The launch of the eighth-generation Honda Civic prompted Honda Cars Philippines, Inc. (HCPI or Honda) to provide corporate duty to the motoring public, in order to acquaint the masses to Honda's best volume seller. Several write-ups were made about the successful debut of the new Civic at Greenbelt Three, along with the make's availability of test drives and displays in motor shows and Honda dealerships nationwide after the launch.

But Honda decided to take Civic pride one step further, and recently invited a bevy of motoring and lifestyle journalists to Puerto Princesa (Palawan) in order to test the said compact car's abilities.

Airport boredom and Civic duty

This writer was scheduled to do his "Civic" duty on a Tuesday, along with nine fellow motoring journalists. Unfortunately an internal snafu within Cebu Pacific (the journalists' airline going to Palawan) caused a four hour delay at the Manila Domestic Airport, forcing the ten to empty their thinking caps for ways to reduce airport boredom. Nevertheless, the trip went on as scheduled, with the tired ten arriving at the Puerto Princesa airport by 12:20 p.m. From the airport, the ten hied off to the Asturias Hotel for lunch and briefing about the Civic test drive.

From there, the auto scribes went on fulfilling their Civic duty by boarding four FA Civics - all automatic transmission (a/t) variants, composed of two 2.0-liter units and two 1.8-liter units. This writer teamed up with Philippine Daily Inquirer motoring reporter Charles Buban to drive a 1.8-liter S a/t alabaster silver FA (the chassis codename for the new four-door Civic) on the 31.4-kilometer stretch of tarmac from the Asturias Hotel to the Salvacion Viewdeck.

The road from the Asturias Hotel to the Salvacion Viewdeck is full of short straights and long zigzag bends that go either uphill or downhill. This route provided a great opportunity to gauge the FA's agility, stability, steering response, handling, acceleration and an occasional view at the Civic's interior.

Civic (driver's) engagement

Getting behind the wheel of the FA is a new experience as compared to driving an EG (1992-1995), EK (1996-2000) or EP (2001-2005) Civic. The tilting/telescoping steering wheel felt and looked smaller as compared to the pizza pie steering wheels of previous models, while the Starship Enterprise-wide dashboard greets you with a luxurious, faux Accord layout that's clean and easy to memorize.

Plop yourself on the driver's seat and you'll notice the entirely new driver's side dashboard layout. The tachometer, a/t gear indicator and warning lights are still within the driver's eye level, but this time the tachometer is right in the middle. This arrangement is perfect for those who have to monitor the engine speed, especially when one is running low on fuel (you save fuel by keeping engine revs below 2000 rpm) or if one is using a manual transmission FA. On the other hand, the speedometer, the temperature and fuel gauges are placed slightly higher than eye level so that the driver can concentrate better on the road. All these changes to the driving gauges (which Honda bills as a "two-tiered" design) were made to accommodate the 23.9-degree sloping of the sedan's windshield, which gives occupants better forward vision.

The left hand driver controls - power window and side mirror switches, manual driver's seat height/lumbar/backrest lever - are easy to find, although Buban claimed that he hard a hard time finding the driver's seat height lever. The integrated head unit/aircon features a six-disc CD/MP3/WMA (Windows Media Audio) player with 12 FM and six AM preset station memory, a blue LCD display with a built-in clock, air conditioning (a/c) controls that remind you of its Accord sibling and a large red hazard button to the left of the a/c controls. Also, the head unit comes with four speakers (for the 1.8L versions) and four speakers plus two tweeters (on the 2.0L variants) to replicate high-pitched tones. Although head unit testing came primarily from this writer's iPod Mini, he and Honda's Gabby Peren observed that the 1.8L S' head unit managed to faithfully replicate the low and high pitched tones on the "Theme From Magnificent Seven (aka the Marlboro Man theme)."

On long, highway-spanning trips it is essential that there should be lots of places to store all sorts of bric-a-brac (such as maps, food wrappers and drinking cups), and in this category the FA stomps the competition. 14 (yep, 14) cupholders and storage places abound within the Civic's cabin. The cupholder area between the front seats has the ability to hold two one-liter bottles, while the front armrest storage cubbyhole can fit in 27 CDs.

Civic engineering

Keeping very much up to the interior's "WOW!" factor is the compact car's driving experience. On the few-and-far-between straight areas on the road leading to the Salvacion viewdeck, the 1.8L S' SOHC (single overhead camshaft), watercooled, 16-valve engine delivers a linear output of 140 ps and 17.7 kg-m, but with much quicker response at the 2250-3500 rpm range. The five-speed a/t showed no shift shock when upshifting, but required a little dab of the grippy brakes on occasion to prevent shift shock during downshifting. And even when the tach (tachometer) reaches 4000+ rpm, engine and road noise is muted.

But it is the nimble steering and handling of the FA that got most of this writer's raves. Flog the Civic around medium to hard bends at 70-80 kph and there is almost no feedback from the tires. Push the speed a little further and sharp understeer occurs, but with the Civic's tomblike NVH (noise, vibration, harshness) levels you still won't be able to notice it. The 205/55 R16 Bridgestone Turanzas give lots of grip and numbing levels of comfort (even on broken asphalt and pebbly roads), you are sorely tempted to push the car to triple digit speeds on bends.

The amazing grip of the new Civic was done via a new, stronger body structure with 35 percent more torsional rigidity. With that as a launchpad, Honda's suspension engineers got a better place to start. They kept the front MacPherson strut suspension and the rear multilink layout, but all the parts are new and much of the geometry is changed. In the front they added caster, re-angled the struts and moved the steering box lower for more on-center steering feel and more off-center effort. In the back, new longer shocks are mounted closer to the wheels so they perform better throughout the range of suspension travel, and the aluminum rear shaved some unsprung weight. The result is a mass-produced sedan that is mind-numbingly fast, even on turns.

The FA's steering is the same exact Electric Power Steering (EPS) technology found in the Honda Jazz subcompacts, providing easy steering at high or low speeds. Whether at 20 kph or at 120 kph, the Civic's EPS is the lightest among all the power steering-clad Civic models and the vehicle with the most consistent EPS-equipped steering feel. The Jazz' EPS steering feel is inconsistent, becoming heavy at low speeds and tight turning maneuvers and getting too light during change-of-lane motions. On the other hand the Civic's EPS provides light steering feel all throughout the ride, with quick road feedback to boot.

Too much fun, so little time

After a pictorial at the viewpoint, the pack headed straight to the Honda Bay wharf and the Dos Palmas resort for a much needed break from the waiting game at the airport, with the following day featuring the trip back to Manila. Despite the fact that the airport delay took out a big chunk of the itinerary (the four morning hours that delayed this writer were supposed to be spent on a 77.3-kilometer jaunt of smooth, winding Palawan tarmac and long straights), this writer was glad knowing that he did his "Civic" duty and experienced a lot of "Civic" pride.