Honda’s Civic has been a staple of the UK and European five-door family hatchback market for nine generations. Now, as a result of the biggest development effort the Japanese maker has ever put into a product, the latest model has gone global. As a so-called ‘world car’, it will require the vision and influence to take on the likes of the Volkswagen Golf and Peugeot 308 and win. So, has it got what it takes? We pitch the rivals in a triple test to find out.
Well, the Civic is physically bigger for a start, both than its predecessor and in this company. A new engine range is headed up at launch by two petrol turbos: a 1.5-litre four-cylinder and our test car’s 127bhp 1.0 three-pot. Its more powerful than the three-cylinders in either of its competitors here, as the Golf has a 108bhp 1.0-litre and the 308 a 108bhp 1.2. The Honda gives smooth, quiet performance, and so feels responsive and refined, but the car’s extra weight and bulk mean it’s not especially fun.
Thanks to being more than 250kg lighter, the 308 performs with delicious zest, allowing the driver to enjoy the torque and power to the max. Next to this, the Golf seems somewhat mundane, which isn’t helped by its notchy gearbox action. What does impress, however, is the VW’s overall balance and class. The perfectly weighted steering and well judged suspension beautifully complement the available power, with the body lean in bends enhancing grip while retaining composure. It’s all so light to the touch as to feel entirely natural.
In contrast, the Peugeot’s long-travel suspension seems underdamped and allows too much wallow, while the steering’s lack of feel discourages you from committing hard into corners. The resultant hit-and-miss progress is hardly ideal for a family hatch.
A lower, wider stance helps give the Honda a flatter, more confident-feeling approach to fast B-road bends, yet the car’s bulk prevents urgency and fluency when changing direction. Catching the admittedly clever suspension set-up unawares can result in choppy and less than comfortable progress, which means the car is better suited to motorways.
One benefit of the newcomer’s boosted bulk and mass is a larger cabin front and rear. The driver sits lower as part of Honda’s bid to drop the centre of gravity, but the reconfiguration means the old model’s tumbling ‘magic seats’ are no longer available. At least the seats are comfortable and well sized, while quality impresses despite the abundance of plastic. Unfortunately, the 7in Honda Connect infotainment touchscreen already seems dated.
If you’re searching for the perfect reminder of how a car can be made to look and feel premium without the matching price tag, look no further than the Golf’s excellent packaging. The Peugeot can’t come close to matching it, with its oddball, slightly mismatched feel. This is one of the reasons why the initially promising French car ultimately comes third here.