Honda Civic VS Ford Fiesta
- 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
- A true hot hatch
- Forgiving but engaging to drive
- Highly specified
- Tight back seat
- Firm ride might not be for all
- Manual-only will limit appeal
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|
Hot hatches are for a relatively small club of enthusiasts, and new small cars are gradually being eliminated from the greater Australian market.
Surely, it makes little to no business sense to bring an Australian audience a small, manual-only hot hatch all the way from Europe, to sell to a pitifully small audience of diehard enthusiasts.
But then, perhaps this is part of Ford’s enduring genius in Australia. You see, while long-time Australian arch-rival Holden stumbled over its ill-fated Commodore sequels and flip-flopped on its SUV catalog, chasing sales numbers in a post-local manufacturing world, Ford let the cars speak for themselves by offering Aussies brightly coloured pony cars and over-the-top pickup trucks which instantly etch themselves on your consciousness as they rumble past.
So, here we are. Ford made the surprise announcement to bring in its Fiesta ST hot hatch a few years ago, and despite a few delays we can now get our hands on it.
The question remains – is it any good? And, what is it like to live with in an Australian capital city? We took one for a week-long urban test to find out.
|Engine Type||1.5L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium 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.
If you want a brand-new city-sized hot hatch which is also entirely track-ready, it is clear you only really have one option to go with in 2020.
Good thing then the Fiesta ST is not only a blast to drive, but it has all of today’s modern connectivity and tech items in an attractive and tasteful package at a not-outrageous price.
It’s just too bad the manual-only aspect will limit its appeal to true enthusiasts.
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.
The Fiesta wears Ford Europe’s new design language, which has swung back towards curves and bumps from the angular look of a few years ago, being tied to the brand’s broader global range through the use of the Mustang-look rhomboid grille. After the Focus it’s the first car to bring this design language to our market, and heralds a better-looking range of Ford SUVs in the form of the Puma and Escape (a segment in which Ford is struggling to make ground).
Regardless, our Fiesta only comes in one four-door body-style and one trim, this full-fat ST with all the spoilers and contrast detailing.
I love it. It scratches that European hot-hatch itch many have with its compact dimensions balanced out well with more subtle design touches. The 18-inch wheels and contrast grey highlights work well in the ‘Race Red’ colour scheme on our car, which also seems to nicely integrate the rear light fittings.
It’s aggressive but not over the top; there’s an element of subtlety about it, which should be applauded.
Inside, things are interesting. The chunky leatherbound wheel is nice, as are the almost-too-well-bolstered Recaro seats. But the dash is very upright, and the seating position immediately feels just a smidge too high, even in its lowest configuration.
The 8.0-inch touchscreen juts out of the dash into the passenger compartment, making you really feel those tight dimensions. At least everything is easily within reach…
The cabin design is a little dated, with plenty of hard plastics, a more-analog-than-not dashboard and some fittings which could easily be in a last-generation Ford product. Those searching for that hot-hatch experience probably won’t care, but it’s just not the most modern space to be in.
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.
This isn’t a big car, nor is it particularly magical in the way it’s packaged. It’s focused on the front two passengers, so is best meant for a single or couple. This is most obviously reflected in the awesome Recaro seats, which you have to drop yourself into due to the high and firm bolstering.
Still, even for front passengers it’s tight, with little arm-flailing room, and minimal cabin storage.
There’s two centre cupholders, which can barely hold a large cappuccino, tiny bottle-holders in the doors, a small centre console box, but a decently sized binnacle under the climate controls where my wallet, keys and phone spent most of the week. The glovebox is also so small that the collection of manuals which live in there had to be bent out of shape to fit.
Amenity-wise you get one USB port and one 12V power outlet next to the gearknob, and one USB port in the centre console.
The Fiesta is tall, so at least no occupant is left wanting for headroom. That having been said, the rear seats are tight. Behind my own seating position, my 182cm tall frame had knees up against the seat in front, and entry/egress to the rear is a little tight. I’d hardly recommend placing an adult in the centre seat. Unsurprisingly, rear-seat passengers get next to no amenities. There are no power outlets or adjustable vents, leaving them with only a pair of pitifully small cupholders in the doors and rear-seat pockets. Still, the fact it has rear doors at all is something, and gives it at least the ability to carry four adults without too much trouble getting them in or out for quick urban journeys.
Boot space has been expanded 21 litres over the previous Fiesta to now offer 311 litres (VDA) of space. This is actually pretty impressive and held our largest 124L CarsGuide travel case with ease.
Under the floor there is a space-saver spare wheel.
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.
I wouldn’t call the Fiesta’s $31,990 price-tag ‘cheap’ considering how much car, physically, you actually get for that money.
But then, for a pretty much track-ready hot hatch, it’s not bad either, especially since it is packed with a rather long and surprisingly luxurious list of inclusions.
These include 18-inch alloys, an 8.0-inch multimedia touchscreen with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, sat-nav and digital radio, a 10-speaker Bang and Olufsen audio system, 4.2-inch colour information screen between the dial clusters, single-zone climate control, leather steering wheel and semi-leather/suede Recaro sport seats, heated front seats, a reversing camera, and full LED front lighting.
Performance-wise, out of the box the ST gets Michelin Pilot Super Sport tyres, launch control with three drive modes, and is the first Fiesta to get a mechanical limited-slip differential (built by Quaife).
Rivals? The Fiesta comes at an opportune time, after Peugeot’s ageing but excellent 208 GTi was pulled from our market last year, and the Clio RS Cup ending production internationally, so you’ll be stuck looking for MY18s of those in dealers.
Other than those two, there is the Suzuki Swift Sport, which is fun and more affordable ($25,490), but not as much of a serious performer.
The Fiesta’s option list is limited to a panoramic opening sunroof ($2500) and premium paints ($650). Both are arguably worth it if you want them.
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.
You’re buying this car for its 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbo engine from the larger Focus. It is a punchy and characterful little unit, pushing out a whopping 147kW/290Nm. A lot for such a small package.
The Fiesta ST is only offered with a six-speed manual transmission which proved quick but forgiving, even in dense traffic. There’s no magnetic clutch or anything too brutal here which is going to make the ST unpleasant for urban drives punctuated by stopping and starting.
On the performance front the ST comes to Australia with a Quaife LSD as standard, which you can really feel in the corners. (More on that in the driving segment.)
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.
The initial claim of 6.4L/100km on the combined cycle seems pretty bold, and we couldn’t get close to it. I’m sure you could get much closer if you tried, but I was having far too much fun.
After a week of blasting the Fiesta down alleyways and skitting it around corners, the engine computer returned a usage of 8.4L/100km. Not on the claim, sure, but also not bad considering how much fun you can have for that amount of fuel.
The Fiesta has a 45-litre fuel tank and will accept mid-grade 95RON unleaded.
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.
Like any good hot hatch, the Fiesta is huge fun, even when in the tight quarters of a city, or on a daily commute which would otherwise be boring.
The torquey engine makes short sharp bursts down suburban streets smile-inducing, and, due to the pure physics of having so much power in such a small package, there’s serious entertainment to be had without wrangling with the law. That’s because this car comes alive in the little moments: bursting off the mark at the lights, or swinging it into a corner and feeling the LSD work its magic to keep the ST’s body in line. You don’t need to be speeding or breaking traction to enjoy it.
There is nothing remarkable about the transmission in a good way. It’s slick, slots into gear nicely and the clutch is smooth – even forgiving. That ties into something else the Fiesta does well. Nothing is over the top about it. It is sensible, understated, tasteful.
You can bring it to life in the confines of an apartment block without waking up your neighbors, go for a short drive to the shops without cringing at potholes, take your family somewhere without blending them in the corners.
The suspension has enough give to be firm, a pleasure in the corners and a little skittish perhaps, but not as brutal as, say, the Peugeot 208 GTi was.
And while it might be the only performer left in the segment for now, I reckon it is a better urban friend than the Peugeot on Sydney’s roads, and a more engaging one than the Clio in the curvy stuff. It’s a hot hatch with few compromises… as long as you can drive a manual…
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.
Just because the Fiesta is a performance car, doesn’t mean it’s missed out on crucial active safety gear.
Missing is driver attention alert and active cruise, although in a manual it’s not likely you’ll miss it.
Ford’s Sync software also has a feature which can automatically call emergency services if the airbag is deployed.
Other safety features include torque vectoring, electronic stability, brake, and traction controls, six airbags (with full-length curtain), and dual ISOFIX child-seat mounting points on the outer rear seats.
The Fiesta ST does not yet carry an ANCAP safety rating, although it does have a maximum five-star EuroNCAP rating.
All Fords are now covered by a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, which is on-par with major rivals, and a nice bit of security to have on a performance car. Check the fine print before taking it to the track though…
Ford also offers a few kickers through its Service Benefits program, like a free loan car when you service, auto club membership, and sat-nav updates.
The services which need to occur every 15,000kmn or 12 months are also cheap, with Ford covering the first four years at a fixed price of $299 each time.