We go to Bohol to try out the 10th iteration of Honda’s iconic sedan
The Civic is an iconic model for Honda Cars Philippines Inc. (HCPI) as it has been part of the company’s line-up since the company started operations locally in the early 1990s.
From simply being a sensible and practical family sedan, the Civic likewise built its reputation throughout the 1990s as a performance machine with stout performance, sharp handling and almost endless tuning potential, thus making it a favorite in motorsports events from autocross to touring-car racing. But as the new millennium rolled in, the Civic started to lose its edginess (except perhaps for the hard-riding, eighth-generation ‘FD’ model) that culminated in the very competent but lukewarm ninth-generation Civic.
Keen to go back to its roots, HCPI launched the all-new, tenth-generation Civic in April this year with the promise of a rebirth of the nameplate. Indeed, the biggest news from that event was the RS Turbo model, which is the most powerful production Civic since the venerable “EK” SIR. HCPI flew Fast Times and other members of the motoring media out to Bohol from July 21 to 23 to show what its new compact sedan was made of.
Stylish, comfortable cabin
As we stepped out of Tagbilaran Airport on the first day, we were greeted by seven Civics and veteran racing drivers and brothers Georges and Louis Ramirez, who would serve as our convoy leaders/tour guides for this drive. I was assigned to Car No. 3, a dark gray RS Turbo, with Power Wheels Associate Editor Neil Pagulayan in the back seat and Manila Bulletin motoring writer Chris Van Hoven behind the wheel. All three of us would take turns driving throughout the day.
As we set off, I noticed how spacious and well-made the leather-lined cabin of the RS Turbo was, feeling more like a larger executive sedan. But unlike an executive sedan, the center console is placed quite high, adding to the sports-car-like feel given by the low roofline and high beltline. Passenger comfort was excellent with superb legroom, headroom and shoulder room all around, as well as comfortable and supportive front seats (the rear seats didn’t provide sufficient thigh support).
Our first stop of the day was the Philippine Tarsier Sanctuary in Corella, which is home to over 200 tarsiers. However, our guide told us that they could only find three in the winding maze of foliage, as the hand-sized primates don’t tend to be active in the day. We then went to the sanctuary’s function room, where Georges briefed us on the day’s route, which would take us along some of Bohol’s beautiful winding roads.
I took the wheel for the short hop from the sanctuary to our lunch stop at the Loboc River Resort in Carmen, where we were given a sumptuous lunch in an enormous hut-like structure sitting next to the picturesque Loboc River. Unfortunately, the short distance of the trip and my lack of energy meant that I couldn’t pick up anything from the drive.
RS Turbo pliant on any surface
My senses were in overdrive, though, when Neil took the wheel as we headed into the mountains from the restaurant. Georges, who was driving a 2.4-liter Accord, led us through some of the most gorgeous tarmac that I have ever seen. For instance, the road through Bohol’s Man Made Forest was simply breathtaking, as we drove along flanked by towering trees.
But what really took my breath away was how adept the Civic RS Turbo was at taking corners at speed. Even in the rain, the car’s chassis was simply unflappable as we zipped through winding roads. More worthy of praise was the Turbo’s ride, which coped very well with the dirt tracks that we encountered because of roads that were still being rebuilt after the devastating 2013 earthquake in Bohol. After hours of heavenly motoring, Chris got back behind the wheel and drove all the way to the gorgeous Bellevue Resort Bohol.
RS Turbo handling could be sharper
The next day, I was paired with Wheels Magazine Editor-in-Chief Ira Panganiban in Car No. 2, which was a pearl white RS Turbo. Ira took the wheel from the resort as we followed George along Bohol’s beautiful coastline, where we discovered the excellent connectivity offered by the Apple CarPlay system (standard in both the RS Turbo and less expensive 1.8 E variants). The system mirrors an iPhone’s screen, allowing users to do everything from play music to listen to text messages on the go.
Midway through the coastal route, the convoy switched drivers and I took the hot seat. As I was less exhausted, I was able to fully appreciate the RS Turbo’s performance, which is primarily driven by a turbocharged, 1.5-liter, twin-cam, 16-valve, direct-injection, Earth Dreams VTEC inline-four producing 171 horsepower and 220 Newton-meters of torque. This puts it right in the firing line of the Ford Focus EcoBoost that I drove last year, which also has a turbocharged 1.5-liter inline-four but has 180 hp and 240 Nm of torque.
Whereas the Ford gets a fantastic six-speed automatic, the Civic RS Turbo gets a continuously variable transmission (CVT) with paddle shifters to help you go through seven simulated ratios. Although I would have much preferred a six-speed manual or a traditional automatic, the CVT works well with the engine, especially when you use the paddles to better exploit the powerband.
Speaking of that powerband, the Civic’s turbo kicks in at around 2,500 revolutions per minute and hits full boost at about 4,000 rpm. Much like the Focus, it’s a smooth progression of power rather than a huge wallop. In addition, the turbo VTEC makes a great noise as its engine nears the redline.
Reigning in all that power are very strong brakes that are controlled by a nicely firm brake pedal. Handling-wise, however, the Civic RS Turbo lags behind the Focus and the Mazda3 2.0 because of the numb steering and excessive body roll.
1.8 E could also use tweaking
Things weren’t much better in Car No. 4, which is a 1.8 E that Ira and I drove after having a nice lunch at the Chocolate Hills. Powered by a 1.8-liter, single-cam, 16-valve inline-four (carried over from the previous-generation Civic) that produces 139 hp and 174 Nm of torque, this entry-level model actually has a more firm ride than the RS Turbo, which means bumps and road imperfections are more felt in the cabin.
And because the tires were narrower and thicker than the Turbo’s, the steering felt even more numb. However, the feel of the chassis and the brakes remain excellent in this model, which helped it keep up with the Turbo cars ahead of us, except when we were going on really long stretches. Other fundamental differences between this and the RS Turbo include smaller alloy wheels, a cloth interior, the lack of GPS navigation and no paddle shifters for the CVT.
Not a true rebirth
In summary, the all-new Honda Civic is a stylish, roomy, comfortable and well-equipped compact sedan that is certainly a big step up from the previous model. In fact, it is such a big step up that HCPI said the new Civic has received over 1,500 reservations so far, which is impressive considering that the C-segment hasn’t been the hottest market in years. Speaking to Fast Times, HCPI Senior Assistant Vice President for Sales Masanao Kataoka said the units have been divided 60-40 in favor of the 1.8 E, which is expected to take a bigger share of sales as the model cycle progresses.
However, if you’re expecting this model to mark the return of the likes of the old Civic SIR, you will be disappointed by the lack of lightness and poise in the handling department. Indeed, the P1.398 million RS Turbo doesn’t offer as much driving pleasure for your money as the Focus or the Mazda3.
But if you set aside past performance pretensions as your benchmark and simply look at the new Civic as a sort of smaller Accord, it starts to make more sense. As such, I’d much recommend the P1.088 million 1.8 E (despite its choppy ride) because it offers excellent value for money compared to rival compact sedans like Toyota Corolla Altis 1.6V and the Nissan Sylphy 1.8V.
Perhaps if Honda puts more of the past into the Civic (such as a manual transmission or the much awaited Type R), it could be a true rebirth.