The Honda Civic is a funny old car. It's a real challenge to pinpoint who, exactly, it's aimed at, yet equally difficult to fault - despite historically boasting a number of irksome quirks.

For example, most owners seem to be the reserved type, well into their twilight years, yet Honda has experimented with all manner of banzai exterior and interior styling.

There have been the sort of convenient features that your parents love, such as moveable Magic Seats and an estate body version, but the interiors have been festooned in space-age buttons and dials that are awkwardly shaped and weirdly positioned.

There was also a completely different Civic for every country Honda sold into, meaning some nationalities got lucky with certain engineering breakthroughs, yet others were left behind.

Thankfully, there's a new global model hitting forecourts soon. It's designed, styled and engineered the same no matter where you live and it is better in almost every way.

You will have probably noticed that there have been some major changes to the exterior styling of the new Honda Civic. It's bigger and lower then before (elongated by 148mm, widened by 29mm and lowered by 20mm).

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The end result is more "shrunken saloon" than it is your typical hatchback. But its longer, more svelte side profile looks really appealing on the road.

Plus, the sharp front lamps with LED running lights, distinctive grille and sweeping side flanks hint at some inherent sportiness that, if you dig hard enough, can be found on the tightest of corners.

There are small but neat design touches, such as a shark fin-style antenna and gaping grilles behind the rear wheels, which further improve this athletic aesthetic. Not everyone will agree, but it's a good-looking thing.

However, those curvaceous lines aren't just to impress the neighbours, as the management of airflow around the car sees the aerodynamic drag co-efficiency improved by some three per cent over the outgoing Civic.

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This also helps keep wind noise down to a minimum, which when coupled with the improved NVH (Noise Vibration Harshness) engineering, leads to a very quiet and refined ride.

Interior simplicity and user-friendliness haven't ever been Honda's strong points and Civics of old have typically baffled drivers with a seemingly endless amount of interior materials, strangely positioned buttons and clunky infotainment systems.

Luckily, this has been improved somewhat in the latest generation and new Civic offers Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, HDMI and USB ports and Bluetooth connectivity in its revised 7-inch Honda Connect 2 colour touchscreen display.

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Top-spec models receive a handy reversing camera, while old-school instrument binnacles have been replaced by TFT-LCD displays that give various vehicle read-outs.

It looks great, although we found the flanking coolant temperature and fuel gauge displays a little hard to read, because rather than displaying remaining fuel in block format, there's simply a small red line that reveals the level.

Most functionality can now be tweaked and adjusted via buttons mounted on the steering wheel, which makes navigating the menus slightly easier than jabbing at the touchscreen - but navigation is still taken care of by a clunky Garmin system. It not only looks decidedly retro, it's also slow to re-route, not particularly clear in its instructions and, thanks to an awkwardly positioned screen, not that easy to read.

Still, the overall interior layout feels a lot more sensible than its predecessor and most of the materials appear more upmarket. Although, plenty of cheap plastics remain if you look hard enough.

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Head and legroom throughout the cabin is good and the boot space remains class-leading in terms of volume (at 478-litres).

Plus, it's difficult not to be impressed by the side-sliding tonneau cover, which can be pulled out from a side-mounted cassette, rather than having to stretch for a rear-mounted cover. It also does away with the need for a parcel shelf and the cassette can be easily swapped from one side of the boot to the other, or can be removed completely.

The trend for downsizing and turbocharging hasn't escaped Honda, as the only engines currently available are a 1.5-litre turbocharged petrol and, wait for it, a 1.0-litre three-cylinder unit.

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Of course, a 1.6-litre diesel will follow later in the year to sate the British addiction to the black pump but that tiny three-cylinder engine is the real star of the show here.

Despite appearing relatively measly compared to the larger capacity engines it replaces, this tiny three-cylinder unit manages to develop 127bhp and 200Nm of torque (at 2,250rpm).

Rarely did it feel underpowered on our test drive, especially when mated to the snappy 6-speed manual gearbox, although the car wasn't fully laden with children and luggage.

If regular load lugging is on the cards, the slightly beefier 1.5-litre petrol engine will likely suit better, as it develops and extra 40Nm slug of torque and offers 180bhp.

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It's also perfectly comfortable when mated to the CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission), which is something that can't be said for rivals, although it can get a bit muddled and noisy when you get heavy with the right foot.

The new, strengthened chassis and weight saving measures are instantly apparent on the road, with body roll kept to a minimum through corners and the chassis feeling sprightly when the roads get entertaining.

If this Civic doesn't blow your socks off, it's at least a very good indicator of just how good an upcoming Type-R version could be.

There are a few minor niggles, the first being a new steering rack. To get all technical, it's a dual pinion variable-ratio electric power-assisted rack-and-pinion set-up, which means it uses gearing to achieve greater movement of the front wheels with less steering wheel juggling.

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It takes a bit of getting used to and feels slightly disconnected when pushing on a bit. It does come into its own during low-speed, tighter manoeuvres though. Let's hope the Civic Type-R works on that element, because the basic platform is excellent.

First Impressions

The competitively priced, competitively practical and impressively economical (up to 68.9mpg on manual models) 1.0-litre Civic is a great improvement upon its predecessor.

It looks good on the road (if its style is your thing), is enjoyable to drive and the updated infotainment system compliments a more logical and refined dash and interior.

Naturally, things get expensive as you walk up the extensive trim range, while a lack of estate version will put off some, but it's a solid offering and one that gets us excited for the fire-breathing Type-R.