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Honda Civic 2020 review: RS Hatch

The RS has a bit more visual bark but no more bite.
EXPERT RATING
7
The 2020 update to the Honda Civic brought a few detail changes to the more aggressive-looking RS and added some substance in the form of extra safety gear.

The current Civic range has always had its oddities and one of them is the RS. Honda threw some aggressive styling at its small car to try and improve the base variant's challenging visage and I can't say it's been a huge success. 

The hatch didn't have advanced safety gear either, which Honda calls 'Honda Sensing.' For 2020 the whole range scored a small number of detailed changes to give the mid-life Civic a bit of a push along and the RS hatch scored the upgraded safety.

These changes arrived in January, which feels so, so long ago...

The timing of the RS's arrival was handy, too. Since I last drove it, I've driven the Focus ST-Line, Cerato GT and i30 N Line, all cars the RS seeks to usurp. At around $4000 more than any of those, it will want to be good.

Honda Civic 2020: RS
Safety rating
Engine Type1.5L turbo
Fuel TypeRegular Unleaded Petrol
Fuel Efficiency6L/100km
Seating5 seats
Price from$33,540

Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?   7/10

For 2020's new bits and bobs, you'll pay $33,450, an increase on 2019's $32,290. You get 18-inch alloys, a ten-speaker stereo, perfectly good fake-leather seats, auto LED headlights and DRLs, dual-zone climate control, a reversing camera, 'LaneWatch', front and rear parking sensors, keyless entry and start, an electric driver's seat, auto headlights and wipers, and a space-saver spare.

Now standard on the hatch is Honda Sensing, which I've detailed in the safety section, but it includes active cruise control and high beam assist, as well as a bunch of other useful stuff.

  • The RS variant wears 18-inch alloy wheels. The RS variant wears 18-inch alloy wheels.
  • Underneath the boot floor is a space-saver spare. Underneath the boot floor is a space-saver spare.

The lovely 7.0-inch screen, now with more physical controls for volume and climate control, still hosts a very tired basic software package but does have Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, so all is forgiven.

Despite a lot of speakers, the stereo is not particularly special, but it's not bad either.

Is there anything interesting about its design?   6/10

It's been almost four years since the fourth-generation Civic launched and the looks have absolutely not grown on me. The duck-billed, flat front end with lines and angles going everywhere are certainly distinctive (and not nearly as terrifying as the Type R) but also troubling. 

The RS update isn't much help, but does look a little different, with fewer bits of blacked out trim for 2020, a wild new shade of orange paint, a new rear diffuser and fresh wheel designs.

It's been almost four years since the fourth-generation Civic launched and the looks have absolutely not grown on me. It's been almost four years since the fourth-generation Civic launched and the looks have absolutely not grown on me.

Inside, it's as excellent as ever. The screen is nicely integrated and now has more physical controls rather than irritating in-screen controls.

The materials are all very good, as ever, and the fake leather is as good as any other I've seen in any car. The 2020 RS scores new red stitching in the seats, too. A few little detail changes, nothing to write home about in either excitement or worry.

How practical is the space inside?   8/10

I've always heaped praise on the Civic's interior space because there's so much of it to appreciate. Like the HR-V and Jazz (may it rest in peace), I can't think of a competitor with this kind of capacity to hold people and things.

Up front you get the clever double-decker console. For people like me in and out of different cars it's a pain, but being able to hide the cables under the console and feed them up to the under-dash tray where you put phones and things is very clever.

Honda still hasn't sorted out the seats, which are still too firm. Honda still hasn't sorted out the seats, which are still too firm.

There's even cable-securing notches to stop them flailing about. The centre console bin is gigantic and you could smuggle three weeks' supply of toilet paper through a bandit's road block in there.

The rear seats are proper stretch-your-legs roomy, although the roof line does slightly limit really tall people. The front is pretty good, though, as the seats are set low in the chassis. 

I've always heaped praise on the Civic's interior space because there's so much of it to appreciate. I've always heaped praise on the Civic's interior space because there's so much of it to appreciate.

Honda still hasn't sorted out the seats. While this year's seats look good, they're still far too firm and overstuffed in the middle and upper back, rendering them uncomfortable on longer drives. It's such a pity Honda hasn't pinched the Corolla's or i30's front seat designers.

You can't pack everything in the RS, though, or least the everything you can fit in the standard hatch.

  • With the rear seats in place, boot space is rated at 330-litres. With the rear seats in place, boot space is rated at 330-litres.
  • Due to the centre-mounted twin exhausts, cargo capacity is less in the RS than it is in lower spec Civics. Due to the centre-mounted twin exhausts, cargo capacity is less in the RS than it is in lower spec Civics.

The centre-mounted twin exhausts eat a ton of boot space, resulting in 330 litres. If that's something that will drive you to other cars in the segment, you can stop there.

That's still a good figure when compared to the rest of the segment's hatchbacks. The floor is flat and wide but there's a bit of a gap between the lip and the floor itself.

What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?   7/10

The RS's calling card is the 1.5-litre four-cylinder turbo, displacing the workmanlike 1.8-litre from the lower versions of the Civic.

It spins up 127kW at 5500rpm and 220Nm of torque is spread nice and wide across 1700 to 5500rpm. Which kind of makes the CVT that gets the power to the front wheels redundant because that auto works better with lower-torque units.

The 1.5-litre turbo four-cylinder makes 127kW/220Nm. The 1.5-litre turbo four-cylinder makes 127kW/220Nm.

Compared to the 1.8, you get 23kW and 46 more newton metres. It falls some way short of the Type R's potty 2.0-litre turbo, but so does the price.

How much fuel does it consume?   7/10

You can almost believe the claimed 6.4L/100km on the combined cycle that you'll see on the sticker. While I've never got near that figure in three times I've had a Civic with that engine, the reality is within the thirty percent margin of error you should apply to the sticker. 

The actual return of 7.9L/100km wasn't bad at all and checks out with the previous times I've driven this engine. 

It's worth reminding you that the Civic runs on standard unleaded (good) and has a 47-litre tank.

What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?   7/10

One of the issues I had with the 2019 RS was that you had to tick a box to get the upgraded Honda Sensing.

For 2020, you get the full list on VTi-L, VTi-LX and the RS, which means as well as all the usual six airbags, ABS and stability control stuff, you get forward collision warning, forward AEB, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, road departure mitigation system, adaptive cruise and auto high beams.

You also get two ISOFIX points and three top-tether points.

Before all this was added, the Sensing-less Civic was awarded a maximum five ANCAP stars in 2017, before a couple of rounds of rule changes.

Without the pedestrian/cyclist detection, it might be touch-and-go for a 2020 five star rating, but we'll probably never know. 

Warranty & Safety Rating

Basic Warranty

5 years / unlimited km warranty

ANCAP Safety Rating

ANCAP logo

What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?   7/10

Honda offers an almost industry-wide five year/100,000km warranty with roadside assistance for the same period.

The turbo engine does mean a hit to the service intervals, bringing them to 12 months (good) and 10,000km (hmmm).

To be fair, Hyundai/Kia's turbo engines are similarly afflicted, so like the abbreviated boot space, it's not a deal-breaker.

You have to return the car at 1000km for a free service and then for most of the next 10 services you'll pay $297, with just one jump to $328 at 80,000km.

Honda also lists a series of excluded items such as various filters and fluids which are, for the most part, reasonably priced.

If you hang on till 100,000km Honda will slap you an additional $209 for spark plugs and at 90,000km a stiff $213 for the fuel filter.

What's it like to drive?   7/10

The Civic has always confused me, in a good way. The CVT continues to really irritate me because it blunts the performance of this particular variant and whistles when you lift off the throttle.

Which, again, is a huge disappointment because if the transmission was more willing to play ball with the surprisingly punchy 1.5-litre turbo, this would actually compete with its warm hatch competitors.

It certainly rides better than either the Kia or the Hyundai - the Kia, in particular has a very harshly-sprung front end - but that's because the RS does not have a different suspension tune to the rest of the range.

So, it doesn't have a crisp turn-in or throttle-adjustability or any of the other things motoring writers and internet bores go on about.

The RS is a more visually appealing version of the Civic hatch. The RS is a more visually appealing version of the Civic hatch.

It does, though, have lovely, well-weighted steering operated by a pleasingly chunky steering wheel. The ride is excellent most of the time, sometimes getting confused on particularly bad surfaces.

Despite the CVT's general weaknesses, the throttle does respond well enough and when you get off it, there is some engine braking rather than the flaring of Subaru and Toyota CVTs.

The turbo doesn't sound all that flash, but it's unlikely you're looking to a normal Civic for crazy fun times.

And that's okay because it's a seriously comfortable and very competent city car with a pleasant way about it when you're in the cruise. It's certainly quieter and more refined than the 1.8 and worth the price of admission.

Verdict

The Civic RS is as it ever was, a more visually appealing version of the Civic hatch, without the pesky harder ride or loud exhaust the RS badge might suggest. The thing about the Civic is that it's good in 1.8 form and better in 1.5, so really, the RS is for the ageing boy racer with a sore back.

That's not having a crack, by the way. There's a place for cars that look a bit sporty but deliver all of the good things on offer without stuffing up the ride (Cerato GT, I'm looking at you).

Pricing guides

$37,190
Based on Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP)
Lowest Price
$22,390
Highest Price
$51,990

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
+LUXE LIMITED EDITION 1.8L, ULP, CVT AUTO $27,120 2020 Honda Civic 2020 +LUXE LIMITED EDITION Pricing and Specs
50 YEARS EDITION 1.8L, ULP, CVT AUTO $24,090 2020 Honda Civic 2020 50 YEARS EDITION Pricing and Specs
RS 1.5L, ULP, CVT AUTO $32,290 2020 Honda Civic 2020 RS Pricing and Specs
Type R 2.0L, PULP, 6 SP MAN $51,990 2020 Honda Civic 2020 Type R Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
7
Price and features7
Design6
Practicality8
Engine & trans7
Fuel consumption7
Safety7
Ownership7
Driving7
Peter Anderson
Contributing journalist

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