Honda Civic VS Citroen C3
- Looks are good (or bad)
- Suspension and steering are both terrific
- Plenty of legroom in the rear seat
- CVT drones at pace
- Standard safety lacking on base models
- RS is noisy on the wrong road surfaces
- Great design
- Unbelievable ride
- Terrific engine
- Awkward centre console design
- Servicing costs
- Upfront costs
If you think the new Civic Hatch looks a little lower-slung than its sedan sibling, that can likely be attributed to the crushing weight of expectation placed on its little metal shoulders.
See, this 10th-gen Civic might be the most important car Honda has ever made. While most manufacturers were pouring funds into their SUV ranges, Honda was diverting a huge chunk (heavily tipped to be a whopping 35 per cent) of their research and development budget into the Civic, using the evergreen nameplate as a key pin in their Australian comeback.
And with that much riding on it, it had to be good. In sedan form, which launched here last year, it mostly lived up to the hype, with Honda shifting more than 800 units per month. And with the Civic hatch finally touching down in Australia, Honda is hoping to add 1000 sales to the tally.
So the question now is, does this new hatch version shine, too?
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
Really small cars aren't what they used to be, and there are a number of reasons for that. The first is that, compared to five years ago, nobody buys them. The world of small hatchbacks is a shadow of its former self, mostly because there's so much money sloshing around in Australia that we buy a class up and often an SUV rather hatch.
As usual, Citroen is taking the path less travelled. There's no getting away from the fact that the C3 hatch has always been an a brave choice - there are still a few of the original, arch-roofed version kicking around, a car I was very fond of, despite it not being very good.
For 2019 Citroen has addressed a couple of glaring issues with the C3, namely a lack of safety gear that contributed to a four-star ANCAP safety rating and a couple of little dramas that marred an otherwise impressive package.
|Engine Type||1.2L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
Energetic and engaging (if not quite sporty), the Civic hatch is quiet and comfortable around town, but it can more than hold its own on a twisting backroad, too. It’s looks will either appeal or not, but a lack of comprehensive safety equipment on the cheaper models is sure to ruffle some feathers.
For us, the cheapest way into the turbocharged engine forms the pick of the bunch, so we'd call the VTi-L the sweet spot.
As you've probably gathered, the C3 is a fun little car with a proper personality. Obviously it's not cheap - Japanese, German and Korean competition are all cheaper - but none of them are as individual as the C3.
And that's probably its strength and weakness. The looks are polarising - you'll spend your entire time with the car explaining the Airbumps to perplexed onlookers. The updated safety package is a huge help to making the C3 more comeptitive at a specification level, but the price of entry is still high - Citroen knows its market.
Would I have one? Definitely, and I'd love to try one in manual, too.
Would you consider a C3 now that it's got better safety gear? Or is that whacky exterior too much for you?
The word 'polarising' is usually a thinly disguised way of saying 'lots of people don’t like it'. And the all-new Civic sedan was, well, very polarising. A glance at this new hatch version shows it hasn’t strayed too far from that design approach, either.
It’s as understated as a snakeskin suit in all grades, but nowhere is it quite so busy as in the RS trim level, in which the sporty trimmings jump out from every possible angle. Strangely, though, we quite like the way it looks, and it's undeniably an individual in the small car segment.
Inside, Honda has produced the comfortable and tech savvy interior that was missing from the outgoing model, but the sense of well executed semi-premium fades as you approach the spartan rear seat.
Little has changed in the looks department, and that's a good thing. While the C3 isn't to everybody's taste, it's certainly a Citroen. The car has drawn heavily from the bold-as-brass Cactus, which I genuinely think is one of the greatest pieces of automotive design, certainly for a mass-produced car. Funky and, as it turns out, quite influential - have a look at the Kona and Santa Fe. The only real differences are colour-coded door handles with chrome strips.
All present and correct are the rubber Airbumps down the lower portion of the doors, the stacked headlight and DRL arrangement that is the "wrong" way around. It's chunky and very much aimed at the compact SUV crowd.
The cabin is basically the same and still terrific. Again, lots of Cactus in here, which includes the two of the best front seats in the business. The dash design is a cool departure from the rest of the planet, with lots of round-edged rectangles and a consistency of design across the Cactus and other Citroens. The materials are mostly pretty good, but the central console is a bit awkward-looking and sparse.
The Civic hatch is surprisingly spacious in the cabin, where up front the two seats are split buy a central bin housing two of the fattest, deepest cupholders we’ve ever seen (that would be America’s 'Big Gulp' influence on the Civic’s design), along with a hidden USB and power source that sits behind the centre console, hiding the ugly chords while you’re plugged into touchscreen unit.
The back seat, is plenty spacious in the longer and wider hatch - which also sits on a 30mm longer wheelbase than the outgoing car - with more shoulder, leg and knee room for backseat riders.
Which is just as well, as there’s not much else happening back there, with no air vents, power outlets or USB points on offer, with just the two cupholders housed in a pulldown divider that separates the rear seat.
The weird French approach to cupholders lingers with the C3. Perhaps to match the name, there are three - two in the front and one in the back at the rear of the centre console. Each door will hold a mid-size bottle for a total of four.
Rear-seat room is acceptable, with good knee room for adults up to 180cm. I toured around in the back and was perfectly happy behind my lanky son's front-seat lounging position. Headroom is very good front and rear as it's quite upright.
The boot isn't bad for a car this size, starting at 300 litres with the seats in place and 922 litres with the seats folded down. There is quite a step in the floor with the seats down. The floor is also not level with the loading lip, but it does liberate a few litres, so it's not a huge deal.
Price and features
Thanks to what Honda refers to as its “One Civic” philosophy, this new hatch lineup perfectly mirrors the sedan range that was launched here last year, with the only major change being the ‘Ring-burning Type R, which will be hatch-only when it arrives later in 2017.
And that means the five-strong Hatch range kicks off with the entry-level VTi ($22,390) before stepping up to the VTi-S ($24,490) and the VTi-L ($27,790). Next up is the sport-sprinkled RS ($32,290), before the range tops out with the high-flying VTi-LX ($33,590).
Entry-level shoppers will make do 16-inch steel wheels, fabric seats and single-zone climate control, but there are some nice and premium-feeling flourishes, like LED DRLs, a 7.0-inch touchscreen that’s now Apple CarPlay and Android Auto-equipped and a second colour screen in the driver’s binnacle for your trip information.
Stepping up to the VTi-S adds 16-inch alloy wheels, integrated LED indicators in your wing mirrors and proximity locking and unlocking, along with some clever safety stuff we’ll come back to under the Safety heading.
Along with a better engine (more on that in a moment), springing for the VTi-L will earn you 17-inch alloy wheels, twin-zone climate control and automatic windows in both rows, while the sporty-flavoured RS adds LED fog and headlights, along with a hearty dose of sporty styling courtesy of a bumper kit, skirting and a liberal splashing of piano black highlights.
Inside the RS gets leather trimmed seats, a better 10-speaker stereo and and a standard sunroof, too.
Finally, the range-topping Civic - the VTi-LX - gets satellite navigation, and a fairly comprehensive suite of safety kit.
Prospective C3 buyers will have to endure a solid price rise on the old car, which landed just over a year ago at $23,480 before on-roads. The 2019 car lists at $26,990 but does come with an overall uplift in spec.
As you did previously, you get cloth trim, reversing camera, auto headlights and wipers, leather steering wheel, trip computer, climate control, rear parking sensors, cruise control, power windows all around, speed-limit recognition and a space-saver spare.
The 7.0-inch touchscreen carries over unchanged and includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. These are welcome additions, although the basic software is okay on its own. Like other Citroens and sister Peugeots, the screen hosts much of the car's functionality, which makes sorting out the air-con a bit of a memory game.
Engine & trans
Like the sedan version, there are two engine choices on offer, with the cheaper option a 1.8-litre petrol engine, good for 104kW at 6500rpm and 174Nm at 4300rpm found in the VTi and VTi-S trim levels.
The better option, though, is a perky turbocharged 1.5-litre petrol engine that will push 127kW at 5500rpm and 220Nm at 1700rpm to the front tyres.
Both engines are partnered with a CVT automatic transmission, with or without wheel-mounted shifters, depending on the trim level.
Fuel use is pretty impressive across the board, with the 1.8-litre engine sipping a claimed combined 6.4-litres per hundred kilometres, while the turbocharged version needs just 6.2 litres on the same cycle.
Emissions are pegged at 150 and 142 grams per kilometre of C02 respectively.
Honda struggles a little in explaining exactly what its new 1.5-litre turbo-powered Civic is.
Is it a hot hatch? Nope, the incoming Type R will handle those duties. Oh, so it's a warm hatch, then? Not really - it's mechanically identical (same engine, gearbox and suspension) to the other, top-tier Civics. In fact, only the brand of tyres seperate the RS from the more luxurious VTi-LX.
"We would say it's a 'sporting hatch'," says Honda's head honcho, Stephen Collins.
And sporting it is, with its clever turbocharged 1.5-litre engine a willing and perky unit, delivering plenty of oomph all over the rev range and with no noticeable, soul-destroying lag in its power delivery.
The steering, too, has a sporty flavouring, it's super direct, and offers such crisp direction changes that you have to pay keen attention driving, as even the slightest input will see you steering out of your lane. And while the ride is a little crashy through bumps, it pays you back with composed cornering antics that see the front wheels hanging on to the tarmac for much longer than you might expect.
But the best trick of the 1.5-litre engine is that it doesn't require much accelerator to make it move, which means there's never too much strain on the CVT auto in town. And, given the auto is both loud and intrusive when you ask too much of it, that can only be a good thing.
Like most CVT 'boxes, it's quiet and composed in city driving, but loud and with a tendency to surge when you start to test it. So much so that heavy acceleration requires a kind of lucky dip as to when to back off the throttle, with the Civic continuing to accelerate for a moment or so even once you get off the gas.
Happily, then, the 1.8-litre models are much easier to classify. They're the cheap ones.
It's a a simple, honest and hardworking engine that feels both slower and slower to respond than its newer, turbocharged sibling, but is more than capable of getting up to speed, even if it struggles to add pace from the mid-range onward.
Three things work together to make the C3 (see what I did there?) an excellent small car.
The first is the brilliant 1.2-litre turbo triple cylinder. This is such a terrific engine. It's not the quietest or the smoothest, but once you've got things spinning, it's torquey and keeps you rolling very nicely indeed.
In my previous outings in the C3, I've noticed a propensity for the transmission to engage a little too enthusiastically, particularly after waking from stop-start. It now seems to have had a little calibration update that has smoothed things out remarkably. It honestly doesn't feel as slow as its 0-100km/h figure suggests.
Secondly, it's incredibly comfortable for a small car. Even at launch, riding on 17-inch wheels I was impressed, but now on 16-inch wheels with higher-profile tyres, it's even more relaxed. The C3 is no corner-hugging handler, with a bit of body roll and a comfort-biased spring and damper setting, but it's not an understeering duffer, either. Only sharp tranverse bumps upset the rear (nasty rubber shopping centre speed bumps, I'm looking at you) and most of time it feels like a much larger and generously-sprung car.
These two form the basis of a package that seems equally at home in the city and out on the freeway. It's quite something.
Third, it neatly straddles the line between compact SUV and small hatch. Accepted wisdom would suggest sticking to one lane, but the successful blurring of the lines means that you get much of the visual and practical elements of that class while also not paying for, say, the C3 Aircross, which is an out-and-out compact SUV. It's a weird marketing play, but the "What's that?" chats in the shopping centre car parks weren't of the heated kind.
Obviously, it's not perfect. It's reasonably sluggish once you're past about 60km/h and grip is at a premium. The cruise control still needs way too much attention to activate and the touchscreen has too many functions crammeed in, as well as being a bit slow. The lack of AM radio is fixed by the addition of DAB.
While some of its key competitor are throwing safety functions at all trim levels, with Honda it’s still sadly a case of you get what you pay for.
The entry-level VTi, for example, makes do with six airbags (front, front-side and curtain) and a 180-degree reversing camera, opting for the VTi-S, VTi-L or RS adds front and rear parking sensors and Honda’s cool 'LaneWatch' (with activates a side-mounted camera when you indicate, beaming an image of the lane running alongside the lefthand-side of the car up onto the 7.0-inch screen).
The entire Civic range was awarded the maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating.
There are also three top-tether restraints along with two ISOFIX points in the rear.
ANCAP awarded just four stars to the C3 in November 2017 and at the car's launch, the company expressed its frustation at the low score, which it believed was a result of the lack of AEB.
Citroen provides a five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty as well as five years of roadside assist. Your dealer expects a visit every 12 months or 15,000km.
Service pricing is capped as part of Citroen's Confidence program. You'll be confident of paying a fair bit, though. Servicing starts at $381 for the first service, climbing to $621 for the third and moving around until the fifth year.