For the last three years, the entry-grade version of the Civic in the Philippine market was dubbed the 1.8 E. While we enjoyed the 1.5-liter RS Turbo, we were also impressed with the more docile variant simply because it was a more affordable package that didn't delete too much from the spec sheet.
But now, the 1.8 E has moved upmarket. Honda has launched a new base model for the Civic, and they call it the 1.8 S. Of the entire Civic line, this is undoubtedly the most impressive. Let me explain.
We're honestly struggling to find something truly negative with Honda's new base model for the Civic. That's something that we can't say for a lot (if not all) of the other models in the market.
Walking up to the Civic, it's hard to tell that this is in fact a base model. Back in the 90's, if you bought a base model car, everyone could tell because of the unpainted parts like bare plastic door handles and bumpers, little or no chrome, and steelies with full caps. This Civic 1.8 S shows how far we've come, as they've carefully preserved the sporting character of the car, yet found clever ways to economize it a bit more.
So how can you spot a 1.8 S from a 1.8 E? Honda removed some of the chrome as the door handles are now color keyed. The unibrow grille is still chrome which is a shame; we quite like the black grill on the RS. Instead of LEDs, the Civic gets halogen headlights, though they still come with projectors for a crisp and defined beam. The indicators moved to the fenders instead of the door mirrors, which is fine; no issue there. The 16-inch wheels are actually the ones from the pre-facelift Civic 1.8 E (2016 to early 2019); the current 1.8 E gets a nicer set of gunmetal-ish 16s. You know it's a base variant, but it's not so obvious.
Inside, the changes are likewise subtle. Being a base model means they did try to economize things a little but, but sitting inside, we really can't tell. That's a good thing; you won't feel too shortchanged. Of course you won't get leather on the seats nor would you get a leather wrap on the wheel or shifter. Instead what the S comes fitted with is cloth for upholstery and urethane for the two primary controls. We don't mind the lack of leather; in our weather, we prefer cloth rather than leather.
The gauges are not digital like the RS or E, but that's alright. Interestingly, Honda didn't opt to put in a cheaper manual A/C unit; this one still has the automatic climate control system that you can set and forget. All the main features are still powered like the windows, mirrors, and locks. You do lose cruise control.
Perhaps the biggest difference is the audio system. It's not the same as the one in the 1.8E, though it's hard to spot the difference. Only when we peek under the console do we realize those HDMI ports are gone. Also gone are the tweeters, meaning this only has 4 speakers; not really a big deal. Perhaps the biggest alteration is that the 7-inch audio system loses the Apple CarPlay connectivity pack, but at least you still get Bluetooth and USB input, so it's not too big of a loss. One thing that did surprise me was that they didn't omit the rear camera, which is typical in base models.
Powering this Civic is the same 1.8-liter engine as the E. It has 141 PS and 174 Nm of torque, and is matched with a CVT driving the front wheels. We actually wish that Honda had an option for a proper three-pedal manual gearbox, but it doesn't seem like we'll see that gearbox in a Philippine Civic. Unless you get a Type R.
There isn't really much we can say about the drive, other than the fact that we really like it. In town, the Civic drives like any other; smooth, refined, and very comfortable. While we like big wheels, the 16 inchers are far better for overall comfort given the extra damping from the slightly higher profile tires. A pressure check actually showed that the Civic had too much PSI in the tires; 40 to 45. Once we dropped it to 33, the ride improved even further.
With the correct pressure, we were able to get some more realistic fuel economy figures. In casual city driving (heavy traffic, 18 km/h average) we were getting 7.3 km/l. Not bad. That number improves to 9.9 km/l as traffic lightens up (average 22 km/h), and goes up to 15.1 km/l on a fairly brisk highway drive (92 km/h average). What we do miss is cruise control, but not enough to spoil the experience.
The Civic 1.8 S is really identical to the 1.8 E in the way it drives, and that's a really good thing. Acceleration and throttle response is rather good, especially considering it's a CVT. To be honest, we didn't really miss the paddle shifters because, overall, the CVT didn't put a toe out of line. The 1.8 S actually feels quite light and sprightly to drive, and its performance under hard braking is surprisingly commendable.
We liked the way it drove, the way it felt, and the fairly good value proposition it has for the nameplate. At PhP 1.115 million, it's clearly the most affordable variant in the Civic line up, undercutting the 1.8 E by PhP 70,000. But there is one drawback, and we found out towards the end of the drive.
Honda removed the folding mechanism for the rear seats. They're fixed, and there's a big strut bar-like piece blocking the way. The way we found out was when we decided to take advantage of a sale on a 50” smart TV, so we had to get creative and secure it on the rear seat. That was a real bummer, especially from Honda; they are, after all, the masters of generating maximum versatility out of any model.
Does that dampen the experience? A little bit, but not enough to be a deal breaker. We really think it's still a great base model for the Civic as far as the typical industry standard for base models. We just think that they could have bumped up the price a little bit and not omit one of the most useful features in most modern compact sedans.