Honda Civic VS Volkswagen Passat
- 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
- Outstanding safety tech
- Good value
- Bending to strap kids into their seats
- Not overly engaging to drive
- Conservative styling
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|
As if the Passat couldn’t look any more like a company car, when it was updated late last year Volkswagen named the new version of its large sedan and wagon the ‘Business’.
It makes sense. I mean calling the Passat something it’s not would be silly. Can you imagine the Passat Arouse? The Passat Danger King? The Passat Wrestle? Nope, this is not Peugeot, it’s Volkswagen.
Yes, in the history of aptly named things, nothing has been more aptly named than the Passat Business, especially the wagon.
For formal occasions this Passat calls itself the Passat 140TSI Business and I’ll explain what that all means below.
So, along with the new name what else is new for the updated Passat? Is it all just business as usual or could the Passat wagon be the best reason not to buy an SUV for your family?
|Engine Type||2.0L 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.
The Passat 140TSI Business wagon is one of the best excuses for not buying an SUV like seemingly everybody else. Not only is it effortless to drive, its updated safety tech is outstanding, it’s practical and the value is excellent. More than just business class, it’s family proof, too.
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 updated Passat had more changes made to its cabin technology and safety equipment list than to its appearance, but there are a couple of cosmetic tweaks.
The front bumper and grille have a new design with a ‘pinched’ effect to the styling of the fog lights compared to the more horizontal and squared off look of the previous Passat.
The rear of the wagon was refined further with sleeker tail-lights and the letters P A S S A T spaced across the centre of the tailgate, using a similar typeface to the font applied to the new-gen Volkswagen Touareg.
Despite the styling changes the Passat wagon remains the most sensible, most conservative, most business-like model in Volkswagen’s line-up, especially in our test car's 'Pure White' finish.
That’s not a bad thing, unless you’re looking for something more emotive, or in another colour, like grey, or blue or black, which is the Passat’s entire paint palette. These are also the colours of the suits in my wardrobe. Apart from white, that is.
Again, the cabin of this new Passat is much like the previous one: business class all the way, with premium but restrained styling applied to the broad flat dash, comfortable but not lounge-like leather seats and modern media system.
The Passat wagon is 4773mm in length, 1832mm wide and 1477mm tall. How does that compare to the sedan version? Well the sedan is about 2.0mm longer, the same amount wider and about 20mm shorter in height. All riveting facts which will stun and amaze your friends, I’m sure.
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.
Nobody buys a wagon accidentally. Nope, they’re bought by those who need cargo space almost as much as they need room for people. But not all wagons offer as much utility as the Passat version.
See, while the Passat loses points for its lack of sleekness and sporty styling it makes up for it in interior space thanks to its almost panel van, slab-like dimensions.
The Passat is a five-seater and with the second-row seats in place there’s 650 litres of boot space.
Take a look at the images to see what that means in real-world terms – we were able to fit the CarsGuide luggage and pram in with room to spare.
The low load lip, wide boot opening, handy bag hooks, partitioned storage areas behind the wheel arches, and an extendable net to divide off the second row from the cargo area make the Passat wagon’s boot truly useful. I’d definitely buy a cargo net, though, to stop your groceries rolling around.
Quick release levers unlatch the back seats to fold them flat and then Passat offers a cavernous 1780 litres cargo capacity.
Cabin storage is also great with three cupholders in the second row and two more up front, a decent sized centre console bin and super large door pockets all around.
People room is excellent. The cockpit is open and spacious, even for me with my 2.0-metre wingspan, while I can sit behind my driving position with about 50mm to spare between my knees and the seat back.
As a dad, the first things I look for when gauging a vehicle's family friendliness are directional air vents and sunshades in the rear.
In Australian summers, these are good to have, and the Passat Business wagon comes standard with both. There’s climate control in the rear, too.
For charging and power outlets older USB-A ports were phased out in this update, replaced by the new USB-C sockets – two in the front and one for the second row.
Keeping it old school are three 12-volt outlets – one in the front, another in the second row and a third in the cargo area.
The Passat’s ride height means my five-year old could climb in easily, but meant I had to bend more than I would for an SUV to buckle him into his seat.
So, while the Passat wagon ticks many family boxes, parents may find the bending literally a pain in the back.
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 140TSI Business has a list price of $47,990. You’re essentially paying $2K more than the sedan for the privilege of having a really big boot. How big? We’ll get to that in the practicality section below.
For now, let’s look at the standard features which include a new multimedia system with an 8.0-inch screen and wireless Apple CarPlay (you’ll need a cord for Android Auto), there’s sat nav, an eight-speaker stereo, leather upholstery, three-zone climate control, proximity key, tinted glass, roof rails and 18-inch alloy wheels.
That’s good value and we haven’t reached the new safety tech, yet - keep reading or skip ahead to that bit.
What are the Passat 140TSI Business wagon’s rivals? There’s the closely related Skoda Superb wagon, which in 162 TSI form is a smart buy for $45,690.
Also have a look at the Mazda6 wagon, the GT lists for $47,290. I reckon you could get a pretty great deal on a Holden Commodore Sportwagon RS-V which normally list for $49,190. That is provided you’re reading this before Holden closes up shop at the end of 2020.
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.
The update to the Passat late last year brought more than just new USB ports, there’s a new engine, too.
The 1.8-litre was swapped for 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol making 8.0kW more power at 140kW (that’s where the 140TSI in the name comes from) and 70Nm more torque at 320Nm.
That’s quite a stack more grunt and it all goes to the front wheels only.
Shifting gears is a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic. It’s fairly smooth in slow traffic but better suited to motorways and country roads where fewer gear changes cause less hesitation in the transmission.
Acceleration is swift for the class with 0-100km/h coming up in 8.1 seconds.
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 Passat wagon got the full family workout in this test. Specifically, 249.5km of Newcastle to Sydney motorway back from the grandparents, daily work commutes into the city, preschool drop offs and pick ups and the weekly shopping trip.
Filling the (66-litre) tank back up to full needed just 23.10L of premium unleaded which works out to be 9.3L/100km. Not bad at all, although Volkswagen says over a combination of open and urban roads you should see 6.6L/100km.
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.
Really, the true sports utility vehicles are wagons because they have as much utility as an SUV but in most cases are more naturally sporty thanks to their lower centre of mass.
That was the case driving the Passat wagon which was far more planted and stable than any regular SUV.
True to its name, the 140TSI Business wagon is an easy, comfortable and effortless car to drive.
But, let’s say you’re running late for a radio interview and you need to get where you're going as quickly (and legally) as possible. The Passat is able to match that urgency with the dynamics and performance needed. I made it by the way, with time to spare.
There’s a decent amount of torque, all going to the front wheels and if that accelerator pedal is poked with a bit too much enthusiasm it's not hard to cause a loss traction. You just have to remember not to be so heavy footed. The Passat I tested wore 235/45/R18 Pirelli Cinturato P7 which are an excellent tyre.
An 11.7m turning circle isn’t fantastic, but I didn’t notice it hindering my daily use.
As for towing, although I didn’t do any, Volkswagen says the Passat 140TSI Business wagon has a braked towing capacity of 1800kg.
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 Volkswagen Passat scored the maximum five-star ANCAP rating when it was tested in 2015, but more advanced safety features were added when the car was updated last year.
This included the 'Travel Assist' system which is a higher level of adaptive cruise control combining lane keeping assistance and speed recognition of the car in front.
Also standard is AEB, which operates when maneuvering forwards and backwards, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, auto parking (parallel and perpendicular) driver fatigue detection, a reversing camera, plus front and rear parking sensors.
For child seats you’ll find three top tether anchor points and two ISOFIX mounts across the second row.
That’s an outstanding armoury of potentially life-saving equipment, topped off by a full-sized spare alloy wheel under the boot floor.
The Passat is covered by Volkswagen’s five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty.
Servicing is recommended at 12 month/15,000km intervals and you can expect to pay $458 for the first service, $660 for the second, $552 for the third, $873 for the fourth, and $458 for the fifth visit.