This is not to say Honda enthusiasts will be disappointed with the Civic CTDi, which uses the latest common rail technology. It boasts 99bhp – on a par with the Volkswagen Golf and in between the two power outputs offered by the Peugeot 307 2.0 HDi.
For now it is outranked by the Ford Focus TDCi on power, but later this year Ford will offer a 99bhp TDCi Focus which will be closer on performance and price. The Civic isn't exactly the sharpest looking car in this class. Its tall styling was something of a trend setter when it was introduced at the end of 2000, and since then we have had the tall Peugeot 307 and the tall Toyota Corolla. Compared with the Golf and Focus, however, the Civic looks a little cumbersome, particularly in five-door guise.
Inside the car you can see why the Civic has its unusual shape. There is an unbelievable amount of space in the cabin, and if it wasn't for the lower- medium car interior width you would think you were sitting in a full-size MPV.
The airiness from the large glass area, generous head and leg room, and lack of a floor-mounted gearstick (its on the dashboard) almost makes you feel you can get up and walk around. And if a driver needed to carry heavy loads, the cargo volume with the rear seats folded is immense.
From the driver's seat all the instruments are clear and the controls (particularly the gearstick) are within easy reach. Our SE test car came with air conditioning, ABS with electronic brake force distribution and emergency braking assistance, four airbags, alloy wheels, a CD/radio, alarm and electric windows and mirrors.
Honda has also done its homework in keeping noise and vibration from the engine to a minimum. The CTDi benefits from the same measures as the petrol cars, as well as liquid-filled mounts for the transmission and engine.
It seems to work because this is one of the quietest diesels on the market at lower speeds – easily quieter than Volkswagen's TDI and Peugeot's HDi – although the exhaust does seem to have had the Honda treatment, making it sound surprisingly sporty as the revs rise.
The Civic's transmission has been specifically matched to the engine with overall gearing set at more than 25mph per 1,000rpm. It means that at the legal maximum the CTDi is showing a reasonably relaxed 2,700rpm. And the gearchange itself is short and slick.
Straight line performance is strong, and with maximum torque coming in at 1,800rpm the Civic will quickly put on a spurt on the move when required.
The Civic's steering continues to disappoint, however, being too light and offering very little feedback. The tall body has its fair share of roll in faster bends, but the Civic rides smoothly and is nimble enough around town.
Honda Civic 1.7 CTDi SE five-door
Delivered price, standard car (P11D value): £13,860
CO2 emissions (g/km): 134
BIK % of P11D in 2002: 18%
Graduated VED rate: £110
Insurance group: 6
Combined mpg: 56.5
CAP Monitor residual value: £5,100/37%
Depreciation (13.26 pence per mile x 60,000): £7,956
Maintenance (2.29 pence per mile x 60,000): £1,374
Fuel (6.89 pence per mile x 60,000): £4,134
Wholelife cost (22.44 pence per mile x 60,000): £13,464
Typical contract hire rate: £306 per month
All figures based on 3yrs/60,000 miles. Monthly rental quote from HSBC Vehicle Finance
At a glance
Three rivals to consider
TECHNOLOGY comes at a price with three common rail units and a pumpe duse motor commanding quite a premium over petrol models. With 99bhp the Honda costs almost £14,000. Roughly the same cash will buy a 100bhp Golf, in S trim, while the 90bhp 307 HDi GLX costs a little more. We had to include Ford's common rail Focus rather than the older engine, outranking its rivals on power but a little more expensive. However, a 99bhp TDCi Focus will go on sale soon at £400 less.
NO really big difference in servicing, maintenance and repair costs among our quartet, but while the Honda matches the Golf, the Peugeot is the least expensive in this arena with a marginal advantage over the other three. The Honda also does well with the highest mileage limit on its warranty, at 90,000 miles – compared with 60,000 miles for the other three. The Focus does look a little out of place with a figure of 2.87, while all the others are under 2.3 pence per mile.
NO one could complain about high fuel costs when running any of these cars, but the one complaining the least would be the fleet manager running the Honda. At more than 56mpg on the combined cycle, the Civic's fuel bill creeps under the seven pence per mile barrier, while the Peugeot 307 comes closest to challenging it and the Golf is a little more expensive. The Focus brings up the rear, but it does boast 115bhp whereas the other cars offer 100bhp or less.
THE Civic comes very close to matching the peerless Golf in percentage terms when looking at retained value over three-years/60,000-miles. However, it beats the Golf when you look at the depreciation pence per mile figures because of the Golf's higher P11D price. After the Golf there is a big gap to the Peugeot 307 which is ahead of the Ford Focus. The Golf has long been the most desirable car in this sector but the Honda is relatively exclusive compared to the others.
IN this comparison the Honda performs best in all but one of the cost categories, and the section were it does not win, it comes second. It holds a clear advantage on the two most costly areas that make up our wholelife costs equation – depreciation and fuel costs. This puts it in the strongest position overall, beating the mighty Volkswagen Golf in cash terms for depreciation and winning the fuel cost argument comfortably. It all adds up, giving the Civic a convincing lead.
Emissions and BIK tax rates
ALL four cars qualify for the lowest benefit-in-kind (BIK) tax band for the next three years. However they are all diesels and are subject to a 3% supplement in BIK tax, which combined with the P11D price premium can make equivalent petrol models seem good value from a tax perspective. But the Civic's low fuel consumption translates to low emissions, and it will protect its driver for longer against ever stricter emissions standards for calculating BIK tax.
THE Civic has to win this contest. It might not be the best to drive, but it is pleasant enough and the extra space and refinement it offers will win it many friends. It is also well equipped and easily comes out on top in the running costs battle. Much as we like the Focus it struggles in this company, and even if the new, cheaper 99bhp TDCi were available now, we still think the Civic would have the edge.