamities in Japan and Thailand, but all the new models have started making their regional in-roads, beginning with the Thai market.
Honda Japan is building the latest Civic at its Thai facility in Rayong, both for local consumption and regional export.
The Civic built for the region is the sedan version, which is the more popular option.
Due to launch here next month, Honda Malaysia gave us a preview with a drive in two new Civic models over a variety of roads from the Honda Thailand training centre in Bangkok to Khao Yai, a hilly resort some 160km away.
These were the Civic 1.8 and 2.0, and the models to be launched here will feature a similar level of equipment and mechanical set-up to the Thai versions.
Instead of making cars bigger with each generation, it appears carmakers have reached the optimal point in which cars in this segment should stay within, and the new Civic reflects this approach.
It has a shorter wheelbase of 2,670mm (by 30mm) and shorter body of 4,525mm (by15mm) while the width and height remain unchanged from the previous model.
This is made possible by maximising interior space to provide good room all round without the need for a bigger car body.
Whatís important is the integrity of the car body: It now uses a higher percentage of light but high strength steel (55% against 50% for the old) in body construction. This has led to a 7% reduction in weight while static and dynamic body rigidity is up by 10%.
The crash safety rating of the old car has been improved while pedestrian protection features are now present: the bonnet, bumper bracket and cowl top are made of energy absorption structure; while the wiper pivot is a breakaway unit, and the bonnet hinge is a bending item.
Power-wise, the 1.8 and 2.0-litre engines may seem unchanged from the previous model but Honda says these units have seen significant internal revisions and upgrades.
While performance remains a key factor, good fuel economy is now highlighted as part of five specific areas in the car to provide better petrol mileage than before.
The other four are the improved body aerodynamics; reduced brake drag at all speeds; more efficient automatic transmission operation; and the use of electric power steering.
The adoption of a flat floor is one of the aerodynamic gains, resulting in a best-in-class wind-cheating efficiency.
Unlike the Civic sold in Europe, those sold here are equipped with Euro 2 engines: power-wise, there are minor improvements in output over the old, with the 1.8-litre having a horse more at 141bhp (from 140bhp) and the 2.0-litre having 2Nm higher torque of 190Nm (from 188Nm).
On average, the Civic 1.8-litre engine is said to provide an improved mileage of 14.7km/l while the 2.0-litre engine will return 12.8km/l.
Although the new Civic was criticised in Britain and the US markets for a lack of quality in the interior, Honda appeared to have responded.
We saw little to nitpick with the dashboard area and passenger seating as well as interior appointments.
We liked the double deck instrument panel arrangement, as well as the two-tone panelling.
The improved front seats gave us little to squirm about during the drive and the slimmer A-pillars with a bigger quarter windows added to the airiness of the interior.
We started off in the Civic 1.8, which now comes with an Eco button to provide quicker upshifts in the automatic transmission so that the least fuel is used for vehicle propulsion.
In normal drive mode, the engine picked up the pace fairly quickly and given the open road, we took the car up to 180kph in third gear with the engine revving at about 6,500rpm.
Apart from enjoying the improved stability, we also found the noise suppression efforts made by Honda engineers laudable: we could have a conversation without raising our voices as the intrusion of air and road noise was very minimal.
There were not many winding stretches to check out the Civicís improved suspension system but in the few bends available, the Civic sedan took them well.
The Civic 2.0 had a stronger initial pace that builds up quickly to a fast cruising speed: the difference was clear as we always pulled away quicker than the smaller displacement variant with less effort from the right foot.
Taking a cue from the hybrid models, the speedometer on both models comes with changing colour guides to advise on the most fuel efficient mode of driving: green being the best and blue being the worst.
With the new body styling adding fresh appeal, the latest Civic should retain strong support with its improved quality of driving and equipment level.