The car that stole the show
THE collective clonking sound at the 2005 Geneva motor show was that of a thousand journalist jaws hitting the deck when Honda pulled the wraps off the eighth generation Civic.
This was a model that looked as if it had flowed straight off a tyro designer's pen and was made metal in production ready form right in front of us. The Aston Martin V8 Vantage, The Ferrari F430 Spyder and the BMW M6 were all overshadowed by a five-door hatchback built in Swindon. That was some coup.
The Civic that appeared in dealers had the same effect on the general public. Almost overnight, the mean age of Civic buyers was slashed by nearly twenty years, the car effortlessly shucking off its 'granny magnet' image.
Whereas before, the racy Type-R was the only Civic model anybody with their own teeth would consider, now the whole range was fair game. Sales rose and that means there's more stock for used buyers to choose from.
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The first cars to hit the market in January 2006 were the five-door hatches but the Type-S augmented the range in September 2006 and the three-door models, including the fiery Type-R variants, arrived at the beginning of 2007. The Civic Hybrid saloon was also launched at the start of 2007, shelving the old Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) system in favour of a pdrive set-up more akin to the successful Toyota Prius.
In 2009, the Si models were introduced to the five-door range with elements of the styling found on the Type-R models.
The detailing is very neat, with a repeating triangular theme appearing on the front fog lights, exhaust pipes and rear trim. Many manufacturers have tried to combine sharp angles with rounded curves and the results haven't always been very happy. The Civic shows how it should be done.
Although the five-door car has a coupe-like roofline, look carefully and you'll spy blade-thin door shutlines and a handle concealed into the glass. Yes, this is a full five-door. Whereas the old Civic five-door was a rather frumpy thing, this model is far sassier – though if you don't agree, there's the option of going for one of the sportier Type-S or Type-R three-door models.
The adventurous styling doesn't stop on the outside either. Where the previous generation Civic introduced a lot of new ideas when it came to packaging, the eighth generation Civic again offers a novel approach. The dashboard is designed on two levels, the main instruments housed on the nearer one with a surrounding 'tier' that includes auxiliary functions like stereo, heating, ventilation and trip meter. This sophisticated, three-dimensional feel to the fascia is backed up with quality materials and interesting textures.
Now comes the bit that may well have you scratching your head. It did for me. Although this post-'06 Civic is significantly smaller than its predecessor on the outside, the company claims that room inside is just as generous as before.
All versions of this Honda are generously specified, with the top models featuring equipment usually only found on far bigger cars. Standard across the range are features like climate control air-conditioning, Vehicle Stability Assist (VSA), trip computer, front, side and curtain airbags, rake and reach adjustable steering column and rear 'Magic' seats.
Five main engines are offered. The entry level powerplant is an 82bhp 1.4-litre petrol unit, with a 139bhp 1.8-litre petrol engine offering a bit more punch and a 2.0-litre unit offered on the flagship Type-R. The most popular engine in the range is the 139bhp 2.2-litre diesel unit. All are mated with a six-speed manual gearbox, which made the Civic the first car in the family hatch sector to be equipped with six-speed gearboxes across all of its range. The 1.8 and 2.0-litre petrol units are assembled in Swindon (as is the diesel), while the 1.4-litre engine hails from Japan.
The Civic Hybrid saloon is rather more specialised. The electric motor is five per cent more compact than that of the old Civic IMA but hikes power by 20 per cent. Good for a full 113bhp from its 1.4-litre engine, this Civic also utilises a continuously variable transmission (CVT) to help optimise the engine's torque to best effect. Of special relevance is a combined fuel consumption figure of 61.4mpg and carbon dioxide emissions of just 109g/km.
All in all, the Honda Civic is about as safe a bet as it's possible to make in the used family hatch sector.