HONDA has brought its first diesel engine to Australia, offering it up for inspection in the sleek Civic Hatch. Paired with a six-speed manual transmission, the engine not only draws plaudits for the Japanese manufacturer but also enhances the model's saleability with improved economy, efficiency and value-for-money.
That there is no auto option in a country which prefers automatics 3:1 is slightly puzzling but perhaps Honda is banking on its obvious flair, excellent performance and everyday driveability to carry it across the line.
The Hatch's interior is markedly different from competitors as it embraces curves rather than just settling for straight lines.
While it is aesthetically pleasing much of the wraparound feels a bit like wasted space with a definite intrusion on the legroom available to front seat occupants.
Other than that there is little to fault with a design that is minimalist but stylish, soft touch materials aplenty and switchgear and dials of good quality. Everything that you need is close to hand with a chunky steering wheel and nicely proportioned gear stick adding to your driving pleasure.
Seats in the second row are lower than you would expect and can be a bit inconvenient when loading and unloading little ones but for adults they are pretty supportive and comfortable.
Taller rear seat passengers may quibble a bit about the legroom with a sloping roof not offering any favours in the headroom department either.
The boot is reasonable for this class but is obviously enhanced by a rear pew whose base can be flipped up against the backrest to allow a large storage area between the front and back seats.
On the road
The Hatch Diesel's 1.6-litre engine spins smoothly and impressed with an ability to show finesse both on the open road and busy city streets. It is super quiet and ride quality is good although it battles a bit when the going gets bumpy. It is feisty up hills, will hold a tight line into corners and it accelerates easily with no fuss.
The gearbox is silky with changes requiring little effort to execute. The electric power steering offers assistance but not much feel although that is in keeping with the purpose of this car.
A light on the instrument binnacle advises the most efficient gear selection but if you ignore it like us and stretch the gears a bit, you won't be disappointed either by the throaty grunt or the performance delivery. The Honda Civic Hatch is obviously no sports car but it will allow you some driving pleasure at a fraction of the price.
What do you get?
Like its petrol counterpart, this diesel hatch comes with a full complement of niceties including reverse camera, Bluetooth hands-free and audio streaming, keyless entry and push button start, dual-zone climate control, auto headlights and wipers and 17-inch alloys.
Safety, too, is out of the top draw with a five star ANCAP rating courtesy of front, side and curtain airbags, anti-lock brakes with EBD and brake assist, Vehicle Stability Assist and Hillstart Assist.
This mid-range small car segment is jam-packed with competitors but the Civic Hatch Diesel still makes compelling viewing when priced against the Mazda3 ($27,360), VW Golf Bluemotion ($28,990), Ford Focus ($28,090), Renault Megane Dynamique ($27,490), Peugeot 308 ($29,990), Citroen C4 ($27,990) and Opel Astra ($27,990) with only the Hyundai i30 ($23,990) and Holden Cruze ($25,690) cheaper.
The Civic Hatch Diesel's allure is helped by it being a nifty drive with all those extras that raise the comfort levels.
I found the stop-start function cumbersome in a manual but that's perhaps because I prefer to engage the clutch and jump on the brake when stopped on a hill for example instead of slapping it into neutral. There are excellent storage options for a car of this size and the reverse camera makes up for the poor rear vision.
Apparently Honda is marketing this car to a male in his 40s but we think it is worthy of a larger audience.
This car it seems can run off the fumes of a lawnmower with a frugal diesel engine complemented nicely by an economy mode and stop-start function to keep visits to the pump to a minimum. The Japanese manufacturer states all it needs is 4.0 litres/100km and while we managed closer to 5.0L/100km it is still impressive. Honda offers a three-year/100,000km new vehicle warranty but is still coy about embracing fix-price servicing.
The shape of the Civic Hatch is all about aerodynamics with flared edges and a well-defined nose adding a structural elegance. A full length bumper to bumper under-tray helps to direct the flow of air under the car while the rear door handles placed on the top corners like the Hyundai Veloster help keep the lines sleek.
What matters most
What we liked: Sporty attitude, silky smooth gearbox, efficiency.
What we'd like to see: An automatic model.
Warranty and servicing: Honda offers a three-years/100,000 kilometre warranty. Servicing is every six months or 10,000km, whichever comes first.
Model: Honda Civic Hatch DTi-S.
Details: Five-door front-wheel drive small hatch.
Transmission: Six-speed manual.
Engine: 1.6-litre turbocharged diesel generating maximum power of 88kW @ 4000rpm and peak torque of 300Nm @ 2000rpm.
Consumption: 4.0 litres/100km (combined average).
Bottom line: $26,990 (plus on-roads).
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