Underrated and overlooked? Updated Honda Civic RS Sedan gets tested
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When was the last time that a new model from Honda's line-up held your attention?
The marque produces plenty of objectively good vehicles (the fizzy little Jazz and uber practical CR-V are both standout highlights). But, as rival manufacturers like Mazda pursue reinvention on a grand scale, Honda seems at risk of being left behind.
And at the core of it all is the freshly updated 10th generation Civic line-up.
The range is made up of two body styles, each offering different engines. Entry-level SX hatchbacks and sedans get a pithy naturally aspirated 1.8-litre i-VTEC petrol making 104kW/174Nm (don't buy those ones), while elevated Sensing models get a smaller but more tightly wound turbocharged 1.5-litre DOHC VTEC.
The latter throws down 127kW/220Nm, and was perhaps the most significant surprise lurking within Driven's Phoenix Orange Pearl Civic RS Sensing tester.
Not that this engine is anything new. We've sampled it before in two previous Civic testers, as well as in the CR-V — albeit in the CR-V it comes with a dash of extra power.
What surprised was that despite its weedy capacity and unassuming output figures, the 1.5-litre powertrain feels strong under stress. Neither it nor its seven-step CVT transmission particularly enjoy high revs, but low in the rev range it's curiously capable.
It also achieves impressive economy. Honda claim a 6.3L/100km average, and we very nearly equaled that with a combined average of 6.7L/100km.
Being a cousin to the Type R, it's no surprise that the Civic handles well too. Ride quality sometimes feels a bit firm, but otherwise the RS is a balanced and versatile canyon carver. Brake-based torque converting helps divvy out power to help improve mid-corner agility, and the electronically assisted steering is light and quick.
The one curious feature are the Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tyres wrapped around each 18in wheel. They undoubtedly play a huge role in the Civic's B-road prowess, but fitting such a high performance tyre on what boils down to be a family car seems a little like overkill.
A more pedestrian set of tyres might have taken the edge from the Civic's handling, but it would've also lowered the price. While both SX models start at $32,990, the more kitted out RS Sensing models start at $39,990 and $41,990 for the sedan and hatch respectively — making neither 'flagship' particularly cheap.
The Michelin tyres are one of a string of 2019 updates that have been made to the Civic RS. They also include a few mild styling revisions, new wheels, and a more comprehensive suite of safety tech.
Yes, this is where the less-than-catchy name comes from.
The Civic RS adopts the brand's updated 'Honda Sensing' safety package, which includes adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, Collision Mitigation Braking with Forward Collision Warning, and more. That handy LaneWatch blind-spot camera on the left wing mirror is back, too.
These are nice to see, but simultaneously it's a shame that the lower-spec SX misses out on the lot.
We found the lane-keep to be smooth and accurate with keeping the car in the centre of the lane on subtle and predictable stretches of motorway. On the other hand, the adaptive cruise control wasn't as smooth as we'd like when modulating speed.
Although, it does do well to remain engaged even when in stop-start traffic. The radar cruise system in a new Corolla, by contrast, will switch off at the first opportunity when the car is stationary.
Perhaps the best change of them all, however, is the tiny plastic knob that now proudly juts out of the infotainment screen. Praise be, the Civic now has a proper volume knob again. It's a minor victory for those of us that prefer using tactile buttons and dials in our cars while driving, instead of ham-fistedly swiping button-less touch screens.
The rest of the cabin highlights the Civic's best and worst elements.
The big positive is space. Head room and leg room both front and rear is excellent, with rear head room in particular being a bit of a surprise given how much the roof-line slopes away.
Boot space is booming too, with 517L on offer (just over 100L more than in the hatch). That figure is complemented by Honda's clever 'magic seats' in the second row that both fold flat and fold 'upwards' to accommodate tall items.
Close your eyes, and the Civic could quite easily be an Accord with its impressive dimensional heft.
But, then there's the rest of the cabin. Spacious and comfortable it may be, it's also an interior that's starting to show its age (a few dashes of orange contrast stitching can't hide that). The infotainment system is slow and difficult to navigate and the materials are middling.
As a car the Civic is difficult to fault, and now it's safer and more practical than ever. But, with all-new models from Toyota, Mazda, and Ford all raising the bar it's set to continue to fly under the radar. At least for now.
2019 Honda Civic Sedan RS Sensing
Pros: Surprisingly quick, spacious, economical
Cons: Aging cabin, hatchback more attractive