This is not just another new small car, this pointy-looking sedan is make or break for Honda.
Having struggled since the Global Financial Crisis -- sales halved as vehicle development was halted -- its Thailand factories then got belted with tropical floods.
Among the Top 10, Honda’s was the single biggest sales decline outside Holden and Ford.
So far this year, Honda isn’t even among the Top 10 sellers, nudged out by Kia and Mercedes-Benz.
The new Civic arrives with a big task ahead: to get buyers back into Honda showrooms.
On the surface, it appears to have given it a good shot.
“We became beige and a bit boring,” says Honda Australia boss Stephen Collins. “We need to get Civic back on the top of shopping lists. We want this car to appeal to people who’ve not considered a Honda before.”
Australian customers want more standard equipment in their cars.
The 10th generation Civic is an all-new car from the tyres up, and made in a new factory -- several hundred kilometres away from the tropical flood zone that has affected other Honda factories and the assembly lines of several other brands.
Translated: Honda is hoping there will be uninterrupted supply of the new model. The first boatload of sedans arrive in the middle of June, the hatch is due in early 2017.
Honda has joined other brands by dropping the bargain basement sub-$20,000 model and introducing a higher starting price.
At $22,390 plus on-road costs, the new Honda Civic is on par with the RRPs of the Toyota Corolla and Mazda3, Australia’s top two sellers. This starting price calculates out to about $25,000 drive-away without any discounts.
However, the Korean pairing of Hyundai and Kia are putting massive pressure on the rest of the market, having limboed to $19,990 drive-away for their small cars -- including automatic transmission and five- and seven-year warranties respectively.
Honda is unapologetic for its premium price position; most car companies try to test the market as soon as a car is launched because they can always trim the price later.
“We could have introduced a cheaper version to sneak under $20,000 but Australian customers want more standard equipment in their cars,” says Collins.
To that end the new Civic comes fully loaded. Standard fare includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, digital speedo display, rear view camera, 7-inch touch screen, remote entry, six airbags, cruise control, a roomy cabin and the biggest boot in the small sedan class (519 litres, even more than a Holden Commodore).
While the basic models come with the previous Civic’s 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine, the luxury versions gain a new generation 1.5-litre turbo with a bit more oomph, bigger wheels (up from 16-inch rims to 17s), leather upholstery and a sunroof.
The top of the range is a sky high $33,590 plus on-road costs, so call it $36,0000 drive-away, which is close to Holden Commodore money.
Only the flagship of the fleet gets automatic emergency braking, which can slam on the brakes if you’re not paying attention at less than 30kmh.
While most other small cars don’t yet have AEB, as it is known, it is available across all Mazda3 models for a price.
Given AEB will soon be compulsory, it is unusual that an all-new car like the Honda Civic would not have this as standard from the get-go.
The same model can also automatically move itself in stop-start traffic flow, the first Honda in the world to do so, and has lane-keeping assistance, which controls the wheel if the camera senses you’re wandering from the lane.
As with other cars with this technology, it does not work in all conditions and the driver must maintain control at all times.
On the road
The new Honda Civic drives well but early indications are that it is not a revelation when it comes to small cars.
Both available petrol engines are perky and work seamlessly with the CVT auto.
But they are not particularly quiet or noisy by small-car standards, rather our first impressions are they are on par with the class leaders.
The steering is sharp and precise and the comfort over bumps is above average.
The digital instrument display is a welcome addition and easy to read.
Our favourite touch with the new model: Honda’s solution to the growing disappearance of audio volume dials is a grooved button on the steering wheel that can either be clicked up or down -- or swiped like a phone for faster response. It works a treat and other brands should take note.
The seating position can be set low for driving enthusiasts and high for those who want a more graceful entry and exit.
There are ample door pockets and plenty of cubbies; the USB port for Apple CarPlay is hidden below the centre console tray to keep cables out of the way.
Back seat room is sound, although there is a touch less head room in the new versus the old model. Visibility all around is good despite the sleek window lines.
Of the five variants tested, our pick of the litter was the most affordable model, riding on super quiet 16-inch Hankook tyres.