Friday, 5 January 2007

Civic Duty

Had the opportunity to test both cars back-to-back recently, courtesy of a major English daily.

Anyway, it was a mixed experience. Because beauty may be just skin deep for both these 8th gen Civics...

Having tested just the 1.8iVTEC during launch, I was naturally gunning for the 2.0S drive out of town. Well, it did drive very well. The K20A performed as expected of a Honda N/A modern engine with its famed i-VTEC, DOHC et all. The paddle shifters were pretty slick to execute, fun as well as functional to use in the twisties. Only gripe is its slightly teeny size (length-wise) and made of a tad softie of mildly malleable PLASTIC!

I started off with the entry-level 1.8S SOHC i-VTEC. Being a car that has chalked up considerable mileage - after having just completed its second scheduled service - I experienced it to be a little more refined and willing on the go. While it isn't underpowered, I found myself trailing the other 2.0S when we hit the trunk roads. As expected, the 1.8L powerplant was drumming quite a bit when I stretched it beyond 5000rpm. It just felt out-of-ooomph beyond this, like it hit a plateau of maximum output. Riding in the rear exposed a glaring NVH deficiency in the form of road/tyre roar.

I was gleefully smiling when I got the keys to the BIG brother next. True enough, the difference in initial drive was felt the moment I prod on the gas pedal. Throttle response was quicker and sweeter. Sweeping frequently all the way to redline was a joy and breeze through the gears.

The EPS steering may have felt a little light but I somehow felt it was sharper and more incisive. The 1.8 rack seemed a bit vague and wooden even tough its hydraulic weighting felt a bit nicer.

Ride and damping of both models are well sorted out. (But I don't think we should place them on par with one of the new BMWs!) Honda Motor Co. has actually got them quite right this time around for these mid-segment sedans. Handling and grip around the bends are good enough for the most of us but it's the paddles-enabled manual shifting that tips the 2.0S towards a higher level of road-holding forte over the 1.8S. All said, I still think the new Focus has a more coherent performance in the HANDLING department.

Now, why is that all this beauty - in the form of aesthetics and an overall good drive - may be just skin deep?

One word: QUALITY.

In this age of cost-cutting, out-sourcing and foreign-country manufacturing base et all, Honda Motor Co. has actually neglected certain build and quality aspects of these Civics...

Some steel sheets are glaringly thin, especially in the doors. Tugging the rear outer door handle caused a 'ripple' vibration on this door’s outer metal sheath. As such, a resultant tinny closing sound can also be heard. The windows' outer lower horizontal frame seemed to flex very easily with the window wound-down. I was also shocked to find that the rear speaker shelf is of hard (but grain-textured) plastic. Whatever happened to good old soft-carpeted or veneered parcel board?

I have a gut feeling that the roof maybe quite noisy in the rain as well since it was quite tinny on percussion as well.

Door sill plates were 'mysteriously' absent too, even on the premium 2.0S! To a certain extent - quality-wise - both Civics reminded me much of my wife's 'budget' Honda City...

Whatever said, the waiting list of the Civics are getting longer by the day, more so for the 2.0S after the NAP 'discounts' and HM 'superb' production planning in Pegoh, Melaka.

Overall, it's a good car and likely a benchmark "all-rounder" in its segment, until the next all-new Corolla in 2007 challenges it all over again...

Written by: Dr SP Long
5 Jan 2007 

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