But things are about to change, and the number of Civics being underwritten by them is not likely to grow any further.
The reason is the all-new Civic – a sharp, edgy, futuristic car which has been designed to appeal to a much younger market.
The average age of the driver of the current, blobby Civic is 58, but in its brave new world, Honda is aiming for a younger, more aspirational potential buyer, one who wants style and fun rather than dependability.
Honda confidently predicts buyers of the new Civic will be between 25 and 40 years old, and more of them will be bought with company money than ever before.
While Honda doesn’t expect to grow total sales of the Civic – the new version will find around 30,000 buyers in the UK next year – it is expecting its corporate mix to grow significantly.
Stephen Hollings, Honda’s head of corporate sales, said: ‘About 40% of Civic sales will be in the corporate market, whereas the old version was a very small player.
‘Young user-choosers are a key market for us. This is a car which people will want to drive, not a car they think they should have because it makes sense.’
Pricing will also be a significant factor, with diesel starting from around £15,000 and petrol from £12,600. This is low for a car which, Honda believes, will be taking on premium models such as the Audi A3, BMW 1-series and, of course, the ubiquitous Volkswagen Golf.
Hollings is realistic enough to know that the Honda badge cannot compete directly with Audi, BMW et al, but he says that in terms of quality the Civic is up with them, while in SMR and pricing terms it can easily tackle the volume players in the sector.
As well as a funky new look, the arrival of the smooth 2.2-litre i-CTDi diesel from the larger Accord will also drive sales upwards, and diesel will make up 60% of the corporate sales mix.
And even with the forthcoming changes to benefit-in-kind tax calculations, where Euro IV-compliant diesels will face a 3% company car tax surcharge, diesel will still remain popular.
Hollings added: ‘After the BIK changes a perk car driver is more likely to buy a petrol version, whereas high mileage drivers, those covering 20,000-25,000 miles a year, will stay with diesel.’
As well as the 2.2-litre diesel engine, Honda will also offer a 1.8-litre petrol equipped with the i-VTEC cylinder head system, and a 1.4-litre i-DSI petrol.
Specification levels will be S, SE, Sport, with ES and EX available in the 1.8 and 2.2. Also available is a six-speed semi-automatic gearbox called i-Shift which is a £700 option on the 1.4 and 1.8 versions.
Standard kit includes the usual electric operation of windows and mirrors, although S spec does without air conditioning.
Higher models add niceties such as DVD satellite navigation, dual zone climate control and the option of Bluetooth useage.
None, however, come with a rear wash-wipe.
Apparently the Civic’s funky look is so aerodynamically efficient it channels air over the rear screen in such a way that it clears itself.
Behind the wheel
COMING to terms with the exterior styling of the Civic is only part of the experience – sitting behind the wheel reveals an equally challenging interior.
Think spaceship and you won’t be far wrong, with digital readouts and screens dotted around the instrument binnacle.
In many ways it’s a good thing this car isn’t being aimed at the traditional 58-year-old Civic buyer, as this interior is so hi-tech it would probably render them powerless to start the car (which is, incidentally, done by pressing a starter button like in the S2000).
Once you’ve got used to the myriad digital displays, there is some reassuringly old-school Honda themes, such as strong build quality and a gearbox mounted high up on the dashboard. Space is good in the front, although the low roof line and thick C-pillar do make things a little claustrophobic for rear seat passengers.
Press the starter button and both petrol and diesel engines settle into a low noise idle. The gearbox on both models is slick, helping you to either keep the engine in the thick mid-rpm torque band, or high up in the midst of the V-TEC’s work.
The diesel is refined, punchy and amazingly quiet at motorway speeds, whereas the petrol is a lot more vocal – in fact it sounds quite coarse as you explore higher revs.
Handling is more slanted towards sporty than comfort, although the size of wheels does affect things (16-inches is the norm, while the Sport models we drove were equipped with 17-inch items). Either way, bumps and potholes can be felt readily through the cabin, although it’s no worse than in a Golf or A3.
COOL looks, an amazingly technical interior and strong performance make the Civic a huge leap forward over its predecessor. With keen pricing and plenty of kit, the Civic makes a strong case for itself against entry-level prestige rivals.
|Model:||1.4 i-DSI||1.8 i-VTEC||2.2 i-CTDi|
|Max power (bhp/rpm):||82/5,700||138/6,300||138/4,000|
|Max torque (lb-ft/rpm):||88/2,800||128/4,300||251/2,000|
|Max speed (mph):||106||127||127|
|Fuel consumption (mpg):||47.9||44.1||55.4 (53.3)|
|CO2 emissions (g/km):||139||152||135 (140)|
(Figures for Sport and EX)