Impressive new Honda diesel engine debuts in quirky Civic
First Drive:It does seem a trifle odd that Honda introduced its first Diesel engine just over a decade ago but it is only now that we are able to review its second DERV effort.
The Japanese manufacturer resisted diesel’s charms longer than any other mainstream carmaker. The excuse being their noise, smell and weight a convenient cover-up for Honda’s reliance on the US and Japanese markets where diesel was, essentially, unimportant.
That said, it was a pleasant surprise that the original 2.2-litre i-DTCi engine was, and remains, so good. And if it has taken this long to bring a second, more compact, Honda diesel to the market then at least – as with John Mills’s pint at the conclusion of Ice Cold In Alex – the wait was worth it.
Honda’s new 1.6-litre i-DTEC engine makes its debut in the Civic. This is a car which pushed Honda Ireland’s sales up by 12 per cent last year, against the background of a stagnant market. And given that the Civic’s 2.2-litre diesel, even with its Band A emissions, excluded Honda from the bulk of the C-segment market, its expectations for the new engine are commensurately high.
Lightest in its class
Just as well then that the carmaker’s engineers haven’t simply sleeved-down the old 2.2 to make a 1.6. The engine is new from the sump up and Honda claims that it’s the lightest in its class. So sylph-like is its weight that the carmaker has retuned the Civic’s front suspension and steering to take advantage, with claims for improved feel and agility being made.
The Civic is certainly a pleasant car to drive. The overlight steering counts it out of the enthusiast’s shopping list – as does the unseemly thump when the torsion-bar rear suspension hits a mid-corner bump – but for the most part it’s a smooth, refined operator.
And the new engine fits right into that package. Honda makes great claims for its refinement, even fitting an active acoustic damping system in the cabin. And the result is indeed hushed; you only get a distinct diesel clatter when you venture beyond 2,500rpm. Better again is the performance. The 120bhp from its 1.6 makes mincemeat of similarly-sized engines in the rival Ford Focus and VW Golf (95 or 115bhp and 105bhp respectively). And the i-DTEC engine makes a decent fist of convincing you that its much larger in capacity, thanks to largely lag-free delivery and solid mid-range punch.
We doubt you’ll match the claimed fuel consumption of 3.6-litres per 100km (78mpg) in real world driving. But on our brief test drive we managed 4.6l/100km (61mpg) so it’s not what you might call thirsty. A 94g/km rating bests the standard Golf (albeit not the BlueMotion model) and Focus and means you can tax your Civic for €180 a year.
The Civic is not a car calculated to appeal to the masses, even with this impressive new engine. The styling is polarising and you’ll equally love/hate the multi-display cabin with its mix of analogue and digital dials. It’s undeniably well made though, spacious and with those clever flip-up-fold-down rear seats, more versatile than most. And given Honda’s reputation for reliability, it should prove trouble free, although the old 2.2 engine wasn’t above having a major (and expensive) flywheel-related hissy fit.
Prices start from €23,975 for the SE model; a touch more than a Focus or Golf but it is better equipped. If you buy into its quirkiness, or Honda’s image, then it’s a more interesting alternative to the mainstream masses. And one with a deeply impressive new engine.