Honda Civic RS Turbo Hatch: tenth-generation of Civic duty
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The sedan broke the ice in 2016 and the Type R has soaked up the limelight this year, but spare a thought for the tenth-generation Civic model with perhaps the biggest load to carry for Honda -- the Civic hatch.
Although the standard Civic hatch hasn't received as much hype as its beefed-up Type R big brother, one market trend is worth bearing in mind. Buyers' aren't rushing on mass to purchase a sports car -- they're going into dealerships looking for an SUV.
So while the Civic hatch will compete against a host of other popular models such as the Mazda 3, Toyota Corolla and Ford Focus; it will also represent Honda's best effort at attracting SUV buyers back to the passenger car segment.
Honda's engineers met the challenge with a new platform, engine and focus on the vehicle dynamics. Honda says the new hatch has been through "the single largest model development programme in the company's history".
This strikes you within minutes of driving the new top-spec RS Turbo model -- this is a car that offers a completely different experience to that of its predecessor.
Even after a brief drive the new hatch feels far more connected and responsive; dampers manage to soak up all the bumps and roadworks littering Auckland's CBD.
The Civic hatch is 30mm wider and 130mm longer than the previous Euro hatch, and the floor now 20mm lower, while the repositioning of the fuel tank has moved the centre of gravity 14mm closer to the ground.
Underneath the skin lies the same platform as the sedan, which has 52 per cent more torsional stiffness than its predecessor, but is 16kg lighter.
You get a sense of these changes as soon as you hop inside the new model.
Sitting in the 14-way adjustable driver's seat, your hip rests 35mm lower than before. The tenth-generation Civic embraces its sporty pedigree and makes you feel like you're sitting deep in the chassis.
The new packaging also means the Civic hatch maintains its class-leading 414 litres of bootspace in the back, and creates a more spacious cabin with increased shoulder, leg and knee room for all occupants.
The hatch shares the same face as its sedan sibling with European design headlamps and air-channelling grille, but in the rear there is a new boot spoiler and reworked LED tail lights.
Prices for the new Civic start at $32,990 for the SX model powered by a naturally aspirated 1.8-litre VTEC four-cylinder engine producing 104kW of power and 174Nm of torque.
Driven's test car was Honda's flagship RS Sport Turbo hatch, which starts at $40,990 and packs a 1.5-litre VTEC turbocharged four cylinder engine producing 127kW at 7000rpm and 220Nm of torque from 1700-6500rpm -- but don't expect the new power unit to behave like an old school turbo.
Like all VTEC engines, this new 1.5-litre turbo unit will run to its redline. But, unlike VTECs of old, it doesn't enjoy the experience.
This new engine's sweet spot is anywhere from 2000-4000 rpm, where the early torque delivery can pick you up and take you wherever you want to go -- passing on the open road is no hassle for the new the RS.
As well as increased performance, the turbocharged engine achieves better claimed fuel economy of 6.0L/100km compared with 6.4L for the atmospheric option. The best I could manage was 8.2 litres per 100km in real life driving.
Apart from the turbocharged engine, the RS model comes with bigger 17" alloy wheels, a full leather interior, LED auto levelling headlamps, electric sunroof, RS sport exhaust, and a full RS Sport body kit with new front, side and rear spoilers.
Bolted to both engines is an automatic CVT transmission that can simulate seven gears with paddle shifters behind the steering wheel. There is no manual option.
The gearbox operates harmoniously around town and, surprisingly, shifting "gear" was a far more enjoyable experience than I expected on a windy country road. It shifted happily between fourth and seventh and somehow added to the driving experience.
But on those same country roads, the Civic RS hatch's best attribute shone through -- the chassis. The combination of increased torsional stiffness and the Civic RS's new suspension system deliver a confidence inspiring ride. MacPherson strut suspension in the front provides good turn-in response while a fully independent multi-link system takes care of things in the rear.
The suspension soaks up bumps, and responds well when you start to push its limits. The RS model also benefits from hydraulic bushings on all four corners.
As you get used to the bigger dimensions, the Civic shrinks around you. Cradled by the new platform, a composed ride, class-leading interior space, and up to date safety features, it reveals itself as a formidable package.
My time with the all-new Honda RS lasted six days, 850km and one tank of fuel.
When it was time to hand the keys back, I was certain of one thing. If you're in the market for a new car that'll do everything the family could need, you have to consider the Civic RS hatch.
Honda Civic RS Turbo Hatch
Engine: 1.5-litre VTEC turbo, 127kW, 220Nm
Price: From $40,990 + ORC
Pro: Best riding, most spacious Civic hatch
Con: No manual, even for the base model