If there’s one car that’ll make you change your mind forever about diesels it’s the extraordinary new Honda Civic 2.2 i-CTDi Sport.
In truth, the Civic is a gem no matter what combination of fuel and capacity you choose to stuff in the engine bay, but by choosing to make their flagship model a diesel, Honda – as with a growing number of manufacturers – has made its intent clear. Investment in diesel as a (slightly) greener alternative to unleaded is the short-term answer to environmental concerns until such time as hybrids (another area where Honda has made a big impact) or alternative fuel cars gain more mass appeal.
The fact that this particular diesel feels closer to a petrol car than almost any other oil burner on the market, is one that will have even the most traditional pertoliers wondering if it’s time to switch from green nozzle to black.
One of the best-looking motors in recent memory, the Civ challenges almost every preconception of car design, routs it and then occupies it with a little Honda badge. In black, it looks particularly tasty; the squat rear quarters sloping sidelines and wraparound headlight cluster make it look like a stalking panther. In wraparound Ray-Bans. Squat rear doors have the handles hidden in the C-pillar, and while it may look like a narrow portal the doors open totally perpendicular to the chassis meaning access is never a problem.
This also points to the Civic’s best asset – its physics-bending use of space. The Civ(ch)ic has a pretty small footprint and its sleek lines give it a small car-ness that belies it’s interior size. Six footers have no worries in the back, seats are comfy and there’s still enough boot space for (count them) two pushchairs.
Interior comfort, even on the basic models, is class leading and rivals the bottom-friendliness of most Peugeots. Except, this is Japanese so there are no worries about bits breaking off and jabbing you in places familiar to only your other half and your proctologist.
But the comfort in a Civic is more than just upholstery and padding; the whole layout is designed to make you feel totally at ease. The dash does take some getting used to, however, being rather incongruous with the rest of the cabin. It’s a work of art to look at; all shiny and curved with a luxurious and satisfying starter button and stonking blue-haloed circular dial that offers you a wealth of engine-management data at the flick of wheel-mounted switch.
Of slight irritation is the fact the speedo, climate control/radio info and odometer are each in separate displays, which means you’re eyes to tend to get dragged all over the dash to give your overall driving status. This and the eye-rattling, runflat-tyre induced ride of the Sport version do somewhat offset the comfort factor especially if most of your journeys are restricted to the pock-marked gravel traps that pass for city roads in the 21st century.
But the eagerness of the 2.2 turbodiesel can’t be faulted. For a low-revving oil burner, the warm version of the Civ has a very satisfying power band that lets you give it plenty of right boot when you need to accelerate in a hurry. Economy is excellent, too – especially if you adhere to the eco gauge and try to keep at least two green lights out of five shining. Handling is great and steering is very direct, although the turning circle isn’t great – an annoying trait common to several current Japanese models that makes swift U-turns in heavy traffic a laborious task.
Aside from one other gripe – the factory-fit bodykit that looks a bit dull and discoloured next to the shiny paintwork – the Civic just about succeeds in being all things to all drivers. Neither feminine nor masculine, and being startlingly modern yet inclusive, it straddles a line seen by very few cars indeed. The 2.2 diesel is one of the best engines in this sector, inside what will probably prove to be one the most reliable mass-produced cars ever built.
If you’re in the market for a car in this segment, you can’t do any better than this.
Engine: 2.2 turbodiesel
Power: 138bhp @ 4000rpm
Top speed: 127mph
Emissions: 135 g/km