Launched: Honda Civic sedan

The important progression

Do you still remember the pop-up headlight Honda Ballade? What about the square one before that? These dependable and practical cars were uniquely named for South Africa and were actually called Honda Civic everywhere else – of which the ninth generation was just launched.

Ballades became local legends with the guidance of their distributors at the time, Mercedes-Benz, so when Honda S.A. eventually went solo, they revived the Civic name just as the Ballade faded into the distance. They also introduced us to their superb flagship sedan, the Accord, in 2003.

The artist formerly known as City all over the world arrived on our shores early last year as the new Ballade, the Accord received a dose of fresh and now the new Civic is upon us. Confused yet? Well pay attention, this is important.

Desperate to claw back some ground after last year’s Japanese tsunami and Thai flood disasters, Honda now offers three nearly-new sedans to suit all needs and wallets: the Ballade, Civic and Accord. Despite losing stock and market share, Honda S.A. still managed to win 2nd place in a local customer satisfaction index.

Now. I’m thrilled to bring you fantastic news. After years of going green and killing off NSX, Formula One, S2000 and now my beloved Civic Type-R, Honda S.A. execs announced on Wednesday that they aim to bring the word “fun” back to Honda with a new NSX and the confirmation of a new hatchback Type-R.

Falling in line with its “Earth Dreams Technology: Fun, Environment, Safety”, the new NSX will showcase Honda’s direction for performance cars with SH-AWD, a directional-torque, twin-motor hybrid system with direct-injection V6 and combined power outputs around 250kW or 500Nm.

The new Civic 4-door sedan isn’t quite as exciting or complicated but in what must be a world first, is actually smaller than its predecessor. The car’s exterior shrunk a bit and Honda, being masters of packaging, still managed to make the interior more spacious and comfortable.

Its designs isn’t anything daring like sister hatchback; more of a tight, clean, upmarket progression of he who went before. After 40 years of Civic, the last thing you want to do is scare off its loyal fans although Honda admits that they’d love to attract a younger, trendier crowd this time.

One of the very young and trendy thing in this car is the two-tier starship dashboard which, to be completely honest, is another evolution from before and is ingrained with that Honda logic and eco-friendly aids which start making sense after only a few kilometres.

New Civic sedan shines with major improvements under its sheet metal, starting with better airflow around the front and flat underside. VSA stability control becomes EPS vehicle with steering control (and improved sensitivity), the suspension has been reworked and sound dampening improved on.

Power comes from a 1.6L (92kW/125hp/151Nm) or 1.8L four-cylinder (104kW/141hp/174Nm), available in 5-speed manual or 5-speed automatic and three specifications. Don’t be fooled by those numbers, these engines love to rev and only emit about 160g CO2/km while using roughly 6.7L/100km on average.

Civics will, depending on gearbox and spec, reach 100km/h in nine or ten seconds (12 for 1.6L auto) and keep going to about 200km/h. The top-spec 1.8L auto has shift paddles and all automatics feature g-shift technology that holds onto gears in corners and spirited driving.

Speaking of corners and spirited driving, Honda S.A. sent us over the Outeniqua Pass to test their newcomer. Despite some sterling, brave and often daring moves, all Civics came out the other end with astonished journalists on board. Not much body roll, almost no under-steer and not a squeak from the tyres. Amazing.

The Civic learnt from big brother Accord and employs trick technology to cling onto tarmac much, much longer than you’d expect from this Dad’s taxi. Care for another revelation? Even the automatic gearbox will gradually raise the corners of your mouth in the middle of a mountain pass.

Back on urban roads, the Civic is quiet, spacious and comfortable. Interior quality is excellent except for some plastic door inserts and an el cheapo radio knob a la Mercedes C-Class. Further specs include CD/aux/mp3 radio, air-con, adjustable steering wheel, power windows, steering and mirrors.

Posh versions get Bluetooth, ipod connectivity, auto wipers, auto headlights, hill start assist, cruise control, climate control, multi-function steering wheel, leather and chrome time. Safety items are remote central locking with auto lock, ABS brakes with EBA and EBD, at least four airbags, ISOFIX anchors, alarm and immobiliser.

Prices start at N$209,900 for the 1.6L and N$229,900 for the 1.8L. The more luxurious 1.8L models cost N$259,900 and N$269,900; add N$12,000 to any of these models for an automatic gearbox. A 3-year/100,000km warranty and 5-year/90,000km service plan are included.

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