Road Test - Honda Civic 1.8 LXi R185 400.00

Honda’s new Civic 1.8 litre LXi i-VTEC sedan is a beauty. The car is agile, smooth and quiet. Driving it can best be described as effortless.

The smooth lines of the wedge-shaped nose, vast, shallow windscreen and curved roofline give the Civic a sleek visual profile, and also a low wind-drag coefficient. So, externally it has some visual appeal to set it apart. Even more interesting stuff, however, happens beneath its streamlined golden skin. The Civic 4-door harnesses some useful race-track-bred engineering, and this is most apparent from the engine.

With sixteen valves spread across four cylinders, the engine is quite well aspirated. When you add Honda’s VTEC variable valve timing to the mix, the motor will pump kilowatts all the way to the 6800 rpm rev limiter if you ask it to. More mundane motors rev to 6000 rpm or less. But beware! Too much of this heavy breathing guzzles fuel rather fast, even for a 1.8 litre.

The automatic transmission’s D-mode offers five speeds for effortless general motoring, while the D3-mode uses only the first three gear ratios, suitable for hauling a full cabin and/or trailer up hills – clever Honda! The rest of the gearbox is filled with Park, Reverse, Neutral, 1st and 2nd.

Under normal use, the sedan offers more perk than torque, and is ever so smooth and quiet. The engine purrs at 2400 rpm as it propels you at 122km/h. A glance under the tail end reveals a sophisticated multi-link independent rear suspension that accounts for the well-cushioned ride and superb cornering balance. The power steering is electric assisted, not hydraulic, and is very light and responsive, ideal for quad drivers.

The same computer system that plays a role in fuel injection and ignition management handles one of the car’s main safety features, Vehicle Stability Assist. VSA is a traction control system that takes over all driving functions, except steering, in the event of hectic cornering or swerving activity by the driver. It overrides accelerator pedal input and uses the various braking aids (ABS, EBD) to prevent out-of-control skids, swerves and slides. Other safety features include a hardened passenger cage and front airbags.

There’s plenty of space in the passenger cabin for heads and legs, and everyone has a headrest and a grab handle. Because of the vast windscreen, the fascia seems to jut out so far you can park a bus on it. But it does make room for the rather alluring two-tier instrument display. The blue-tinted rev counter and odometer sits in the usual spot, but the digital speed display is mounted above it. While night driving, it looks somewhat like a galactic star-fighter cockpit.

Door opening angles are adequate for wheelchair access, and all the seats are at perfect height for transfer from a wheelchair. Door sill width is a reasonable 22cm. However, quadriplegic drivers may battle with the door open lever and the door lock knob. There is an all-doors-locked button on the driver’s door console which is much easier to manipulate. Windows and side mirrors are electrically operated and both sun visors have shuttered vanity mirrors.

The driver’s seat offers plenty of height adjustment, and the backrest angle adjuster is a pull lever, not a knob-twist type. Boot space is cavernous, and the fold-down, 60/40 split rear backrests can be unlatched from inside the boot, even from a wheelchair.

Other little goodies include adjustable headlight beams, centre armrests front and back, a portable ash tray and an excellent AM/FM/CD stereo system with MP3 and AUX socket. The handbrake is in an unusual position; most drivers will like it. However, not so good (for quads) are the inside door openers and locking knobs which are finicky even for able-bods to use. Some modifications might be needed here. The cubby hole is ridiculously small compared to the “flight-deck-sized” fascia.

The tyres are Dunlop 195-65 profiles on 15-inch steel rims with plastic “alloy” covers. Best recommendation of all comes from the SA Guild of Motoring Journalists who judged the manual Civic 1.8 VXi sedan as 2007 Car of the Year (COTY). It beat the Lexus IS250! The Honda Civic 1.8 LXi Auto retails for R185 400.00.

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