For a time, the Honda Civic was the driver’s small car choice: fun to drive, with high-revving, rewarding engines.
Then, as the brand has admitted and has been widely reported, Honda decided to play it safe with its vehicles and, in its own words, “lost its mojo” (and a heap of customers).
Small cars don’t do the heavy lifting for a brand’s sales they once did — SUVs of varying sizes pick up much of the slack these days — but Honda chose the Civic to show it was re-embracing its sporty past.
Since it arrived a few years back it’s been pretty successful, bumping up its Australian segment share from just 2 per cent in 2015 to 7 per cent last year. But it also falls short of an absolute return to form.
The most immediate reason to buy a Civic is its bold design: it’s all angles and swooping lines, offering some very Japanese look-at-me flair.
The RS version adds extra sportiness such as piano black exterior highlights and dual central tailpipes.
The interior continues a similar vein, with big, brightly coloured digital displays and red ambient lighting offering a futuristic type of vibe.
There’s a fair amount of gear as well, including digital radio, 12-speaker audio system and heated, leather-appointed front seats.
Safety gear includes the Honda Sensing active safety tech and LaneWatch, which displays the lane next to you on the infotainment screen when you indicate left to make sure there’s no one in your blind spot. It all works fine, though the auto high beams were a bit too eager and led to many blinded (and justifiably annoyed) drivers. The lack of built-in sat nav is notable though, as Honda reasons owners will be happy just to use smartphone connectivity.
Interior space is also pretty good. There’s ample rear leg room and rear headroom is also good, but don’t lean back.
Sadly there’s no USB points or air-con vents back there.
Plus, the boot of the RS is a compromised 330 litres instead of the 414 litres in other variants, despite having a space-saver spare, all so it can have those racy dual exhausts.
The roll-out cargo cover is a nice touch, as it beats having a parcel shelf sitting in your garage collecting dust like most end up.
But while the RS has sporty accoutrement, it has the same 1.5-litre turbo engine as found elsewhere in the Civic range and it doesn’t really excel.
It’s a solid engine, no doubt. Maximum torque is available over a 1700-5500rpm range, with ample acceleration and frugal fuel use in cruising.
But it’s not the nicest sounding unit, not helped by CVT.
Usually, you’d love to wring a Honda engine’s neck but this is abrasive and none-too-enjoyable to push hard.
The paddle shifters are also a tad slow to change “gear”.
But if having fun on country roads, you’ll likely get respite from the engine due to how noisy the cabin is: there’s significant tyre roar and wind noise at higher speeds.
It’s actually dynamically very sound. You can point the nose into corners and stay flat and change direction easily.
Also, while the Civic feels well made, it also doesn’t feel all that premium inside.
Honda used to be an upmarket mainstream brand — something of a Japanese Volkswagen, if you will, but the Civic doesn’t really feel special inside.
Which is the main issue here. Yes, it has unique styling and the car offers good dynamics. But it doesn’t really excel in any area, which its competitors do.
The Civic RS is … fine. If you like the looks and want a dynamically sound car, this is well made and well equipped. But it’s not as compelling a case as some others in its segment.
2020 HONDA CIVIC RS SPECIFICATIONS
- Price $32,290
- Engine 1.5-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol
- Outputs 127kW/220Nm
- Transmission CVT automatic
- Fuel economy 6.3L/100km
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