BY ANDY ENRIGHT
The Honda Civic vaulted itself firmly into the premier league of family hatches with the eighth generation model. The Civic had evolved steadily from extremely humble beginnings but few predicted the massive change in design direction ushered in by this version. As a used buy, it remains one of the best in class, customer satisfaction surveys routinely returning Honda at or near the head of the pack. Here's what to look for when searching for a used car that looks more modern than many new rivals.
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. Most hacks are a jaded bunch, singularly unimpressed by flight of fancy show cars but 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.
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.
What You Get
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. Instead of trying to understand how Honda have warped the time-space continuum, it's easier to spot the simple engineering solutions they've employed. Like the Jazz, the Civic features a fuel tank that's centrally mounted along the cross member below the front seats. This means that the seats in the rear can fold flat and there's no intrusion into the cargo bay floor. Borrowing technology from the innovative FR-V, the Civic also features seats that fold and flip with one smooth action.
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 the rear 'Magic' seats. High grade models feature innovations such as automatic lights and wiper functions, high intensity discharge headlamps, Dual Zone Climate Control and retractable door mirrors, in addition to options such as alloy wheels, DVD satellite navigation and leather trim.
What to Look For
The Civic has proven to be a sturdy thing and the eighth generation car is no exception. Some owners have groused about plastics quality in the car and silver painted fascia panels can look tatty surprisingly quickly. There has also been an issue with broken driver's door handles. The Type-R model requires a good inspection as the alloys are very prone to kerbing. With traction control and ESP fitted, this generation of Type-R is no longer quite so susceptible to frazzled front tyres and has less of a propensity to fall off the road when the going gets wet.
(Based on a 2006 5-door 1.4S - ex VAT): A full exhaust system (excluding catalyst) is around £210 and a full clutch assembly around £175. Front and rear brake pads are around £45 and £40 respectively per set. A starter motor is £240, a radiator around £150, and an alternator around £275.
On the Road
For all its futuristic styling, the Civic is, in some ways, a retrograde step from the old car. The expensive and beautifully-engineered multilink rear suspension of the seventh generation Civic has been ditched, replaced by a far more utilitarian torsion beam arrangement. On the plus side, there is now an ESP stability control system to keep you on the straight and narrow should ambition outweigh talent.
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.
The Honda Civic is about as safe a bet as it's possible to make in the used family hatch sector. Proof positive that British factories can turn out quality automotive products, the Civic has sold well and as a result, there is no shortage of used stock in the system. The best bets right now look to be decently specified 2.2-litre diesels and 1.8-litre petrol models.