The high cost of fuel is pushing more and more people to adopt diesel engines in the UK. Many motorists want to drive economical cars with low emissions, which is why Honda’s latest 1.6-litre diesel engine – here seen for the first time in a Civic – is likely to be a big seller with Honda faithful. Until now, the only diesel choice was the popular 2.2-litre diesel engine but the brand new 1.6-litre i-DTEC diesel engine, the first launched in Europe under Honda’s Earth Dreams environmental programme, aims to be cleaner and more fuel efficient without sacrificing driving pleasure.
That’s easy to say and much more difficult to do. Honda prides itself on its engineering talent so it is no wonder that, in the press conference, the product people threw a lot of numbers at us. Honda’s engineering boffins have made many incremental improvements to this turbodiesel engine to squeeze every last drop of efficiency out of it. A commitment to weight loss has resulted in a very lightweight engine. The cylinder head and engine block are made of aluminium and it weighs 47kg less than the 2.2-litre i-DTEC diesel engine it joins in the Civic range.
Honda has also managed to reduce the mechanical friction of the engine so it equals that of petrol equivalents, which is some achievement. It means this engine is more economical – it can return 78.5mpg (combined) – which theoretically means 863 miles is possible on a single tank of diesel. But it also means the new 1.6-litre engine is within the sub-100g/km threshold, that magical place where road-tax is free. And at 94g/km of CO2, it is currently the cleanest engine in its class.
All very impressive. But what does this all mean on the road? Well the first thing you notice is how agile it is. The Honda Civic was never particularly dynamic but the reduced mass of the new 1.6-litre engine means it feels nimble and light-footed. Neither does it feel like its eco credentials have sucked the guts out of it. In fact, the new Civic feels like it is powered by a bigger, stronger engine. It revs smoothly and proves itself very eager through the Alpes-Maritimes hills behind Nice. It proves itself competent through the twisting mountain roads and is comfortable on the smooth A8 motorway back into Nice city streets. It isn’t particularly fast, but with 300Nm of torque available at 2000rpm, progress feels effortless.
Inside, the somewhat quirky design suits its character. The Civic’s interior feels modern, although the material quality could be better in places. It is all pretty straightforward, lacking any real drama: except for the instrumentation. On the dash, green and blue indicators sit either side of the numerical speedo telling you how economically you are driving. Some will find this useful. I found it slightly maddening that it never turned red, no matter how hard I was driving it.
Best of all is the boot space. At 477 litres, the boot is positively huge for this size of car – Honda claim it is 100-litres bigger than rivals in the segment and a quick check would suggest it is right. The clever design of the rear seats is seductive too, if you are a bit of a car geek. In the Civic, the rear seats can be flipped up like cinema seats, so if you’re carrying luggage and your boot is full, you can stow baggage easily in the rear too.
Add to that the fact that the new engine will be built in Swindon, alongside the body, and you have a Honda that could sell very well here in the UK. It certainly deserves to.
HONDA CIVIC 1.6-LITRE I-DTEC
0-62MPH: 10.5 SECS
TOP SPEED: 129MPH
CO2 G/KM: 94G/KM
MPG COMBINED: 78.5MPG
VALUE FOR MONEY ***