By Jonathan Crouch
The Honda Civic has always been a more interesting choice for buyers in the Focus-sized family hatchback segment. Over five decades and ten distinct generations, Honda has refined its approach with this model, perfecting a design and engineering-led package that tends to encourage brand loyalty. Conquest customers though, have been harder for this Japanese maker to attract over recent model generations, hence the fundamental changes made to the MK10 Civic in 2016 that transformed its styling, its safety sophistication and, most importantly, the mainstream petrol engines beneath the bonnet. As a result, this under-rated British-built contender was hugely improved in tenth generation guise and could represent a surprisingly attractive package for the right kind of buyer.
Honda is a bit different from your average automotive maker. But being different doesn't always put you in a very profitable place. Take this car, the Honda Civic. For years now, this model line has offered something unique in the family hatchback segment. But done so with too many drawbacks to sell in the sort of numbers the Japanese maker needs to see. In 2016, we were told that this completely re-designed tenth generation version dealt with this model line's previous issues - while remaining distinctively Honda.
Compact, versatile models of this kind have always been closest to the heart of company founder Soichiro Honda. Back in the Sixties when the best the motor industry could offer a small family was something like a lumbering Morris Oxford, it was he who pioneered the idea of a compact fuel and space-efficient family car with a hi-tech air-cooled flat-four 1300cc engine. It was thinking that led to the launch of the original Civic in 1972, a model series that over the next forty years would go on to sell over 20 million cars around the world, over 650,000 of them in the UK.
Throughout those decades, there have been so many reasons why people like us have wanted to recommend the Civic. The most recent versions we'd seen prior to this MK10 model - the eight generation design of 2006 and the replacement ninth generation model of 2011 - both offered distinctive styling, sporty engines, a wonderfully slick gearbox, clever 'magic seating' practicality and a unique driver-centric dash. If only the ride, refinement, cabin quality and running costs had been better. If only the lifeless power steering hadn't disguised the responsive handling. If only the pricing had been a bit more competitive. You can't afford 'if onlys' the way the Focus-class segment is at present and in 2016 with this tenth generation design, Honda knew it had to do better.
So, the company set out on an enormous development programme, a seven year project that saw the creation of this tenth generation Civic take up more time, effort and money than any other model in Honda's history. Apart from the engines used in the Type-R hot hatch and the diesel variants (which everyone liked anyway), absolutely everything else about this car was completely new, starting with a bigger platform that made this a larger car and offered up the chance for a completely fresh exterior look. That styling's slightly controversial, but everyone agreed the re-designed cabin, the sophisticated rear multi-link suspension and the down-sized 1.0-litre and 1.5-litre VTEC Turbo engines to be a big step forward. The i-DTEC diesel engine was introduced in 2018. A four-door saloon variant was also introduced in 2018 and offered with the 1.0-litre petrol and 1.6-litre i-DTEC diesel engine. The original version of this MK10 model sold until the end of 2019, when it was replaced by a lightly facelifted version. It's that original 2016-2019 model we look at here as a potential used buy.
What You Get
Check out the on-paper stats of this tenth generation Civic and you'll find that in almost every respect, it's conformed at last to conventional family hatchback expectations. Every respect except one. The styling - just about the only part of this car created in Japan rather than Europe - remains unique, divisive and charismatic. There's a choice of five-door hatch or saloon body styles. Behind the wheel, there's far more conformity to class convention than there was outside, though not to the point where you'd feel that you were sitting in anything other than a Honda.
Gone are the unusual split-level instruments and the driver-focused asymmetrical fascia. Instead, you view a relatively conventionally-styled instrument binnacle through the grippy three-spoke wheel, though closer inspection reveals that the middle dial is actually a TFT-LCD screen flanked by stylised digital temperature and fuel gauges. Anything this can't tell you will be covered off by a 7-inch centre-dash infotainment screen. It comes complete with Garmin satellite navigation, internet browsing capability, a reversing camera, 'Apple CarPlay' and 'Android Auto' 'phone-mirroring connectivity and a DAB audio system with at least eight speakers.
In the rear, there's 45mm more room for your knees than there was in the MK9 model and a full 95mm more space for your legs: as a result, there's probably more room back here than in any other Focus-segment contender from this period bar Skoda's Octavia. And the boot? Well first impressions are good. The tailgate's light to lift and opens to reveal a large aperture that's complemented by a usefully low sill height. The sloping rear glazing slightly reduces loading height (it's down to 770mm compared to the previous generation design) but despite that, total load capacity measures in at an impressive 478-litre total in most models.
What to Look For
A number of things came out of our MK10 Civic ownership survey. First, this is an exceptionally well built and reliable car - but it isn't perfect. There've been a number of reports of squeaky brakes. And a few issues of electrical problems, so make sure you check the infotainment system and all the various electrical functions out on your test drive. One owner complained of constant trim rattles. Another found patches of peeling paint. Otherwise, it's just the usual things; check the alloys for parking scuffs, the interior for signs of child damage and insist on a full service history.
(approx based on a 2015 Civic 1.0 VTEC ex VAT) An oil filter will be around £8. Front brake pads will be in the £23-£57 bracket. A front brake disc is around £117. Wiper blades cost in the £10 bracket. A water pump is around £106 and a thermostat is around £14.
On the Road
OK: three things you need to know about the tenth generation Honda Civic when it comes to the on the-road experience. First, the mainstream petrol engines are at last bang up-to-date; second, the suspension's much more sophisticated; and third, the body it's bolted to is vastly stiffer and more rigid, in a bid to create the kind of refinement and drive dynamics you'd expect in a much larger car. A promising set of headlines then: let's scratch a little beneath the surface. We have to start with the engines, because they are so different to what went before. Most buyers will be choosing between a couple of 'VTEC Turbo' powerplants, a three cylinder 1.0-litre engine developing 129PS and the four cylinder 1.5-litre 182PS variant. Both are a big improvement on the normally aspirated units they replaced, responsive and efficient, with the base engine managing a competitive 58.9mpg on the combined cycle and 110g/km of CO2. A CVT auto gearbox was offered as an option, but we'd want to stay with the lovely, snickety precision of the standard six-speed stick shift.
As for engine alternatives, the 120PS i-DTEC 1.6-litre diesel unit used in the previous generation model was carried over into this one with only minor changes. Also pretty much unchanged was the 2.0-litre petrol engine used in the flagship Type-R hot hatch, though for this MK10 model, this put out 320PS. You don't need 'Type-R'-style power though, to really enjoy driving this car, thanks to a much stiffer body that improves traction and body control. That more rigid structure also plays its part in contributing to the 'big car' feel we referenced earlier, something further emphasised by the more sophisticated rear multi-link rear suspension set-up. This allows this model to cruise over potholes its direct predecessors would have crashed through.
Ultimately, what's important about this tenth generation Civic is the way it showed us how Honda has changed. This is now a brand able to continually develop cars people might really want to buy, as opposed to models that many of them would merely find technically intriguing. And a company able to understand the wants and needs of people beyond its home shores. With this MK10 design, it was finally clear that in both these areas, at long last, Honda had got the message.
'Kaizen', the Japanese approach to 'continuous improvement', characterises every aspect of this model's development. Or almost every aspect anyway. What was lost along the way was the unique loading versatility for tall items that previous Civics offered thanks to their clever 'Magic Seat' set-up. We miss that and think a lot of owners loyal to previous versions of this Honda will too, especially given that for this tenth generation range, the 'Tourer' estate body style was deleted. Still, this Japanese brand had to reach out beyond these people and the pay-off with this car's fresh interior configuration - space for more sophisticated suspension delivering an exceptionally compliant standard of ride - ended up giving this interestingly-orientated family hatch a wider appeal. Not everyone is so enthusiastic about this car's styling, but if you like it, you'll probably love it. What's not in question is the huge step forward this car took beneath the bonnet. Both the mainstream VTEC Turbo petrol engines more than make the grade - and it's been a long time since we've been able to say that about a Civic.
There's plenty else we were impressed with too; the huge boot, a brilliantly-slick manual gearbox and the sheer uncompromising purpose of the top Type-R hot hatch variant. True, interior quality isn't quite a match for best-in-class rivals, but the cabin's a lot easier to like and this Civic's a lot bigger inside than it used to be. Plus of course, this car was built in Britain - for what that's worth. In short, this model, at long last, came of age in this form, finally a car with sense on its side, yet one that retained at least a little of the kind of Honda charisma that every Civic ought to have. It made its segment a more interesting place.