Still fun, but at what cost?
When Honda came out with the Civic RS in 2016, we knew then that the Civic had finally recaptured its mojo.
While the Civics we drove from the 2000's up to the mid-2010's were interesting, many felt that the model had lost a bit of the magic that made the EK special. We felt the FD was alright, but the ones that came before and the one that came right after were rather lackluster, almost as if Honda tried to emulate the way Toyota made Corollas: too mass market, too watered down in the driving thrills department.
We were glad that Honda didn't go that route for the tenth generation, and far from it. It's actually quite a successful model, and it comes as no surprise that the Civic has regained its rightful place as the car of choice for driving enthusiasts and tuners, especially in this RS variant.
The Civic RS is our undisputed favorite of the line up simply because it offers the driving performance that we want, with the fuel economy, comfort, and practicality we need. Now they've got a facelifted version, and it comes with a few tweaks to make it better.
The sheet metal is the same as before, but there's a new bumper with a more cohesive design for the lower intakes. Being the sportier RS version means that this Civic comes with black accents like the new “Bellrina” design wheels and other bits and pieces, all of which give a nice contrast to the Rallye Red paint scheme.
The headlamps are also new, and all the bulbs are LEDs now for the RS. It's something they borrowed from the Civic Type R for that trick look, though the light temperature is a little cooler (whiter) than I prefer especially in wet driving, but they do alright. I honestly expected more updates, but that's pretty much it for the RS.
The changes inside do pop out a bit more than the exterior, as Honda seems to have wanted to enhance the overall experience. The red stitching on the seats, shifter boot, and steering wheel do catch the eye more, as does the gauge ceremony on start up like before. And there's a definitively high quality feel about how everything was put together, especially with many of the surfaces that customers generally like to touch.
What I really noticed was how Honda paid attention to improving practical ergonomics. I say practical ergonomics because they listened to how people actually drive and use the Civic and removed or adjusted a few features to match.
They removed the rather ridiculously-sensitive touchpanel that served as the steering wheel volume control. All too often, I ended up unintentionally maxing or muting the volume because there are times, especially in traffic, that I don't put my hands on the wheel; sometimes I like to rest my left hand on the spoke of the wheel. And they also added buttons on the touchscreen audio unit along with a volume knob so you can more easily manipulate it instinctively by your fingertips without having to look away from the road. The unit also comes with better connectivity for your smartphone.
Beyond those, the changes are really sparse. The seats are very much the same, and the rear seat does still feel unusually low, and theres still plenty of cargo space. Of course, the Civic was already a solid vehicle, but does it drive any better?
On an everyday route, the Civic RS is still every bit as smooth and docile as before. The engine that we love, that 173 PS 1.5-liter VTEC turbo, performs exceptionally well as a city runabout. The mere mention of the fact that it's matched with a CVT makes plenty of us groan given the performance potential, but as a daily drive it simply works well, and it makes a perfect pairing with the automatic brake hold feature if the traffic gets too heavy. It's efficient too: on our drive, I got 9.2 km/l at an average speed of 20 km/h, and I was still being casually frugal with the way I used the throttle, not activating the turbo too much at every green light. Still, we really want a manual version of this, just to see how it would feel.
Once a road opens up, that's when the Civic RS comes alive. That turbo that you can keep restrained for the city can be let loose, allowing the car to lunge forward with every prod of the pedal. One unannounced upgrade over the 2016 to early 2019 Civic RS are the tires: they're no longer Advan dB, they're Michelin Pilot Sport 4, and boy, are they a lot better.
Take a corner at speed and you'll notice the difference if you've driven an older RS. The front end is more responsive to your steering input and you can apply a bit more throttle to get you out of the corners quicker. The rear end seems a bit more stable too, and it doesn't feel as twitchy as the older model when you unload the rear under hard braking.
The brakes are good, though you have to know that the Civic RS Turbo has a tendency to experience a bit of compressor surge if you're coming off the gas from full throttle at high RPM and straight into heavy braking. It's an unusual feeling, one that you can spot by how hard the brakes can fight back. I have a feeling that it's because the turbo's bypass valve doesn't react as quickly in alleviating the exhaust pressure the instant you lift off the throttle. A blow-off valve can solve that, but some may not like the noise, and it's only really noticeable when coming from full throttle to full braking.
As a package, the Civic RS is well equipped. You get all the power and tech features you need, together with safety systems like six airbags, stability control, anti lock brakes and the like. You get the performance you desire, and with the styling that has been neatly and properly enhanced.
But the issue comes not with the way the vehicle drives, the way it looks, the way it feels, or the way it was specced. The problem was with the price. When Honda first launched the Civic RS VTEC Turbo in 2016, we already thought it was expensive at PhP 1,398,000, followed by a price increase in 2017 to PhP 1,425,000. When the new excise taxes kicked in with the 2018 calendar year, that price shot up to PhP 1,546,000. Now with this facelifted model, that price came up even more to PhP 1,608,000. Ouch.
The Civic RS is a car we really love, but it seems taxes are starting to push it beyond the limits of what we can consider justifiable.