Beyond the norms of Civic duty

Beyond the norms of Civic duty image

Text: Jude Morte / Photos: Jude Morte | posted June 04, 2009 00:00

Honda updates the Civic

At first glance, you'd think that the current Honda Civic is nothing more than a hallowed landmark of the compact passenger car (PC) segment.

After all, since its launch in 2006's second quarter, the Civic has more than held its own in the said arena, and managed to comfortably park itself into potential buyers' memories or preferences when it comes to PCs. Honda's reknowned i-VTEC technology, drive-by-wire capability, paddle shifters (first introduced in 2006 on the 2.0S A/T model), well-thought-out ergonomics, audio entertainment with punch, and a revolutionary exterior design were big reasons for that.

But when rivals started upping their respective representatives the Mitsubishi Lancer, the Ford Focus and the Subaru Impreza are standout examples Honda felt that it was high time to beef up Civic pride, in the hopes that it would go beyond the normal call of Civic duty. And at the recent unveiling of the 2009 Honda Civic at the Subic International Raceway (SIR), scribes no doubt observed that Honda's PC can go beyond the plea to be merely a car.

The 2009 Honda Civic is not just a car, it's a great way for one suffering from jilted suitor syndrome to get some open road/performance driving therapy, if not recover fully. Weeks prior to the Civic's launch this writer managed to get some communication time with a former amateur hoops courtside reporter, but for unknown reasons soon got the cold shoulder and a heavy handed request to lay off talks. With the acid of the girl's remark and request etched on his memory a day before departing for Subic, he was pining to get seat time in the new car, in hopes that the periods on track would help heal the emotional scars.

Amazingly, he did get the healing factor needed. Stepping into the P958,000 1.8S A/T, this writer was doggedly determined to drive through the pain, yet rein in the emotions. After all, it's easy to make the Civic or any car understeer wickedly through SIR's Turn 1 if you enter it too hot. Arriving through the said corner at 133-odd-kph, the Civic's brakes bit quickly, then a tap from the "-" paddle at the right of the steering wheel column got the gearing down to second, then it was a matter of balancing the throttle and maintaining the line before the car spat itself out unto the back straight. Surprisingly, the Civic's five speed 'box and "(S)port" mode managed to hold second gear all the way up to redline, and kept the i-VTEC running at 4,500-plus rpm to get the unit moving quickly.

Then he met the series of 90-degree bends that would make the car end up on the short straight leading to the bus stop chicane. A tidy line is required here, with the car having to kick down to second and all four wheels frequently on the outside of all three bends. Once past the bends and running in third gear at 100-odd-kph, he had to hurdle the "converted" bus stop hairpin by braking early, downshifting to second past the braking point, then kicking down to second when the nose hit the apex. Vip Isada's advice to treat the 138 hp/174 NM 1.8S A/T Civic as if it were a conventional m/t car proved correct, as you have to balance the vehicle before committing to the turn and downshift gradually instead of going down to first like crazy before the corner, otherwise you'd be getting understeer immediately upon turn-in. Going through the SIR's racing line whether it was trying the car out for the first time, or the series of team relay races after was a great way to forget the hurt, but for future owners a long stint on any open stretch of highway in Honda's new PC will be a good substitute for the aforementioned "medicine."

One must not forget that the '09 Civic is also a model. You may not see it immediately, but the 2009 Honda Civic does retain the aerodynamically sound shape that made it sell like hotcakes during its 2006 release. It also sports a few changes to the bodyshell, such as smoked headlights, octagon shaped tail lamps, dual exhaust tips and a front fascia inspired by the current Honda Civic Type R. For those keen on getting the top tier, P 1.1 million 2.0S A/T, the said variant sports 7.5J x 17-inch multi-spoke rims reminiscent of those on the V10-powered Audi R8.

Then there's the Civic ability to become a people/cargo hauler and entertainer. Mind you, the Civic is, for all intents and purposes, a passenger car. It's not meant to be a multipurpose vehicle (MPV). But the spacious cabin, generous trunk space and an abundance of interior storage bins make it feel like one, albeit with a lower center of gravity and just two rows of seats. It's comfortable for four to five average sized folk (helped largely by sofa level fabric seats found only on the 1.8S A/T), and the cargo bay area can swallow a golf bag and four medium sized travel bags. The audio entertainment is also MPV-level, as it now carries a USB port for external MP3 player use.

Lastly, the new Civic is a great way to relate to the trees and the blue skies and the earth. Currently the Civic has a Euro-4 level exhaust emission setting, helped immensely by a bevy of technologies including aero-flow LAF (linear air-fuel) sensors and O2 sensors to monitor and control air-fuel ratio - that reduces hazardous elements from the exhaust gases and utilizes less precious metals in the catalytic converter.

Honda's compact passenger car may be a benchmark, but its newest iteration does more than answer the call of common Civic duty as excellent mass transport.