Honda's new Tourer does its Civic duty
The Civic Tourer is spacious, comfy and quirky, and just might help boost Honda’s flagging sales in Europe
Date Reviewed: August 11, 2014
If it were possible to hold sympathy for a major global corporation, I think some of it would be directed at Honda. Here is a huge car maker that prints on the edges of its brochures a small quote from the man who founded the firm, Soichiro Honda: “A car that is not fun to drive is not a car at all.” Heck of a good sentiment that, and one which significantly separates Honda from a majority of other car makers, which are really just gigantic book-keeping organisations with a sideline in stamping out sheet metal.
It’s a sentiment that makes Honda’s sales performance in Europe (this is where the sympathy comes in) even more perplexing. The European market is supposed to value premium quality and sharp dynamics above all else. And these are supposedly precisely where Honda’s core values lie. Yet Civic sales are on a major downer (as low as 38,000 units a year in Europe, compared to five times that number of Opel Astras, for instance), and Accord sales are so low that the model is expected to be withdrawn from the European market next year, following the hybrid Insight and CR-Z into exile.
Honda hasn’t helped itself much by not following the lead of VW and developing one affordable platform from which myriad cars can be built. Quite how it’s going to turn things around while also embarking on an expensive return to both Formula One (with McLaren) and the world of the supercar (with a new NSX) is anyone’s guess, but at least this, the Civic Tourer, proves that Honda hasn’t quite given up on Europe yet.
Very European car
It’s a very European car, in fact. Built in the UK at Honda’s vast (and under-utilised) factory in Swindon, it uses Honda’s brilliant 1.6-litre iDTEC diesel engine and, being as it’s an estate, has very little relevance for either of Honda’s other big markets in the US or China.
It’s good at being an estate, too – that swoopy-looking rear end hides a massive 660-litre boot that makes my usual task of ferrying around kids and the enormous amount of crap, er, equipment they require a positive doddle. Even a weekend’s break in west Cork and the need for clothes for every possible weather pattern didn’t phase the Civic.
Its ability to carry things is aided by the adjustable dampers fitted to the rear suspension. These can be tweaked from comfort to normal to dynamic settings via a switch on the dash, and the car feels appropriately stiffer or softer depending on how you set things. It does have the odd sensation, though, of making the whole chassis feel as if it’s hinged from the back. That leads into a dynamic performance that’s slightly less engaging than that of the hatch. It’s fine – composed and well sorted over lumps and bumps – but it just doesn’t have the steering weight or feel to really entertain. In that department, the Civic lets Soichiro-san down badly.
It’s comfy, though. The front seats (swaddled in leather on our Executive-spec test car) left me ache-free in spite of that long run to the southwest. Rear seat space is good (if not nearly as cavernous as the boot) and, as ever with Honda, the levels of quality and assembly are really, really high. However, the styling of the cabin could be a bit off-putting. It is, as it has been since the 2006 Civic, a mixture of levels, angles, digital and analogue. It all works fine once you get used to it, but the central sat-nav and infotainment screen looks and feels very old-fashioned and the myriad functions can be fiddly and confusing.
The engine, though, is sharp up against the cutting edge. Honda’s 1.6 diesel has been the star of the DERV-burning firmament since it was introduced and that hasn’t been changed by the fact that it’s now hauling around a bigger boot.Its 120hp and 300Nm puts it well ahead of most of the competition, 99g/km of CO2 (actually 103g/km on this heaver Executive-spec car) means you’ll pay minimal tax and a genuine 65mpg average all the way to Mizen Head and back means you’ll not have to inflate Shell or Texaco’s share price too much either.
As with the cabin styling though, perhaps both the exterior and price are putting people off. It’s dangerous in the extreme to make a family hatchback look as space-age-y as this, in a market where the big sellers are the conformist Golf, Focus and Astra. And as ever, the price could also be a stumbling block.
Hondas are traditionally more expensive than their rivals, and although the Civic Tourer measures up well against similarly specced opposition, the stigma of being an expensive brand will still give Honda dealers some headaches.
Still, this is a practical, useful car with a good deal of character to it, and one that is just a handling and steering makeover away from greatness. Worthy of either your interest or your sympathy? Yes, both.
The lowdown: Honda Civic Tourer 1.6 iDTEC Executive
Top speed: 195kmh.
Claimed economy: 3.9l/100km. (72.4mpg)
CO2 emissions: 103g/km.
Motor tax: €190.
Price: €30,995 (Civic Tourer from €25,995)
Our Verdict:Useful, comfy and quirky. Styling inside and out will put many off, and it needs better steering, but it’s a car and brand that deserve more attention