Standing in a cold pit building at the Rockingham race circuit in Northamptonshire may not seem like the most exotic of venues for a new family estate car, but we were there with good reason.
This year sees the Honda Yuasa Racing team field a Civic Tourer in the British Touring Car Championship - 20 years since Volvo entered its 850 Estate into the same series. That 1994 entry not only changed Volvo's reputation overnight, but did a fair amount of good for estate cars as a whole.
Will a BTCC entry work the same magic for Honda's new estate? There's a good chance the manufacturer will sell a few extra cars on the back of a successful racing campaign - and Honda Yuasa Racing is very much a successful team - but even if it doesn't, the road-going Honda Civic Tourer has plenty of worthy attributes to fall back on.
One is the car's looks. We suspect some won't be keen, but can't imagine many not preferring it to the awkward Civic hatchback. It's a sleek, chiselled design with a neat "floating" element to the roof as it tapers toward the rear. The Civic's other details just seem to work better with the extended, more flowing roofline, improving the looks significantly over the hatchback.
Despite the sloping silhouette Honda has managed to liberate a whole 642 litres of seats-up space, greater than that of the cavernous Skoda Octavia Estate. There's even an under-floor cubby, apparently large enough for two hand-luggage-size cases. Honda's 'Magic Seats' flip completely flat for even greater volume, but if you leave them up there's more than sufficient room for a few adults on the rear row.
Space up front is a little tighter if you're tall in stature, since the front seat doesn't adjust very low. We found it easy to discover the ideal driving position though and all the controls fall neatly to hand. Honda's high-mounted gearshift is particularly well-sited and slick as you like once on the move. For some, the dashboard design will be a little fussy but again, we found little to grate - the dials are clear, the steering wheel nicely-sized and the modest smattering of buttons easy to operate.
The whole car, in fact, is easy to operate. Unless you plump for the 1.8 i-VTEC petrol power unit that is, which needs undue thrashing to make decent progress. It seems happy to oblige, but we can imagine it falling flat if asked to carry heavier loads - even with just two people on board it seemed a little over-stretched. Official economy is in the mid-40s, and our own two-hour test route returned an unimpressive 35 mpg.
The 1.6 i-DTEC diesel is, as we already know, a much more satisfying lump. It only develops 120 PS (20 PS shy of the petrol) but most of its grunt is down low, rather than up high.
It'll never win any awards for speed (though a shade over 10 seconds to 60 is more than adequate) but it's among the quieter and smoother 1.6 diesels we've driven and capable of spectacular economy. Officially you'll reach 74.3. Our test car comfortably breached 50, and that was fighting the trip computer efforts of the lead-footed hacks who'd driven the car before us. VED for all but the top two variants is free.
Engines aside, it drives much like the hatchback. Steering is smooth and relatively devoid of feel, the cabin is refined and all the controls are predictable. Visibility is less compromised out the back, but a little pinched to the sides owing to that sleek roof and the pair of extra pillars.
Adaptive rear dampers are available on some models. They offer Sport, Normal and Comfort modes, but frankly we couldn't tell the difference - the car felt more comfortable than it did sporty whichever mode was selected, leading us to suggest you should probably avoid ticking that option box unless you're planning to work your Civic Tourer like BTCC pros Matt Neal and Gordon Shedden...
There's little reason not to put the new Civic Tourer on your shopping list, if you're one of the 1 in 10 C-segment buyers who'll choose an estate car this year. It has one of the biggest boots in its class (which is reason enough to recommend an estate), looks a great deal more interesting than many of its rivals and while pricing is a little steep, is a well-equipped and generally frugal car.
Our advice would be to avoid the petrol car though. While it starts a grand cheaper than the diesel - 20,265 plays 21,375 in basic 'S' trim (or 239 and 249 a month respectively) - it'll cost you significantly more to fuel and tax and generally vex you with its tardiness.
The sweet spot in the range is a diesel in S-T, SE or SR trim (all of which are comprehensively equipped) with the good-value 780 Driver Assistance Safety Pack. This includes City-Brake Active System, Forward Collision Warning, active high beams, lane departure warnings, traffic sign recognition, blind spot information and Cross Traffic Monitor.
(All images: Paul Harmer)