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Honda Civic 1.6 VTEC S - 8,795 miles

Honda

Review

##honciv.jpg--right##IT must be something to do with VTEC engineering, but in recent weeks the Honda Civic range has twice featured at the top of Fleet News' lists of benefit-in-kind tax-beating cars.

The Civic Coupe topped our coupe category, while the Civic five-door hatchback headed the 1.6-litre lower-medium category, both cars giving company car drivers access to a benefit charge of just 15% of P11D price under the new tax regime.

Such performance represents an important achievement for high-mileage company car drivers eager to maintain fiscal parity under the new emissions-based tax system.

These 18,000-plus business-milers currently face a benefit charge of 15% of P11D price, and the only way of keeping the taxman off their hard-earned income is to select a low emission car.

Diesel won't do the trick, despite its low emissions, because of the three-point penalty imposed on the heavy fuel. And for tax-conscious drivers the difference between 15% and 18% of P11D price could make all the difference. So it will come as a relief to them to know that the Civic 1.6 hatchback will remain in the 15% category until the end of the 2003/04 tax year.

Somehow, Honda engineers have created a car that manages to sneak past official Euro-testers with barely a whisper of carbon dioxide slipping from its tail pipe, yet still delivers decent acceleration at the top end of its rev range.

This perhaps explains the discrepancy between the car's official fuel economy figures and the lower returns achieved in real-life driving.

For me, accessing this performance has required the breaking of a long-established driving habit of changing gear at 2,500 to 3,000 revs. At such rpm, the Civic 1.6 feels decidedly lazy, and only when the cabin fills with a peculiar engine buzz does peak performance arrive.

If you go looking for the 108 horses under the bonnet, you won't find them until the rev counter shows 5,600rpm, whereas the Ford Focus brings out its maximum 106 bhp at a far more reasonable 4,000rpm.

Pushed hard, the Civic provides a surprisingly entertaining drive, managing to avoid the excessive roll that often affects mini-MPVs despite its tall cabin, and maintaining a decent grip of the road. But the price paid for its airy cabin is a higher centre of gravity that mitigates against a drive as rewarding as that of the pace-setting Focus.

The quality of the Civic cabin is also slightly disappointing, with the hard plastics round the ignition already showing key scratches, while the fuel cap release requires coaxing open.

The Volkswagen Golf is no longer the new kid on the block, but it is still the build quality benchmark. So where does this leave the Civic? Under the new company car tax, two factors outweigh all others - price and emissions.

With the lowest emissions in its class, and in the entry level model a standard spec list (air con, ABS, CD-player, electric windows and mirrors) that should make rivals such as the Golf and Focus blush, the Civic should be on the short list of every company car driver, especially the tax-conscious.

CO2 emissions and fuel consumption data correct at time of writing. The latest figures are available in the Fleet News fuel cost calculator and the company car tax calculator.

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