When I tried out the initial version of the 9th generation Honda Civic, I wasn't impressed by the various yardsticks in my mind. Compared to the previous model, the new Civic didn't impress, and what more when compared to its prime competitors like the Ford Focus and the Hyundai Elantra.
The initial model offered by HCPI was the Japan-sourced model, and only came in as a 1.8 liter variant. Now, Honda is offering the 2.0 liter, Thailand-made version. Could it fare better?
Design-wise, one thing you'll notice is that this Civic FB is different. It's not the facelifted version that Honda USA rushed into the market (as a response to the lackluster reviews of the car), instead this is the Modulo-kitted version. Over the standard design, the Modulo kit enhances the car's overall appearance, adding a chin, side skirts, a rear skirt, as well as a rear spoiler. The grille looks pretty good, and accents the car's overall design and kit very well. But still, the look of the base car remains, though the kit does wonders with it.
Inside, there are also quite a few differences over the previous 1.8 EXi. The interior is now predominantly black and gray, a more sporty choice compared to the cream and beige in the first Civic we drove. The seats, which were wrapped in fabric for the prior model, are now upholstered in leather with white stitching; a nice touch. However, the things we noticed in the previous variant remain, primarily the hard plastics on the dashboard and the rather plain-looking audio system when compared to the one found in the Civic FD.
Also, being the top of the line 2.0 liter model, this Civic gets a few nicer touches like the automatic climate control system and paddle shifters. Honda, however, has peculiarly omitted the Bluetooth handsfree system; really an essential feature in any range-topping model nowadays. Also, things like a push start system (with a smart key transponder) is still not available, nor are power adjustable front seats or a even a back-up sensor package. The guys over at Ford have certainly raised the bar in the segment when it comes to standard equipment.
The major difference is the engine. The previous version had the 1.8 liter SOHC 4-cylinder i-VTEC motor that produced 141 PS and 173 Newton-meters of torque. The engine in this EL variant is a 2.0L SOHC i-VTEC, and produces a bit more at 155 PS and 190 Newton-meters. At full throttle, the Civic EL certainly feels more willing to accelerate than the 1.8, and that's quite expected. By what I can feel, the i-VTEC system takes full effect at around 5000 rpm, as the tach's needle noticeably speeds up. Fans of the older VTEC system (cam timing + lift control) might be disappointed that the 'kick' is gone in this i-VTEC (cam timing only) engine, but nevertheless, there's a bit of a rush when the i-VTEC goes into action.
I took the Civic EL up to Baguio, and immediately noticed a few things about it. The car definitely cruises quite efficiently, as you should be able to eke out 12-13 kilometers per liter on the expressway if you're frugal about your driving (80-100 km/h, one passenger. In the city, 7.3 kilometers seems to be the norm (moderate traffic).
While it may have more power for the uphill heading up to Baguio, the 5-speed auto, while good and smooth, doesn't have as good a spread in its ratios as the 6-speed automatics in the Elantra and the Focus. As such, it feels a little labored in powering out of corners. The paddle shifters are a welcome touch though, enabling the driver to select the proper gear when entering the corners.
So does the Thai-made Civic 2.0 with the Modulo kit make up for the misgivings of the Japan-made 1.8 EXi? Well for me, it's a yes, a maybe, and a no... all rolled into one.
It's a 'yes' because it certainly looks better and has more character with the kit. It's a 'maybe' because while the Civic 2.0 does drive better, I feel they could have certainly gone for a better 6-speed auto. And it's a 'no' because while the Civic is now sourced from Thailand (and hence, pays far less tariffs) it's still priced at the high end of the class at PhP 1,165,000 (White Pearl option)... and it still doesn't include the Modulo package at PhP 83,000.
There are still issues that need work, but overall, the Civic 2.0 does make a more compelling (albeit pricey) proposition than the previous Civic we tried.