Honda Civic VS Toyota Camry
- 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
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|
I've got a line of Camry jokes that stretches to Mars and back, and I'm not alone. Heck, even Akio Toyoda sledged his own company's products when he famously delcared it would produce "no more boring cars". To be fair, the company is still struggling with that promise.
The new version has, sadly, knocked some of the stuffing out of my established Camry repartee. Until today, I had not yet had a go in the new car, and thus it was something of a shock to realise that it doesn't even look terrible any more.
My cruel colleagues, however, muttered darkly that this was still a Camry, just not as we've always known it.
Hmmm. I'm getting too old to deal with change. This Camry Ascent Sport Hybrid had better be boring.
|Fuel Type||Hybrid with Premium Unleaded|
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.
It's a pity families don't buy sedans any more, because this is a terrific family car, particularly if you're not bothered by badge cache or speed, but do like an easy-to-drive, cheap-to-run car. Just a few years ago it would have been almost laughable to contemplate a car this big, for this money, being so cheap to own and run.
I'm also really annoyed that my hackneyed Camry jokes are no longer just not funny, they're not funny because they're not (as) true. No, it's not a super-fun excitement machine, but that's not the point. It is a very good car, with all the Toyota goodness of old, added warranty and the bonus of genuinely feeling good to drive. And you're a mild shade of enviro-green to go with it.
Is it true? Has the Camry shaken off most of its dowdy image?
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.
Some key changes to the design approach on the new Camry means it's not as knock-kneed and simpering as the last, um, six or so generations.
To be fair, the previous one wasn't terrible but there are actual hints of mild bravery, with an angry front-end look, some interesting surface detailing and, even what might be called a "Lexus-lite" look for the rest of it.
The new Camry is lower, has big wheel arches that the 17s struggle to fill but it has some genuine style, rather than looking like the clay modellers knocked off before lunch. The dual exhaust seemed incongruous to me, but is, in fact, a styling win.
Jokes aside, I don't mind it at all. It's no Supra, but it's no mid-90s Camry, either. Yeah, I bet you don't remember which one I'm talking about, either.
I really like the cabin. The dash design is quite something and shows some real flair. William Chergowsky told me last year that this interior was going to be more emotional and memorable. And it really is, along with Toyota's impressive build quality. Even the volume knob feels substantial, the materials are nice but the steering wheel is... well, more of that later.
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 new, stretched wheelbase has meant a lot more interior space for passengers, particularly in the rear. The Camry hasn't really been small for a very long time, but this one's generous rear legroom is probably why it's a smash-hit with the Uber crowd. The seats are comfortable too, if trimmed in what appears to be neoprene.
Front and rear passengers each have a pair of cupholders for a total of four, plus there's a deep central console bin and a space under the stereo for a phone. There's even a coin slot. Each door also has a bottle holder.
The boot in the Ascent Sport is a voluminous 524 litres - the Ascent has a full-size spare that swallows up 30 litres of that space. The seats fold down 60/40, but the cargo volume when they are down is not readily available.
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.
The hybrid drivetrain is available on the Ascent, Ascent Sport and SL. I had the $31,990 Ascent Sport for the week.
It comes with 17-inch alloy wheels, a six-speaker stereo (with CD player!), dual-zone climate control, cloth trim, with space-saver spare wheel, electric driver's seat, auto LED headlights, keyless entry and start, sat nav, reversing camera, active cruise control, front and rear parking sensors, an impressive safety package, power mirrors and windows. Did I mention the CD player?
The six-speaker stereo is powered from the 8.0-inch touchscreen and the software is...um...not great. Which wouldn't matter if it had Android Auto and/or Apple CarPlay but Toyota Australia stubbornly refuses to include them. The damn Seppos get it in their Toyotas, so it's not like it's impossible. But our version does have a CD player. Hipsters rejoice!
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.
While the standard Camry packs the same 2.5-litre four-cylinder, the Hybrid's ICE output is slightly lower, at 131kW. When paired with a hybrid motor, the total power figure is a pretty decent 160kW, but the torque figure appears to be unaffected, at 202Nm. Toyota doesn't quote combined torque figures, because it's tricky with the type of transmission it uses.
The front wheels are driven by Toyota's favoured e-CVT, with six artifical steps to make it feel like a proper auto, if you're feeling racy.
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 Hybrid's windscreen sticker makes the bold claim of 4.2L/100km on the combined cycle, which is amazing for a big sedan. Reality isn't quite so amazing. In our week with the car, 5.7L/100km was the best I could get, but it was mostly city driving, the weather was really humid and, it turns out, this isn't a bad thing to drive, which means you're tempted to hit the throttle regularly.
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.
All the Camry markers are here. It's easy to get in and out of and easy to get comfortable. The dash isn't too high and, uh, the steering wheel is plastic, which is genuinely disappointing. A Mazda6 (no, not a hybrid, I know) doesn't have a plastic steering wheel. The Toyota one is pretty cheap-feeling.
Pressing the start-stop button, you hear the electrics switching on and, if you're backing out of the drive, you won't hear the engine until you're on the gas driving away. You may not hear anything, but your passengers might hear your tutting. The brakes are very grabby when you're in stealth, I mean, electric mode, whether you're going forward or backwards. No doubt it's something you will become accustomed to, but it's there. Toyota hybrids seem to be behind the game on this particular score.
In every other way, the Camry is exactly as it has always been. Except it isn't. Toyota kept all the good things - it's smooth, it's quiet and it rides well. Everyone is comfortable and everything works. I've already mentioned it was stinking hot the week we had it and the Camry's air-conditioning was super-fast cold.
The bit that's different, though, is that, just like the styling, things are better. Camrys past had over-light steering, marshmallows for suspension and as much grip on the road as Kanye West has on reality. This one has body control. The steering feels good. There is actual grip and you feel like you're driving the car rather than just steering it around.
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.
The Ascent Sport ships with seven airbags, ABS, stability and traction controls, active cruise, lane-departure warning, forward-collision warning, forward AEB, reverse cross traffic alert and blind-spot monitoring.
The Camry scored five ANCAP stars in November 2017.
In news that still has me all a-tingle (okay, not really), Toyota now offers a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty. There's till no roadside assist offered for free, though, so you have to pay extra for it.
The first five service intervals are capped at $195 each so, if you're lucky, five years of servicing will only sting you $975. Intervals are set at 12 months/15,000km.