While other manufacturers have forged ahead with diesel power, and with British motorists and fleets in particular going DERV crazy Honda has, up until now, stood by its range of petrol powered cars. It admits it has been behind the game, and is now playing catch-up.
And it has caught up. Honda has taken an Isuzu engine block and bolted its own developments around it, adding its own turbo, common rail injection, and other electronic systems.
The Civic CTDi joins a range of petrol engines from 90bhp 1.4-litre to 200bhp 2.0-litre. With 100bhp, the 1.7-litre diesel motor has a claimed combined fuel consumption figure of 56.5mpg, and CO2 emissions of 134g/km.
The CDTi will cost an extra £1,000 compared to the petrol powered versions. There will be no three door S model, but the 1.7 CDTi S five door will cost £13,495, with the 1.7 CTDi SE three door £12,995 OTR and the five door £13,995 OTR.
It is also very well specced. The S model gets air conditioning, ABS, EBD and Brake Assist, driver, passenger and side airbags, remote central locking, electric front windows and electric/heated door mirrors.
The SE gets all that plus alloys, leather steering wheel rear electric windows, perimetric alarm and a CD player.
And with CO2 emissions acceptably low, the car will sit in the 18% tax bracket for three years, due to it being Euro III compliant. It will give Honda an all important toe hold in fleets it had previously not been able to get into.
James Daulton, Honda's head of corporate sales said: 'I think the Civic CTDi will allow us to target a number of customers who have solus diesel parts of their choice lists.
'It gives us flexibility in the market, especially with the next generation of cars and is important because it allows us to start forging relationships for the future. It mirrors our whole corporate strategy. The fundamental basis is quality of product that meets user requirements and works on a cost basis.
'It gives us a sound footing. We have a five year plan: making sure we get cars that are right, that are acceptable to the financial directors and the drivers.'
Next year, the new Accord will also get a diesel unit in order that the firm can slug it out in the two major fleet sectors. The car will get a 140bhp, 2.2-litre motor developed by Honda in association with Isuzu.
There have been 15 million of the seventh generation of Civic sold worldwide, with 38,000 sold in the UK. The diesel element adds a key component to the mix from a fleet perspective, and Daulton said he expected the CTDi to account for around 30% of fleet totals.
And Honda is well aware it has work to do. Daulton said: 'We are doing well in the retail market, but the corporate market is behind.
'Fleets choosing the Civic CTDi are going to get a good deal. They have got to look at the whole equation. We are putting more emphasis on communication with them.
'We have the advantage of this car being made in the UK, which makes us more responsive to the market needs.'
Evidence of this flexibilty can be seen in the performance of the Civic Type R, which the firm suggested would sell about 1,500 a year. Since it became available in October, it has already passed the 2,100 mark and is expected to reach 4,000 within 12 months.
With the Civic built at the Swindon plant, Honda claims it can adapt its production mix and therefore control numbers and availability. Daulton believes this is essential in managing residuals, making the firm's cars more attractive to fleets.
Behind the wheel
My main pre-drive reservation was that this engine would be a halfway house for Honda, using another manufacturer's motor to plug a substantial product gap. With its petrol engines being so good, this diesel could have been a real kop out.
But it isn't. In fact it is superb. The company was at pains to underline that while the block came from Isuzu, it had done most of the development work, so are obviously proud of it.
At idle there is virtually no noise at all, although here I must add that the car had been used for test driving all morning and was fully up to temperature. From cold, the story might have been different.
Seeing that Honda makes arguably the best petrol engines in the world, I suppose it shouldn't be a surprise that it has taken all that engineering brilliance and applied it effectively to a diesel.
In fact, for my drive home I got back into an Audi A4 2.5 TDI 155, and was surprised how much I noticed the tickover after the whispery Honda. When its engine is comparable with the finest the VW group has to offer, Honda has got to be on a winner.
On the move, the engine in the Civic does get noisier, but not in a bad way as it has upgraded vibration measures and thickened insulation around the bulkhead. It sounds very tight, and there isn't much diesel shudder at all.
In fact, up at around 4,000 rpm there is a fair amount of noise in the cabin, but this motor, unusually for a diesel actually has a rather pleasant, sporty tone to it.
It might not reach the heady heights of a VTEC wail, but you get the feeling the engine likes to be revved hard. The only complaint would be it sound a little boomy at low speed, but that's about it.
It also pulls well, with most of the torque around 2,000 rpm, although it is not peaky by any means. In fact, right up to the red line there is a solid, consistent amount of torque, which makes the car much faster than simplistic 0-60 figures make it appear.
It does that sprint in more than 11 seconds, but in the important 30-50mph range it is very strong, in third and fourth.
At the first attempt, Honda is absolutely spot on with the Civic CDTi.