REVIEW DATE: 10 Jan 2008
The 1.4-Litre i-DSI model may be the least exciting Honda Civic on paper but it has most of what makes the Civic so good at the right price. Steve Walker reports.
All too often, entry-level cars are just depressing. Stripped of the desirable titbits that caught your eye in the brochure, devoid of the panache that marks out models from further up the range, their sole purpose, it often seems, is to provide a rock bottom entry-level price for the manufacturer to trumpet in their advertising. The only feature consistently included as standard on an entry level model is a tangible sense that you're missing out on something. Honda's 1.4-litre i-DSI Civic could be a little bit different. It is the bog standard model in the range but, crucially, it still features the one thing that attracts buyers to Honda's family hatch most strongly - that spaceship styling.
The wow-factor in the way the Honda Civic looks isn't created through appendages like body-coloured bumpers, aggressive spoilers or big alloy wheels which can be stripped away to leave the entry-level model looking singularly unappetising. It's a product of the car's essential design. The multi-angular rear end, the slashes of light across the nose and tail, the plunging roofline and the stocky silhouette: the Civic's stand out features are as eye-catching on the 1.4 as they are on the plusher derivatives. Buyers at this level miss out on the twin chrome exhausts but otherwise, there's little to make you feel inferior to people who've parted with £650 more for the 1.8 or nearly £2,000 more for a 2.2 diesel.
The 1.4-litre DSI engine is available only in the five-door bodystyle and with the SE trim level priced at £14,490. The specification includes power steering, central locking, remote keyless entry, twin front and side airbags, ABS with EBD, brake assist, electric heated mirrors, a height adjustable driver's seat, 60:40 split rear seats, a CD stereo, active head restraints, climate control, a refrigerated glovebox and steering wheel-mounted audio controls. The best course of action for 1.4-litre buyers would appear to involve scraping together enough money to have a set of alloy wheels fitted but apart from that, most of the main items you'd want seem to be present.
"Honda's Civic 1.4 i-DSI is an entry-level family hatch that doesn't constantly remind you of the fact"
As well as the Civic's exquisite exterior, the car has an interior straight out of a 1980's sci-fi show. When seated at the wheel, you half expect to turn to your left and see one of the Cylons from Battlestar Galactica riding shotgun. The multi-layered dash is a daunting thing to come to terms with at first but at least the entry-level 1.4-litre models do without some of the more advanced features which thins down the button quota a bit. If you can fight the initial urge to panic and grab at the manual, you'll find that the car is surprisingly intuitive to use. The information you need is prioritised across two displays, with the most essential nuggets positioned at the top of the dash closer to the driver's line of sight. The second display resides within a more conventional binnacle and details engine revs, fuel levels and the various trip-computer functions.
It looks really good and, like the rest of the car, very different but there is an initial suspicion that it's all a bit gimmicky. Actually get to grips with the Civic, however - pushing the buttons, twisting the dials, turning the wonderfully sculpted steering wheel, shifting with the rollerball gear lever - and you soon feel the quality and realise what thought has gone into the driver/vehicle interface. Some of the plastics used look like they may be prone to scratching and the fabric on the cloth seats also looked like it could wear over time but otherwise the interior gets a firm thumbs up.
The 1.4-litre i-DSI engine is an 82bhp unit that, like most Honda petrol units, responds well to being revved quite hard. Peak power is achieved at 5,700rpm, so there is a benefit to be gleaned from holding on to your gears that shade longer. Performance isn't really the point of this powerplant but if you really persevere, it will spirit the Civic from 0 to 62mph in 14.6 seconds, way down on the 8.9s sprint that's achievable in the 1.8-powered model. The 1.4 i-DSI is the engine to go for if your life at the wheel seems to be spent in one long traffic jam. The engine is ideal for crawling along through urban sprawl, with its modest 47.9mph combined and 37.2mpg urban fuel economy figures and hushed refinement. Torque of 119Nm is produced at 2,800rpm and this helps when pulling out briskly into tight gaps in the traffic. There's also the option of Honda's i-SHIFT 6-speed automatic transmission which is quite jerky in the best traditions of auto 'boxes in small cars but will take the strain off your left leg.
On the road, the 1.4 Honda Civic is much as you would expect from a 1.4-litre family hatchback. The engine is quiet and competent but not particularly exciting. The Civic is very at home in urban areas where the light touch of its controls and its tight turning circle make it a pleasure to punt about. In such situations, the lack of get up and go from the engine isn't too important and you're free to get on with enjoying the responsive chassis. The thick C-pillar hinders visibility out the back as does the split rear screen but you get a good view around the front of the car.
Honda's Civic 1.4 i-DSI is an entry-level family hatch that doesn't constantly remind you of the fact. The engine is refined, economical and reasonably sprightly, build quality is good and there's a surprising degree of practicality to the interior. Its £14,870 price point is a shade above the base Focus, Megane and Golf models but the bog standard Civic feels a more complete car. Specify some nice alloys from the options list, your 1.4 will look nine tenths as good as a range-topping derivative and looking good is what the Civic does best.
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