What I’m about to say may be a bit politically incorrect, but here goes anyway. You know when you sometimes see something or someone that’s stunning looking – but there is that one glaring inconsistency that sort of ruins it? Don’t get me wrong (I’m not much of a looker myself), but I’m sure it has happened to you, and it has certainly has happened to me several times.
The reason I’m bringing this up is because I drove the new, ninth-generation Honda Civic recently. This is the second iteration of the global best-seller that the Japanese have brought to India, after skipping the last generation – and it is a stunning looking car, in a segment in which you rarely see stunning cars.
Take the Toyota Corolla Altis – a perfectly practical set of wheels, but as a writer, I would struggle to think of some adjectives to describe it, unless ‘beige’ is an adjective. The Skoda Octavia is smart looking, but so is anyone in a well-cut suit. The Civic, on the other hand, has a brilliant profile and a beautiful rear three-quarter view, which I feel is unmatched by anything not wearing a price tag of at least a crore. And then you see its nose.
I don’t know about you, but after seeing the front of the Civic, I wanted to be inside the car, because I didn’t want to look at it again. I hasten to add that our family had a previous generation Civic for seven years, and I loved that car to bits. It had a beautiful i-VTEC engine that delivered power throughout the range, and what I would call a perfect gearbox. The digital speedo made you feel like you were driving a spaceship – it was really ahead of its time. You could have fun in that car if you knew what you could do, and I certainly did. It helped that I was in my mid-to-late twenties back then, and had a quite convoluted idea of my own mortality. It was an enthusiast’s car, a car that any original Honda City owner could easily upgrade to.
It did not, however, have a diesel engine, and that – in the era of the heavy fuel being much cheaper – was a problem. The Chevrolet Cruze had a diesel engine, as did the Hyundai Elantra, Skoda Octavia and eventually the Toyota Corolla as well. Most car buyers in India care two hoots about aesthetics, but they do care about fuel economy and running costs, and the old Civic, as fun as it was, was expensive to run. So like the old CR-V and the Accord, Honda Cars India sent the Civic out to pasture.
However, as fuel prices rationalised and Honda finally developed a slightly bigger diesel engine, we got the Civic that you see here.
This car might be a looker, but it certainly does not have the zing of old. The 1.8-litre i-VTEC petrol engine produces a reasonable 140 horsepower, but it comes kitted with a non-optional Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT), and while Honda’s CVT is very good, and you can play around with the paddle shifters, the enthusiast in me yearned for a manual shifter. Sure, it handles very well, but without the gears to play with, making it step out of line is almost impossible. I mean, this is a good car in every respect, but outside the looks department, it appears difficult to make a sure-shot case.
So what about the oil burner? Well, that is the daily commuter that many folks will choose to buy, and first, off the bat, the 1.6-litre i-DTEC, while very economical, is a teensy-weensy bit dull. And while this smashes the competition on the economy front, one way Honda has eked out over 26 kilometres per litre of dinosaur fat is by fitting the car with low rolling resistance tyres, which, on a not freshly-laid asphalt surface, are noisy – so noisy that you can hear them over the music. This one has a manual gearbox, but do not for one second think that it is fun. This is essentially an economy machine that looks exceptionally good, and while 120 horsepower isn’t bad, you almost get that in the new Mahindra XUV300.
Having seen the same vehicle in the United States, I can’t help but think of a couple of things. Firstly, the car in the US has no chrome on the front – it is blacked out – and that looks a lot classier. The standard two-litre petrol engine has 158 horsepower, and that may not seem like much more, but it could do with the additional power. Then there is the price. The base petrol model starts at Rs 17.69 lakh, and the top-end petrol is Rs 20.99 lakh. The diesel is Rs 20.49 lakh and Rs 22.49 lakh respectively.
Here is the thing – if I wanted fun, I’d spend a bit more on a Skoda Octavia vRS, or even the base level Octavia 1.8TSI. And while the Civic diesel is very economical, the Corolla Altis is cheaper from the get-go. So in the end, what do we have? A stunning looking executive sedan (with a slightly OTT nose), which has decent engines, is loaded to the gills with features and creature comforts, handles and drives very well and which is rather heavy on the wallet.