Classy new Honda Civic will be well worth the wait

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IT’S a bit of an understatement to say 2011 hasn’t been a great year for Honda as far as model production is concerned.

Like other Japanese manufacturers, plants were affected by the earthquake and tsunami in north east Japan earlier in the year.

Honda was forced to halve its output at Swindon in April due to a shortage of parts.

Workers returned to full-time at the beginning of September but flooding in Thailand, where electronic components are built, meant a three-day week was introduced at the beginning of November.

It was on the background of this that Honda launches its new Swindon-built Civic model.

Buyers will have to wait a bit longer to get behind the wheel as the UK sale date was pushed back from January to February.

The order book is now open though and cars will be in the showrooms in December.

After a drive in a couple of the new models I can confidently say that the latest Civic will be well worth the wait.

The car first arrived in the UK in 1973 and was best described as a bit dull and boring – until the eighth generation model arrived in 2006.

Its radical design was an instant hit and the outgoing model has racked up 170,000 of the total 650,000 Civics sold here.

Following its success, Honda has decided not to make too many exterior changes – but the Civic is much changed under the skin.

Visually, it has a lower stance with an increased window area and the rear window is lowered for improved visibility.

It will be available as a five-door hatchback only and the concealed rear door handles give the car a coupe look. So much so that one journalist, who shall remain nameless, made a full-blooded attempt to get into the rear seats via the front passenger’s door.

The classy interior, with blue door lining illumination, features a new cockpit layout.

The driver interface zone houses essential information in an upper visor which arcs the main instrument binnacle.

The information interface zone is in the middle of the console and controls functions such as audio and air conditioning as well as housing the colour i-MID screen.

Boasting the most spacious interior in the C-segment, elbow, head and leg room is good for driver, front and rear passengers with the 60-40 split rear Magic Seats retained so they can be folded flat at the touch of a button if extra load space is required.

The Civic also features a class-leading boot capacity of 401 litres, increased by a further 76 litres with the under-floor compartment.

There are four trim levels – SE, ES, EX and EX GT – with a choice of 1.4-litre 99bhp and 1.8-litre 140bhp petrol or 2.2-litre 148bhp diesel engines.

The units are more powerful and economical than those in the outgoing model and there will also be a 1.6-diesel engine arriving some time next year.

I sampled the 1.8 and 2.2-litre models and they were both responsive enough moving up and down the six-speed manual gearboxes.

With a standstill to 62mph time of 8.5 seconds and top speed of 135mph, the diesel engine had more power and I felt it was just as quiet.

Improvements have been made to noise insulation with handling and ride quality also feeling much better thanks to a new suspension design.

With the engines being quieter and more refined it also means they are more frugal with combined fuel consumption figures for the three units showing 52.3mpg for 1.4-litre, 46.3mpg for 1.8-litre and an exceptional 67.3mpg for the 2.2-litre diesel.

This stylish new Civic has top-class build quality with Honda fulfilling its task of keeping the good points but improving weak ones in this ninth generation model.

Prices for the newcomer range from £16,495 to £26,595.

There may have been more than a few problems on the way but the Honda is almost here – look out sector competitors Golf, Focus and Astra.