Some of the latest diesel vehicles offer truly staggering on-paper economy, with miles per gallon figures in the eighties range not uncommon these days.
Invariably though, real-world driving often returns the same mid-50s figure that diesels have been capable of for years. Imagine our surprise then, when after a week with the Honda Civic you see here our real-world economy was knocking on the door of 70 mpg.
We think we’ve found the Civic 1.6 i-DTEC’sraison d’tre then, but how does the rest of the car stack up?
The Civic stands out somewhat in the family car class. It eschews the clean, timeless shapes found on more Germanic offerings and the flowing curves of everything from the Vauxhall Astra to the Alfa Romeo Giulietta, and instead carries on the space-age, quirky looks of its predecessor.
It’s perhaps a little more sanitised than the last Civic, details like the old triangular door handles, triangular exhaust outlets and clear polycarbonate front grille disappearing entirely. But it’s still a unique-looking object and works well in the Milano Red paintwork of our test car.
Even on this entry-level SE model 16-inch alloy wheels are standard, and the deep bumpers and contrasting black details have a sporty look.
And where some manufacturers differentiate their most economical models with special badging, blanked-off grilles and unusual body kits, there’s little to give away that this Civic has the potential to hit nearly 80 mpg. If you don’t like shouting about being green, the Civic should appeal.
One benefit of the Civic’s almost one-box silhouette is plenty of interior room. It’s really quite impressive from a relatively compact platform, and what’s more, the boot is also huge and with the split floor removed, very deep.
Adults should be comfortable both front and rear, with similar leg and headroom to some physically larger rivals. The seats are comfortable too, and covered in a soft velour-style cloth more pleasant to the touch than the materials that usually pervade in this class.
We found achieving a decent driving position easy enough. There’s suitable adjustment in the seat, and most drivers should be able to adjust the steering wheel to a point where both the low-set tachometer and high-set digital speedometer should be visible.
Less visible are other vehicles out of the split rear window, or anything hidden behind the large C-pillars – every manoeuvre seems to require an extra couple of glances to ensure nothing has disappeared into your blind spots. We’ve also heard complaints that the slightly raised driving position isn’t suitable for the tallest drivers – so try before you buy.
Everything feels high-quality and well-built in that way that Honda seems to nail these days. It isn’t as touchy-feely as a Golf – some of the plastics are a bit scratchy – but at no point during the week did it feel anything less than well-engineered and solid.
Even small details impress, such as the chunky-feeling click to the indicator and wiper stalks, the large stereo buttons that require minimal eyes-off-the-road time, and the equally at-a-glance speedo and information display.
Just as we discovered on brief acquaintance with the sporty Civic Ti last year, the Civic is about as easy to drive as cars in this class get. All controls respond just the way you’d expect, and everything operates with a friction-free, slick action.
Of those controls, and in common with many other Hondas over the decades, it’s the gearshift that stands out, snicking quickly and cleanly between ratios in a manner than encourages you to change gear for the heck of it. It’s made all the more pleasant by a light clutch.
The brakes are light and responsive too, and while the steering doesn’t offer oodles of feel, it’s accurate enough to sling the car through corners with confidence.
The vast majority of our test was spent on motorways, and here the Civic handled itself very well. Crosswinds weren’t an issue, the car always felt stable and high-speed refinement was excellent. At the other end of the scale, it was suitably relaxing even in heavy London traffic. Ride quality is good – firmer than some rivals, but a large improvement over the previous Civic.
Honda is proud of its 1.6-litre i-DTEC diesel engine, and after 900 miles of driving, we can see why.
The four-cylinder unit develops 120 horsepower and 221 pounds-feet of torque. It’ll reach 62 mph in a respectable 10.5 seconds, but its real calling card is economy – an official 78.5 mpg, in European testing.
By the end of the week, the trip computer was showing a staggering 74 mpg. In reality we reckon it was doing a little less than that – we calculated a tank range of around 730 miles, which works out as around 66 mpg from the 11-gallon tank. But that’s still comfortably more than any other equivalent diesel we’ve tested.
We weren’t deliberately driving with economy in mind, but we did generally stick to the national speed limit, so if you’re a driver who regularly exceeds that then expect a slightly lower figure.
Refinement is good too. Performance at motorway speeds could be a little better, but really we can’t fault it too much. The 1.6 is definitely an economy champ, and if you really need more performance then Honda still makes a 2.2 diesel, too.
Value for money
Our test car came in at 19,400 on the road. An equivalent Golf starts at 19,120, a base Focus 1.6 TDCi just 17,895 and a 1.6 diesel Mazda 3 just 17,495. Other rivals are spread across a similar price range, the Honda consistently near the top.
However, it’s also a more economical and more powerful car than most rivals – the aforementioned Golf develops just 105 horsepower from its 1.6-litre unit – so you get what you pay for.
You also get decent equipment levels, even in base SE trim. Alloys, LED running lights, idle stop, climate control, heated electric mirrors, USB integration and an informative TFT display are all standard, while higher trim levels add cruise control, fog lights, a rear-view camera and more.
Throw in this car’s group A road tax band and excellent real-world economy, and you may find it one of the cheaper vehicles in the class to run.
If you can live with a few of the Civic’s more glaring faults, such as poor visibility to the rear and a quirky interior design (and raised driving position) that might not appeal to all drivers, we’d absolutely recommend it for its economy alone.
Not everyone will achieve mid-60s mpg (or more), but we’re fairly confident that many drivers will at least scrape 60-ish, and they’ll do so with good levels of refinement and more power than most rivals offer. They’ll also do so in a solid, comfortable interior and in a car from a company with a long track record of excellent reliability. Throw in decent ride and handling and plenty of equipment, and the Civic is an excellent family car.
What the press think
Most of the experts aren’t quite as positive about the Civic 1.6 i-DTEC as we are. For some, it shares other Civic bugbears such as a compromised driving position and poor visibility, and for others it isn’t quite as fun to drive as some rivals. What most agree on is that the diesel has excellent economy – both on paper, and in the real world.
For more information check out our full summary of the Honda Civic alongside reviews, stats, photos and videos!