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Honda Civic 2018 review: RS hatch

EXPERT RATING
7
The Honda Civic is as easily associated with a grandmother’s runabout as it is with a boy-racer’s blank canvas, a versatile small hatchback (and sedan) with variants to suit almost any taste.

The Civic is as easily associated with a grandmother’s runabout as it is with a boy-racer’s blank canvas, a versatile small hatchback (and sedan) range with variants to suit almost any taste.

Take one look at the RS we’re reviewing here, and you’d think it’s almost certainly in the latter sporty camp. But that’s not what sells in the hatch market anymore. 

To stay competitive, today’s hatchbacks need to be almost as well-equipped as their SUV counterparts and, if the market is any indication, don’t need to look anywhere near as aggressive as the RS.

Which is why, despite it’s looks, the RS holds some surprisingly luxurious touches. Stick with me as I explain.

Saturday

As usual, my partner and I had some Saturday appointments to keep, as well as a leisurely drive to Sydney’s northwest to a friend’s barbecue.

So, should you get the RS, or step up to the VTi-LX? So, should you get the RS, or step up to the VTi-LX?

The first thing my partner looks for on these winter mornings is the air conditioning controls. Imagine her excitement when I pointed out that, unlike some other similarly-priced hatchbacks, the Civic RS has ‘butt-warmers’ (read: heated seats). These were, apparently, the best thing in the universe because she was adamant that we stay and listen to the radio (DAB+, by the way) for another five minutes after arriving at our destination.

She didn’t even mind the weird flat exterior paint colour which I am, as yet, still undecided on. I like it because it compliments the sporty piano-black accents and really elevates the look away from anything else at this price in the hatch segment. I don’t like it because it all looks a little much on the RS.

Hatchbacks, as a general rule, don't need to look as aggressive as the RS to sell in large numbers. Hatchbacks, as a general rule, don't need to look as aggressive as the RS to sell in large numbers.

On the topic of the Civic’s looks, the RS is the full visual experience, with all the aforementioned accents, lower bodykit, LED headlamps which are always a nice addition, and 17-inch alloys which I think Honda has done a great job of.

It really cuts its own niche, offering a truly sporty alternative to the stoic looks of the Hyundai i30 or the glitz of the Mazda3.

I think Honda has done a great job of the 17-inch alloy wheels. I think Honda has done a great job of the 17-inch alloy wheels.

Inside it’s a bit more asymmetrical and grungier than the now-clean-cut competition, but it’s all very ergonomic and the partially leather seats are comfortable. 

They also lower all the way to the floor, providing a sporty seating position while somehow maintaining good vision all-round.

There's great visibility and I'm a fan of the low, sporty seating position. There's great visibility and I'm a fan of the low, sporty seating position.

I had the opportunity to drive the RS back-to-back with a friend’s brand-new i30. In comparison, the i30’s seat in the lowest position felt almost SUV-like.

I also have to give Honda props for the chunky steering wheel which feels purposeful in the hands. As the primary touch-point in the car, Honda have simply nailed it.

On our way home I hooked my phone up to the 7.0-inch multimedia system. The RS gets a 452-watt premium audio speaker set that is un-branded. It really doesn’t need a fancy label, though, because considering the price it sounds great. There’s nice depth of audio and turning the volume all the way up didn’t cause fuzziness or nasty vibrations. My partner was a big fan of this also.

When not using Apple CarPlay (or Android Auto) though, the user interface on the system is pretty average. It was prone to bouts of lag between menus, and was kind-of a pain to navigate. The worst part about it though is that there’s no built-in nav, a feature that many competitors now have as standard.

Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are welcome additions to the otherwise average multimedia UI. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are welcome additions to the otherwise average multimedia UI.

Which brings me to the price.

The Civic RS comes in at a before on-road cost of $33,290. This pits it against rivals like the Hyundai i30 SR (7-speed DCT with sunroof, $30,950), the Mazda 3 SP25 GT (6-speed auto, $31,990) and, the Toyota Corolla ZR (CVT, $30,020).

Given that both the Mazda 3 and Hyundai i30 have built-in nav and AEB at this price, the value proposition is questionable… more on safety later though.

With our rather uneventful Saturday out of the way, I had a much more interesting drive planned for the Sunday, including a back-to-back comparison with a direct competitor...

Sunday

I had organised a drive day with a friend of mine who, as I mentioned before, had just taken delivery of a shiny new i30.

I proposed a route to the furthest extent of Palm Beach from our starting point in Sydney’s Lane Cove. It’s about a two-hour, 80-kilometre return journey with varied conditions and surfaces from the nicely presented Mona Vale Road through to the rutted, narrow, unloved switchbacks of the beach peninsula.

The Civic RS, which benefits from independent rear suspension unlike some of its torsion-beam-rear-ended competitors, was at home in either location. It stuck to corners with an awesome amount of confidence, felt great in the low seating position, and the heavier-than-you-might-expect steering was on-point, and super direct.

Despite its aggressive looks the RS can hardly be described as a diet-Type-R. It can only be served with the same 1.5-litre turbo engine and CVT combination that also powers the VTi-L and VTi-LX versions of the Civic. 

Power, at 127kW/220Nm, is okay, but less than some rivals. It’s way better than the outgoing Corolla (103kW/173Nm) but falls short of the 2.5-litre Mazda 3 (138kW/250Nm) and the 1.6-turbo i30 (150kW/256Nm).

The 127kW/220Nm 1.5-litre turbo engine is pretty good, but outshone by some rivals. The 127kW/220Nm 1.5-litre turbo engine is pretty good, but outshone by some rivals.

The CVT isn’t actually too bad in terms of responsiveness, but the narrow curvy beach roads made me wonder how much better the little engine would be if there were a manual option…

Honda claims you'll get 6.1L/100km on the combined cycle. I scored 8.0L/100km over the course of a week which seems reasonable as it is just below the 'urban' fuel estimate figure of 8.1/100km. Especially considering I had indulged in several bouts of 'enthusiastic' driving.

The RS also comes with some drawbacks when it comes to cabin ambience that lets down the otherwise semi-luxurious spec. 

Those 17-inch alloys let in a little extra road noise compared with lower-spec variants, and you can hear a little too much from the engine. Without the stereo on it’s quite noisy past the 2500rpm mark, and even when stopped the CVT noticeably whirrs away. "I see what you mean about the noise," my friend said.

Rear seating room was satisfactory, but not anything amazing. Rear seating room was satisfactory, but not anything amazing.

He also commented on the average legroom in the rear seats, and he’s a lot shorter than me (I'm around 182cm). There are two cupholders in the drop-down centre console up the back which are nice to have, although we both noted the somewhat small storage alcoves in the doors, which wouldn't even hold his 600mL bottle of water.

It’s more or less the same up front, with similar, small storage bins in the door, which you could fit tidbits like a wallet or keys in, but this is made up for by a huge storage cubby in the middle with deep cupholders that you can move around. 

Quirky bits abound, with a small cubby and HDMI port under the dash. Quirky bits abound, with a small cubby and HDMI port under the dash.

There’s also some quirky bits to note, including an extra storage area hidden under the centre console. This houses a HDMI port allowing you to stream video to the multimedia screen. Useless? Maybe. But, I hooked a laptop up to it to see if I could play Street Fighter on the little 7.0-inch display. Turns out, you can.

There’s a weird but welcome feature in the boot as well, where Honda has provided an elegant solution to the usually cumbersome cargo cover issue by providing a side-stowing cover on a roller. See the picture, it’s neat.

Props to Honda for this neat little retracting cargo cover. Props to Honda for this neat little retracting cargo cover.

I discovered early on in my review that the RS is a bit of an outlier in that it provides just 330 litres of storage space. This is odd because other Civics can lay claim to one of the largest boots in the class at 414L.

The RS offers 330 litres of storage. The RS offers 330 litres of storage.

Upon investigation I discovered that this is due to that sporty-looking (and very real) dual exhaust raising the boot floor. You really have to ask yourself whether you’re willing to lose 84L of boot space for the sporty aesthetic. For a comparison, that brings the boot size down to smaller than an i30 (395L), but still somehow bigger than a Mazda3 (308L).

The sporty dual exhaust turned out to be the culprit, lifting the boot floor significantly. The sporty dual exhaust turned out to be the culprit, lifting the boot floor significantly.

We took the opportunity to compare the i30 and the Honda's boot, parking them up right next to each other. The difference in depth was fairly dramatic, although the Honda's boot is still impressively long.

Getting back to the odd Honda-specific features, the RS has Honda’s LaneWatch tech. This is a wing-mounted camera on the left-hand-side of the car that activates whenever you go to indicate. At first its disconcerting, but very useful when you get accustomed to it.

It acts as a decent replacement for blind spot monitoring, but that’s where the more modern safety features come to an end. Unlike the similarly-priced Mazda and Hyundai, items like auto emergency braking (AEB), lane keep assist (LKA) and adaptive cruise control are not present, even as options.

LaneWatch is odd at first, but a nice addition once you're accustomed to it. LaneWatch is odd at first, but a nice addition once you're accustomed to it.

It’s frustrating that most of these features form part of a ‘HondaSense’ package that is exclusive to the top VTi-LX variant, which is suddenly looking very appealing at just $1300 more than the RS. That’s less than some optional safety packs cost… In fact, when shopping for his i30, my buddy ended up getting the $1500 safety pack on his lower-spec car. If you build it, they will come, Honda...

Standard safety refinements and body rigidity are thankfully up to scratch, allowing the entire Civic hatch range to score a five-star ANCAP safety rating as of April 2017.

Honda’s warranty offering is what the minimum industry standard should be. At five years/unlimited kilometres it matches Hyundai’s promise while leaving behind the outdated three-year offerings from Mazda and Toyota. Kia’s Cerato is still the one to beat in this category with seven-year, unlimited kilometre coverage.

My friend and I left our little mini-comparison with a fresh appreciation for optional extras and the true meaning of a deep boot.

Verdict

At the end of my weekend drive, I was impressed with the solid, well-built feel of the Civic RS, and many will be impressed with the look as well.

It’s a shame the sporty aesthetics will cost you more than just dollars with that reduced boot, and you’ll hardly even be getting ‘warm hatch’ performance… I’m left wondering why you wouldn’t stretch that extra $1300 for the safer, more practical VTi-LX.

Would you spend the $1300 on the VTi-LX to get the safety kit, or is the sporty look of the RS too good to go past? Tell us what you think in the comments below.

Pricing Guides

$25,990
Based on 512 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$19,888
Highest Price
$57,916

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
RS 1.5L, ULP, CVT AUTO $26,990 – 36,664 2018 HONDA CIVIC 2018 RS Pricing and Specs
Type R 2.0L, PULP, 6 SP MAN $44,388 – 57,916 2018 HONDA CIVIC 2018 Type R Pricing and Specs
VTi 1.8L, ULP, CVT AUTO $19,888 – 25,888 2018 HONDA CIVIC 2018 VTi Pricing and Specs
VTi-L 1.5L, ULP, CVT AUTO $23,900 – 29,990 2018 HONDA CIVIC 2018 VTi-L Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
7
Tom White
Journalist

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