The Honda Civic Tourer may not be a full-sized estate car, but it’s one of the world’s most famous examples thanks to British Touring Car Championship (BTCC) drivers Gordon Shedden and Matt Neal (with the structural integrity tested out by Jason Plato), who drove the 2014 BTCC championship in a Tourer.
The road-going Civic Tourer can’t quite tout the race on Sunday, sell on Monday performance credentials of the old homologation special hot hatches – which is a pity – but as one of a very small handful of hatchback-based estates it might be one of Britain’s most useful cars, with a lots of load-carrying ability wrapped in a body you can actually fit into your garage.
We’re trying it out in its most economical form, with a 72mpg claimed economy from its “Earth Dreams” diesel, to see if it measures up.
This section of the market is actually surprisingly small, but on styling alone the Civic tops the tree. The wheelbase of the Civic Tourer is identical to the hatchback so you might think that the extra 235mm overhang of the boot would cause some styling issues, but we think it’s actually a more complete design than the hatchback – the cars are only the same from the B-pillar (the bit behind the front doors) forwards, with everything rear of that being new to the Tourer.
The bulges over the rear wheels are more suited to the elongated tail, and they flow into the rear bodywork rather than awkwardly disappearing at the odd angle they do on the hatchback. The tailgate also removes the need for the unusually-shaped light cluster and split level screen of the hatch, with a more conventional appearance.
Stretching the glass further back also eliminates that wedge of a C-pillar found on the hatchback – Honda’s designers have given it a far sharper ‘floating roof look’ – though the size of the windows and interior panels mean that the blind spot is still there. The grey plastic wheelarches are hard to love as well.
However the front end isn’t particularly inspiring. The small amount of car overhanging the front wheels makes for excellent visibility out of the car, but the way all of the important vehicle features are clustered together produces an effect that looks like the car has melted slightly. The dark “Y” shape of the grey grille makes for a pretty sad-looking face, particularly on a nicely vibrant colour like the Passion Red of this car. We’d advise reversing it up to your house instead, to make the most of the good looks of the rest of the car.
It’s a pretty pleasant environment with plenty of room, loads of cubby holes and it’s sensibly laid out for the most part. From the driver’s point of view you have a nice, central tachometer with a clear digital speed readout above in a separate LCD screen. This speed is flanked, in Eco Mode, by a pair of colourful icons that glow green when you’re driving economically and fade to blue when you’re not. It also contains your cruise-control set speed (in smaller numbers) when in operation.
There’s a separate screen to the left of this that acts as an infotainment screen, with vehicle information like damper settings, fuel economy and range or your current desired listening material listed. This keeps audio functions separate from the sat-nav so you don’t have to choose between one or the other as in many cars, though you can operate the audio system and even play video on the screen if you wish.
Occasional placement niggles apply however. Although the gearstick is well-sited, in forward gears it can obscure the active damper and stop/start buttons – so you’ll often press one instead of the other. There’s also an issue with the position and brightness of the LCD screens that leads to incredible glare off the inside of the screen at night – but there’s a prominent dial for adjusting this.
Rear seat passengers won’t be complaining in a hurry either. It’s not a class-leading amount of space, but there’s plenty of legroom and headroom. You’ll fit a six-foot passenger behind a six-foot driver so long as neither is oddly proportioned, and there’s no middle hillock in the middle of the rear seats for a centre-rear seat occupier to straddle.
Boot space nudges on the amazing for a car of this class. There are 624 litres available with all five seats in place; 50% more than the Civic hatchback and also 50% more than the Ford Focus estate, including a 117 litre space beneath an adjustable height false floor in the centre. You’ll be able to stuff nearly 1,700 litres in once everything’s folded down – this isn’t a token estate car by any means.
The test car is powered by the same 1.6-litre turbo diesel you’ll find in the Honda CR-V we reviewed at the end of 2014, but it seems better suited to this application. It’s rated at the same 120hp and 220lb ft, with slightly better fuel economy claims in the lighter and slippier Civic’s body – 65.7mpg urban, 76.3mpg extra-urban and 72.4mpg combined.
As with the CR-V we did our best to drive economically, helped along by the gear indicators and the soothing green glow of sensible motoring, but didn’t really come close to these figures despite the trip computer reporting 75-100mpg much of the time.
That said, it was still returning nearly 60mpg combined in a typical week with school runs on cold mornings included, which is pretty impressive for a car of this type.
Despite the relatively meagre power rating and 10-second 0-60mph time, the 1.6 diesel is pretty flexible and meaty. There’s no lack of in-gear acceleration and should you be briefly fooled into thinking you’re leaving one of Snetterton’s slower corners in a tussle with some youth in a SEAT Leon it won’t disappoint.
The Active Damper system provided on SR models (like the test car) and above gives you three passably different driving experiences depending on the setting – Comfort, Normal or Dynamic.
It’s certainly the case that in the latter setting it’s tighter to drive, with a keener turn-in as a result of reducing roll at the rear, and it’s a good car to thread through a string of roundabouts or drive briskly down a B-road. Comfort works well on the long run and is less of a pain if you happen to live around lots of speed bumps or potholes.
However, in all three settings the body is well controlled in the bends and a little firm on the bumps. The car never feels at sea when pressing on but, regardless of the setting, harsher bumps are felt more than they are heard. It’s nice to have the option to soften or firm it up, but neither provides a significantly radical departure from the normal setting that’ll mean you risk missing out if you drop to a lower grade car.
Value for Money
Are you sitting comfortably and have you swallowed that mouthful of tea? Good – the car on test here lists at £26,060.
It’s worth noting that it’s rather well equipped, with 17-inch alloys, sat-nav, heated leather seats, parking camera and sensors, folding mirrors, cruise control, two zone climate control and that adaptive damper system, but even so it’s nigh-on 25% more than you’d pay for a rival from Ford (admittedly much smaller) or Skoda. You can get this “Earth Dreams” diesel in lower grade cars though – starting at £21,375 – but we’d be most tempted by the SE Plus at £22,960.
Running costs are good too. If you drop a model down to the SE Plus grade you’ll get free road tax, though it’s Band B here so £20 a year after that initial free year. If you’re better at economical driving than us, the 72.4mpg return will leave the average driver making a fuel stop every month. There’s likely a desire factor attached to the Tourer thanks to the BTCC antics last year that will result in slightly slower depreciation too.
As packages go it’s not a bad one. There’s plenty of room for all sorts of things, whether it’s kids on the school run, a big shopping trip or dragging the dogs down to the beach, and it’s all wrapped up in something small and sensible enough to actually fit into stingy modern garages or supermarket parking bays.
It’s a lot more handsome than many hatch-based estates which merely add a flat bit at the back and it is genuinely a good car to drive regardless of the damper settings – if verging on the firm when faced with traffic calming measures.
It’s a bit pricey at this grade though, with the next model down (SE Plus) being far more tempting at £22,960. It’s still at the more expensive end of its kind, but with Honda’s stellar reputation for reliability this is one all-purpose car that should make most family shortlists.
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