Honda’s Civic first landed in 1972 – a year after the launch of the HQ Holden – and signified, along with upstarts from Toyota, Datsun and Mazda, the beginning of the end of the monopoly of large, Aussie built cars on the Australian market. Ironically, 50 years later, with proven competitors from Korea and ever improving models from China, the Civic, and Honda more generally, is now facing its own existential crisis as the model range is rationalised and dealer sales model renewed. And it’s a crying shame because, unlike the HQ Belmont, with a vinyl bench seat, three on the tree, cross-ply tyres, and drum brakes all round, Honda’s Civic is a great car.
The EFTM Garage recently played host to a bevy of Civics, from the range topping Type-R uber hatch to the mid-spec RS and entry level VTI-S. Each one proved to be enjoyable and fit for purpose and you just know will provide years and years and years of trouble free motoring.
The Type-R is undoubtedly the hero of the range, yet slow sales (making up just 5% of all Civic sales in Australia) sees the model being dropped, despite a recent mid-life update. A quick search on Carsales.com fails to find any new-old-stock being advertised. Your best bet is grab one with around 20k km for around $55k – solid retained value from a RRP of $54990 plus on roads.
Am I sad to learn that the Type-R has been dropped? Sort of. It’s epically fast and draws a crowd of teenagers quicker than the promise of free wi-fi, but it’s a tiring car. It’s loud, it’s firm riding, it’s ridiculous looking and it’s going to chew through $450 Conti SportContact 6 front tyres like they’ve been carved from blocks of Meadow Lea (a consequence of pushing 228 kW and 400 Nm through the front wheels). Despite this, it is invigorating to be in a car that is so single minded. Sure, it’s got four doors and a back seat, but make no mistake, this thing is all about seeing just how fast a front wheel car can go. The answer? Bloody fast.
The red Alcantara front seats and Alcantara steering wheel give a not so subtle nod to what is to come. Huge wheels, huge brakes and a manual-only transmission keeps this single mindedness going. Need more proof? What about the LogR app? When paired with your phone, the LogR system provides the driver with a data-logger, giving feedback on water temp, oil temp and pressure, intake air temp, atmospheric pressure, G-metre and lap timer. Necessary? Of course not, but I guess some people might like it.
With the Type-R now consigned to history, your next best bet for a sporty Civic is the RS.
The RS is the Falcon XR6 of the Civic range – upgraded wheels, suspension and body kit wrapped around the regular Civic platform. The RS shares the same 1.5 litre turbo VTEC engine and CVT transmission as the $34990 Civic VTi-L, but the sporty touches will cost you $39600. The improvements to the suspension and the added grip of the 18” wheel and tyre package makes a noticeable difference to the handling of the RS over the entry level VTI-S, but, apart from some very worthwhile additional equipment, such as heated leather seats and LED headlights, there is not a lot of difference between the RS and the VTI-S. I put this down to the shared CVT transmission. CVT is an efficient transmission but is about as exciting as an episode of Paradise Beach. It’s a combo that really lets down the sporty nature of the RS and spoils what is an otherwise great package of comfort, reliability and sprinkling of Type-R sportiness.
The sweet spot of the Civic range, I think, is the entry model VTI-S. While the VTI-S misses out on the 1.5 litre double overhead cam turbo, it’s 1.8 litre SOHC normally aspirated engine is ample (104kw/174 Nm vs127kw/220 Nm ). Better still, this lower specification, along with lower expectations, means that the CVT transmission is nowhere near as jarring. It’ll set you back $31k, but it comes with a good amount of standard equipment and is comparable with the slightly cheaper Corolla Ascent and the slightly more expensive Mazda 3 G20 Pure.
It’s a shame Honda isn’t the force it was in the ‘90s and ‘00s. The loss of the Prelude, CRX, S2000, Integra and Legend cuts deep, but the Civic deserves its place in the local line up. It’s a good thing.