Vince Pornelos / Vince Pornelos | June 13, 2016 15:00
Move over, SiR
We have been waiting for this for a long time.
The last three generations of the Honda Civic have all been decent machines; reliable, sleek, and practical to drive and own. But the more enthusiastic of drivers, those who made the Civic so desirable in the nineties for its performance potential, lamented the way that Honda's once-exciting VTEC econo rocket became a “friendlier” car, one that would cater more to supermarket trips rather than weekend fun runs. SiR, DOHC, and VTEC badges were exchanged for Euro-4, i-VTEC, and EL emblems and stickers.
Thankfully this new Civic RS is about to turn that around on its head, as Honda delivers a car that recaptures the mojo that made the Civic great, all while preserving the elements that the modern car owner needs in a daily driver.
That nose is more befitting a Honda; a unified marriage of the grille, headlamps and the aerodynamic bumper. The grille looks odd at first; angled away from the wedge that has so defined Honda in the past, yet somehow it works perfectly for the sportier, more aggressive character that this car's designers clearly intended for the Civic. The primary means of illumination, the headlamps, look almost too good for a compact car; more efficient LEDs (light emitting diodes) have taken over the duties of HIDs (xenon gas-based high-intensity discharge) as the premium method of sending light down the road.
Visually, the most common profiles of the Civics of the past have been either a four-door sedan, a three- or five-door hatchback, and -in some countries- a five-door wagon. Some may casually see this new model as a sedan, but a closer look reveals it to be more of a four-door fastback; the roofline continuously slopes downward from the front part of the cabin to the raised trunk lid. The wing spoiler, the details on the trunk, the shape of the rear bumper, all these details synergizes design of this Civic RS nicely.
The cabin is a far nicer place than I remember; certainly a leg up above the predecessor. The rim of the steering wheel is thick to the grasp, and hopefully should be good in terms of feedback and feel. There are buttons flanking the horn pad; controls that operate the functions of the cruise control, the Bluetooth hands-free telephony, the multi-info display, and the audio system. There's even a touch-sensitive pad for the volume; swipe up to increase and swipe down to decrease volume, but it takes a bit of getting used to unless you like listening to rock music on full blast by accident. Yes, I learned that the hard way.
The arrangement of the dashboard is very futuristic. There's a touch-operated, tablet-like device dominating the center stack, displaying the now familiar Honda multimedia system that has -at long last- a GPS navigation system. One welcome feature is the omission of the touch panel for the automatic climate control system like in the City in favor of traditional buttons. The touch panel was a neat novelty, but I often found myself activating something accidentally. Yeah, I had a little case of sudden unintended activation (or deactivation) with the City VX+'s aircon a couple of times before.
One unusual thing about the Civic was the rear seat; you may need a booster pillow for it. The sloping fastback roofline meant that Honda had to position the seat a bit lower. Instead of the theater-style seating in most modern cars, backseat passengers are lower so much of the view would be obstructed by the backrests of the front occupants and the high beltline in the back. The rear seats are comfortable and roomy, but they're too low for my liking.
Push the red starter button and the Civic RS is ready for action; actually, you'll also want to look at the gauge ceremony at startup because, quite frankly, it's one of the coolest ones around. The days of free-revving B16 and B18 engines are long gone, as the Jekyll-to-Hyde, high-revving, cam-changing VTEC is no more. Instead, we get the more eco-friendly, intelligent cam-phasing VTEC system in this 1.5-liter four-cylinder motor.
Yes, you read that correctly; they put in a 1498cc engine under the hood of this RS, while the other variant gets the 1.8-liter unit from the previous generation. But before you cry foul over Honda slotting in what sounds like a motor from the City into the Civic, it's best to note that it's turbocharged. Now that should be interesting.
Around the city, the Civic drives smoothly and comfortably. Quiet too, as the Civic seems to have been developed with a great deal of refinement. The unique thing about the Civic is its automatic brake hold; in stop/go traffic, a system like this reduces the fatigue on a driver's right foot.
On an urban route with the common elements of traffic and intersections, the Civic RS returned 9.0 km/l at a slow 17 km/h average (simulating heavy traffic). To put that in perspective, such a figure is more common in subcompact cars. That kind of fuel economy is achieved by consciously (through pedal control) preventing the turbo from achieving sufficient boost to spool up, allowing the driver to effectively drive a more efficient naturally-aspirated engine. At a slightly higher speed in the city, the 1.5L engine gets better, returning 10.6 km/l at a 21 km/h average.
For those who are dying to ask the question, no, the turbocharged Civic RS does not have a manual gearbox. Yes, it's a major let down, but the CVT does do an exceptionally good job in sending the 173 PS and 220 Nm of torque to the road. And you can also activate the paddle shifters.
Floor the throttle and the Civic RS will lunge forward, showing off that the 1.5L turbo does have a good response. Acceleration from a standstill to a hundred is quoted at 6.8 seconds. A quick test yields a 7.2-second figure, and that's fine; with a number like that, there is a very real sensation of thrust. Yes Honda fans, VTEC Turbo does kick in yo'.
Dive on the brakes as you approach a corner and the Civic RS scrubs speed very well. The RS had a good set of stoppers on all four corners; a brake system that is very well tuned to suit the good Advan dB rubber. The electrically assisted steering really wasn't meant for feedback, but its accurate and intuitive, and there isn't much in the way of slippage even in greasy conditions afforded by a random rainshower.
The handling is really what sets this Civic apart, as the balance and the stability control didn't even have to make its presence felt; only when you really push beyond the reasonable limits of spirited driving does it kick in to stave off disaster. It sounds odd to put it that way, but it's a great indicator about how Honda's engineers tuned the handling of the car to deliver such high limits without resorting to all-wheel drive. This car will be interesting to pit against the Mazda3 head to head.
All in all, the 2016 Civic RS is a true return to form for Honda. What you can really sense after driving the Civic RS is that they let the car enthusiasts and engineers loose when it came to developing the car. And it also shows in the cost of admission; as it stands, this Civic RS is now the priciest compact car in the market at PHP 1,398,000.
Is it worth it, especially since the other variant with the naturally-aspirated 1.8L motor is PHP 300,000 less? That depends on who's asking. For a daily driver, maybe the 1.8L variant will do, but for those seeking a modern-day SiR, then this 1.5L VTEC turbo is the way to go.
Still, I would have preferred an option for a manual gearbox at a lower price... and Championship White.