Honda Civic RS

THE NEW Civic is up against it. Not only will the new Type R be welcomed by a rabid Focus RS, all-new Megane RS, and updated Golf GTI Performance when it arrives, but the base model needs to claw back market share. Last year the Mazda3 outsold the Civic five times to one.

So Honda’s ditched a rear torsion-beam for a multi-link setup on its 10th generation Civic, while lightening and stiffening its chassis. The brand’s also injected a fresh 1.5-litre turbo four into the range, which mates 127kW and 220Nm exclusively to a CVT. It’s a flexible bugger, spreading urge from 2000rpm until its 6500rpm redline and is happy to lurk in third ‘gear’ for spirited driving. Speaking of, the new Civic doesn’t mind a corner or two. Its steering is direct and the chassis feels lively enough, even if it lacks feedback or tyre bite. Plus, the brakes are both strong and nicely judged for feel. Unfortunately the 1.5-litre sounds dull and lacks any real accelerative urge in a straight line, while the gearbox measures shift times in full- rather than split-seconds. Of course, a fierce Type R variant will fix these gripes when it arrives later this year. But is this turbo 1.5-litre Civic a Type-R lite? Not really. The question is more whether it can take on Hyundai’s i30 SR and Holden’s Astra RS without a manual option. The transmission would unlock a sorely needed 20Nm (overseas where it’s offered) and make it a touch cheaper. We drove the RS variant, which scores an edgy bodykit and decent interior equipment for $32,290. But it’s the VTi-L we’d lob at its rivals, with a cheaper $27,790 price putting emphasis on its handling and not equipment levels. Stay tuned. – LC