Honda is going back into Formula 1 in a move that neatly ties in with its latest plans to return to the front of the grid in the fleet market.
The strategic push into sport and fleet mirrors events in 2008 when it pulled back from the top echelons of motor sport, and endured a precipitous fall in sales in the UK, from a high of 106,018 in 2007 to its current level of about 54,000 units a year.
To drive sales in the fleet market back to form, Honda has a new team line-up on the grid, including Leon Brannan, formerly head of aftersales who becomes head of car, succeeding Phil Crossman who became managing director in April. Nick Holmes has taken over the head of customer and aftersales role.
Crossman said: “With a range new models and cleaner engines such as Civic Tourer, Type R and Jazz and the ‘halo’ effect of returning to F1 in 2015, I’m confident this new team will maximise the opportunities we’ll have in both the retail and fleet markets in the coming years. We’re all looking forward to the challenge ahead.”
After six months with our long-term Civic, which has now returned to the manufacturer, it’s clear that Honda’s changing fortunes have never had an impact on its products.
In addition to the 1.6-litre diesel engine returning the highest fuel economy of any standard diesel I have ever driven (a high of 70mpg and consistent returns of more than 62mpg in real world tests), it has proved itself as a worthy contender for the attention of any fleet operating rival volume brands.
The new 1.6 i-DTEC fitted to our ES-T specification test car emits just 94g/km of CO2, qualifying the car for the lowest diesel tax band, £0 VED and 100% first-year capital allowances.
But despite its impressive economy, power hasn’t suffered, with 120bhp and 221lb-fit of torque at 2,000rpm, outgunning key rivals and providing lively performance.
The engine is so beautifully engineered, it doesn’t even sound particularly like a diesel and this attention to detail is reflected in the rest of the car.
I found the doors don’t thud in a Germanic way, or twang like some European rivals – they whoosh. There is something so effortless in the way they close that adds to the overall aura of quality that exudes from the Civic.
The same is true of many touch points for the driver, such as the wonderfully direct, but light gear box that snicks from cog to cog,
The interior is also extremely flexible, thanks to the clever folding rear seats that provide a wealth of configurations.
There are niggles however, most notably the spoiler that affects rear visibility, although I never found it too much of a problem thanks to the in-built reversing camera.
But it’s clear from reviews from a wealth of sources and through research, such as the Sewells User-Chooser Barometer, that drivers love their Hondas – the next challenge is to get more fleet managers to return to the brand and put the firm on pole position for future growth.