Car Test   R0221
  See also R0148 
March 2002
First Drive Honda Civic
Printer Friendly Page Featured Model: 1.7CTDi diesel
HONDA DOESN'T HAVE A LONG AND honourable history of diesel engines, but if a motor maker is serious about selling into European countries such as France and Italy, it simply must have a diesel in its line-up.
   Refined, super-economical diesels are becoming increasingly important in the UK, too, and look set to become even more so, once the full impact of the company car, benefit-in-kind taxation begins to bite. So Honda has decided to do more than just dabble with diesels, and has chosen the Civic as the worthy recipient for its first serious delve into derv.
   On sale from May, at 1000 more than petrol versions, the 1.7TDCi uses an off-the-peg cylinder block from new diesel-partner Isuzu, but just about every other component is either made, revised or recalibrated in-house.
   The result is a 1686cc "common-rail", direct-injection, intercooled turbo-diesel, serving up a respectable 100bhp, but more importantly, a wall-to-wall wealth of 162 lb ft of torque, peaking at an early 1800rpm.
   A Honda wouldn't be a Honda, however, without an oversized helping of high-tech, precision engineering. So the new derv-burner incorporates all the latest technical trickery, such as a variable nozzle turbocharger and variable-intake swirl control, in pursuit of state-of-the-art economy and minimised pollution. It also curbs the direct-injection diesel's inherently higher noise levels.
   There's a hint of clatter betraying the engine's origins at start-up, but after this, the oil-burning Civic produces hearty responses to prodding its nicely weighted, "drive-by-wire" accelerator, which change to relaxed, effortless refinement once up to speed.
   Aided by relaxed, long-legged gearing, the new diesel won't be doing the taxman many favours, though. Its 56.5 combined mpg, together with 134g/km C02 output not only eclipse those of all major rivals, but ensure an easy place in the lowest diesel tax band, too.
   To coincide with the launch of the new diesel, Honda has given the range a mini-makeover. So five-door versions now share the thicker, smaller-diameter steering wheel, silver door handles and black facia of the three-door introduced late last year, while the lighter, more fashionable matt silver centre dash panel has also now been adopted across the board. The SE spec also gains an upgrade to an RDS radio/CD unit instead of the radio/cassette fitted previously.
   There's abundant passenger space and generous equipment levels, while dropping a diesel under the bonnet has had little effect on the Civic's grippy neutral cornering, other than taming its slightly choppy rough-road ride a little.
  
  
AT A GLANCE
  considering size, price and rivals
Controls/displays
Handling/steering
Comfort
Space/practicality
LIKES ...
  • slicker-than-it-looks gearshift
  • 3-year, 90,000-mile warranty
  • using 3-door's interior for all models
  • well-tamed noise, vibration, harshness
and GRIPES
  • load space overshadowed by vast cabin
  • 1000 premium for diesel quite pricey
  • steering over-light and lacks feel
  • pillars/rear headrests impede vision
VERDICT
Honda's first real crack at a diesel is a fine effort, bringing performance, refinement and diesel diversity to the Civic's already ample qualities. It may not have quite all it takes to topple the class-conquering Focus TDCi, but it's still an impressive contender, especially as Honda is still very much a new kid on the block as far as diesels go.


THE CIVIC HATCHBACK RANGE
size and type lower medium (mid-priced) 3- and 5-door hatchback   trim levels S, SE, SE Sport (3-door) and SE Executive (5-door); (SE only for 3-door diesel, S and SE for 5-door diesel)
engines petrol: 4cyl/1.4 litre/90bhp,
4/1.6/110, 4/2.0/197 (Type-R); turbo-diesel: 4/1.7/100
  drive front-wheel drive, 5-speed manual; 6-speed manual on Type-R (4-speed stepped automatic with torque converter available on 1.6 petrol only)
notable features "drive-by-wire" throttle; variable nozzle turbo and variable swirl control; aircon, 4 airbags, ABS with EBD and brake assist standard on all models

VITAL STATISTICS (cm)
length x width
(inc mirrors)
429x193
front
- legroom 89-107
- headroom
(with sunroof)
94-98
rear
- typical legroom 102
- typical kneeroom 76
- headroom 96
- hiproom 127
load space (all seats in use)(litres/cu ft) 380/13.4
load length 74-147
load width 105-130
load sill height (inside/outside) 10/69
boot height 45*
load aperture height 77
* under load cover
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