When Honda first launched the Civic, the focus was on its looks at it made a brave fashion statement that ensured it stood out in a crowded and competitive sector.
Today, times have changed and while it is still a world away from competitors on looks, the focus is now on making vehicles as efficient as possible, particularly when it comes to carbon dioxide emissions.
Our latest long-termer is Honda’s showcase of what it is able to do with diesel technology.
Its first diesel engine, the 2.2-litre fitted to a number of Honda models starting back in 2003, set new benchmarks for refinement and economy, but couldn’t keep pace with the plummeting CO2 figures of rival brands.
The new 1.6 i-DTEC fitted to our test car puts the manufacturer very firmly back in the game.
Assembled in the UK, the diesel engine is the first new powerplant to be launched in Europe under Honda’s flagship Earth Dreams Technology environmental programme and has been specifically designed to appeal to corporate customers.
Emissions of just 94g/km put the Civic in the 13% BIK tax band for diesels this year, give it £0 VED and it also qualifies for 100% first-year capital allowances.
But power doesn’t suffer at the hands of economy and the Honda can produce 120bhp and 221lb-fit of torque at 2,000rpm, outgunning key rivals. 0-62mph is dispensed with in 10.5 seconds.
On the road, the engine lives up to its promises, delivering smooth and lively performance that is reminiscent of a petrol engine in its rev-happy nature.
And although it has only sipped its way through a single tank of diesel far, the results are impressive, with a real-world average of 63mpg.
Although this is shy of the claimed combined 78.5mpg in EU tests, it is still a figure that should have fleet managers sitting up and taking notice, as it is 20mpg better than the real-world economy figures I have squeezed out of some rivals.
Our ES-T model comes with pearlescent paint, pushing up its £21,590 on-the-road price by £500 to £22,090.
For that, you receive pretty much the entire options list, including USB and Bluetooth connectivity, automatic lighting, cruise control and Honda’s flexible ‘magic seat’ technology, which provides a wealth of configurations in the back of the car.
It also includes a reversing camera, but not parking sensors, which are reserved as a standard fit for the top of the range EX model. As an option they are pretty pricey compared to rivals at around £500 for the front and £400 for the back.
They may pay for themselves by avoiding just one careless bump, but I suspect some negotiation is in order to make the price more palatable for fleet managers.
Our i-DTEC also comes with an addition to its rump, in the form of two fins on either side of the tailgate.
They don’t look particularly pretty, but apparently these ‘wind diffusers’ help with aerodynamics and channel wind flow to reduce CO2 and give the slippery Civic its 94g/km and great fuel economy.
So far, it’s a style sacrifice that is worth making to achieve such excellent performance.
By John Maslen