When a new vehicle is launched, it’s easy to get carried away with all the smart technology and safety features that are heavily promoted in top-of-the-range versions, ignoring the fact that entry-level models form the bulk of small and medium car sales. Budget-conscious buyers get the same modern structural engineering, body styling and practical cabin design as developed for top-end models, but they accept less-sophisticated engines and lower equipment specification.
With this in mind, we are reviewing Honda Civic VTi, the entry-level version in the new five-model hatchback range. The hatchbacks share the same platform and model line-up as Civic sedan, with the VTi and VTi-S powered by fundamentally the same 1.8-litre petrol engine as in the previous Civic. VTi-L, RS and VTi-LX versions get a 1.5-litre turbo-petrol unit. All models come with a CVT auto only.
Space and versatility
Hatchbacks are highly desirable for load space and versatility. Despite being classified as a small car, Civic hatch now provides the space and seating comfort of a traditional mid-size car. In the absence of a fixed rear shelf, Honda has used more high-strength steel around the C-pillar area to maintain body stiffness and sedan-like handling. This unobstructed cabin, in conjunction with the large hatch opening and 60/40 split-fold rear seats, delivers the substantial load space advantage over a sedan. There’s no clever-folding “magic seats” found in some other Hondas, and the folded rear seats do not provide a flat floor, but the space is practical and accommodating. There’s some lateral thinking in the side-mounted cargo blind, childseat mounting points (including ISOFIX) are easy to access, and a rear wiper aids vision, but a temporary-use spare wheel lurks beneath the deep boot floor.
Stepping between all variants on the launch, we noted Honda’s typically high build quality throughout but less model distinction than might be expected, which bodes well for entry-level buyers. At the top end of the range, the $33,590 (plus on-road costs) VTi-LX comes with a comprehensive equipment list, most notably the advanced safety pack. Features such as autonomous emergency braking, lane-keep assist and adaptive cruise control along with satellite navigation are not available even as an option on any lesser model. At the other end of the range, the VTi from $22,390, which is immediately identified by its steel wheels and hub caps, lacks many features you might reasonably expect, such as keyless entry, dusk-sensing headlights, rain-sensing/variable intermittent wipers, digital radio and parking sensors.
There is a modest sporting edge to the three higher variants, their turbo-charged 1.5-litre engine delivering 127kW and notably 220Nm from just 1700rpm. Sharper overall performance in these models is underpinned by a much firmer suspension set-up and lower-profile 17-inch wheels. By contrast, the naturally aspirated 1.8-litre engine, producing 104kW and 174Nm, remains a solid all-rounder that will easily satisfy the performance needs of the average buyer. Likewise the ride and handling package is more in keeping with regular everyday use yet it lacks little in overall handling dynamics. Our only annoyance remains the odious sound of the CVT auto under full throttle, which is abated only slightly when using paddle shifts in the 1.5-litre turbo models. Government testing gives the turbo engine an overall fuel consumption figure of 6.1L/100km compared with 6.4L/100km for the 1.8-litre models.