There’s a saying that goes: once you go boosted, you never go back. Say what you want about the linearity of a normally-aspirated engine, but once you’ve tasted a sweet turbo, it’s hard to replace that feeling. The instant power, the feeling of being dug into the driver’s seat—it’s intoxicating. And after putting the 2016 Honda Civic RS Turbo through its paces, it’s a confirmed drug addiction on wheels. But now, in the hilly roads of Bohol, there’s something that’s just as good: the 1.8 E. Despite losing the turbo, it’s mighty good. This drive confirms what you’ve all known all along: the Civic, in any form, is great.
Truthfully, the expectations are set quite low for the 1.8E; after all, what’s so exciting about an entry-level model? But goodness, you can never be so wrong. As the rains came down in Tagbilaran City, there’s only a few minutes to settle in, and it’s doable in a matter of seconds. A nudge of the seat here and a tuck of the steering wheel there, and you arrive at the perfect driving position. In typical Honda fashion, the seats are low and the dashboard, high. Still, visibility is excellent thanks to the thin, chamfered A-pillars and hood bulges that act as corner markers.
What’s even more surprising is this entry-level model’s high value quotient since there’s little separating this variant from the RS Turbo. Sure, the flagship’s got leather thrones, a power adjustable driver’s seat, paddle shifters, built-in navigation, dual zone climate control, and rain-sensing wipers. But that’s it! Given it’s the same price as the outgoing model, it’s upped the equipment ante. Passive entry with push-button start/stop? Check. Full-color TFT instrument cluster with animations and multifunction display? Check. Automatic LED headlights? Check. Cruise control? Check. Touchscreen infotainment with Bluetooth? Check. Rear parking camera? Check. Vehicle Stability Control? Check. It seems, Honda is removing all stops when it comes to the Civic’s tech package.
Equally impressive is how the Civic behaves on the road. The RS Turbo’s been getting the lion’s share of attention, but the foundations are so good, you cannot dismiss the 1.8 E. The new platform makes it fun to toss around. The quick, precise steering is easily the best thing in the new Civic, making it feel agile. The steering effort is a bit on the light side, but thanks to touches of feel and a quick 2.2 turns lock-to-lock, it rotates quickly through corners. There’s some roll dialed into the suspension, but it’s restrained and becomes part of the fun-to-drive equation. It also rides through rough, muddy patches of road with a well-damped, composed ride. At last, this is a Civic built for spirited driving.
The Civic’s propulsion is provided by a drivetrain that’s not associated with something sporty: a 1.8-liter SOHC i-VTEC 4-cylinder paired with a Continuously Variable Transmission. If this setup sounds so familiar, it’s because it’s shared with the HR-V. With 141 horsepower and 174 Nm of torque, it finishes the century sprint in around 10.4 seconds, some 3 seconds down compared to RS Turbo. Yet, it feels livelier than that, especially if it’ll be relegated to city driving. The CVT shuffles its ratios quickly resulting in good low-end punch. It also reaches highway speeds fast enough to be labeled as exciting.
On the open road however, it shows chinks in its armor. You do have to wring the engine a bit more to get decent pace and managing to keep it can be difficult. The engine’s sweet spot is so narrow, a couple of times, you’ll feel hesitant in completing an overtaking maneuver unless it’s singing at full revs. This reliance on top-end power nets a lower fuel economy rating compared to the RS Turbo: 9.7 km/L versus 11.2 km/L. Thankfully, NVH is way better than the HR-V’s, reducing the droning noise to negligible levels. The brakes also provide a good bite with a linear pedal feel.
This Civic’s uncompromising sporty behavior forms a big part of its appeal, but you just have to talk about its looks as well. This 10th generation model is, without question the biggest one yet, especially once you see it parked next to an Accord. Its proportions are already bordering on mid-sized sedan levels, and yet, designers have managed to mix some playfulness in there. The front has a wide, confident face with the chrome wing grille pushed out to the corners. The back, with its fastback profile and C-shaped taillights, is a controversial aspect; yet it works because it ties in quite nicely to this Honda’s newfound love for the cutting-edge.
Inside, the Civic restrains much of that science-fiction vibe in favor of something more straight-forward. The dashboard is simple, concise, and laid out for easy operation. It also doesn’t compromise in interior room, especially for the front occupants, something its rivals clearly have. In terms of fit and finish, it’s been upped a notch with soft-touch plastics and brushed aluminum accents dotting the cabin. Interestingly, though the steering wheel is great to hold, it’s made of urethane. Honda should have at least gone for a partial leather number here.
Undoubtedly, the RS Turbo presents itself as the Civic pinnacle, but it’s also hard to ignore that it’s priced at around P 300,000 more than the entry-level 1.8 E. Because of that, this variant is looking like the best value sedan that doesn’t compromise much in driving fun. Compared to its rivals in the same price range, the 1.8 E is shaping up to be a complete and formidable package. After driving the RS Turbo and now the normally-aspirated 1.8 E, there’s only one conclusion you can gather: it’s time to party like the 1990s because the Civic is back.