Sometimes when I’m flicking through the channels I briefly linger on those re-runs of Top of the Pops from decades past. I never mean to dwell because most of the fare was/is quite appalling. But I’m always fascinated by how musical and dress trends arrived, dominated and faded in a short time. The difference a few years can make.
That is an easy parallel to draw with cars, too. How we have moved from the Anglias and Escorts – Number One best-sellers in their days.
But has there ever been as swift a switch at automotive level in Ireland from petrol to diesel – or from saloon/hatch to SUV? I’m open to correction, but I don’t think so.
Put the two together and you get the quintessential combined ‘hit’ format of the past eight or nine years: a mid-size diesel SUV. Look around you, as I did while driving my new Honda Civic 5dr hatch with a tiny petrol engine, and you’ll see what I mean.
But the tide is turning, and quicker than we think. A new trend is emerging. Which is why, like the DJs of yesteryear, I’m tipping the likes of the little engine in the Civic to enter buying charts with more frequency from now on.
This is a 3cyl petrol that develops an impressive 127bhp and is the latest to demonstrate the sort of power that can be extricated from a small powerhouse given the technology now available.
Not so long ago we were raving about the 1.6-litre diesel in the Civic. Well, the rave has moved on. This 1-litre petrol is now the superior option for orchestral manoeuvres in the torque. It’s as sweet an engine as you’ll find under a bonnet – I don’t hold with criticism of it being noisy.
But it is not unique in being a 3cyl, petrol powering a large frame. Many other makers already have had their own versions on the market for some time. And they are about to reap a bigger harvest, I feel.
That’s because, like them, the Civic’s 1-litre is able to compete with diesel so the road tax comes down. Fuel consumption isn’t quite a match yet, but it’s not far off. And there is no apparent lack of power.
I quite enjoyed my several drives in it, not least by rolling back the years, under my cousin’s direction, to and through places in the homeland I’d almost forgotten. It was on those narrow, twisty by-roads – some skirting the historic Esker Riada – where the Civic and its engine showed themselves to good effect. Smooth, swift and silent enough, it never missed a beat.
From a passenger perspective it is a roomier car, though I thought there was less rear-seat space than I’d imagined.
From a driver’s perspective – my version had damper control – it had a nice unstressed, energetic feedback. Nothing to excite you too much, but plenty to reassure that, if push comes to shove, it would react predictably. And should you need it, there is a long, long list of safety stuff that comes as standard (see Facts & Figures). They call it ‘Sensing’. It means the car’s ‘entry-level’ price starts higher than most rivals but that’s because most others only add this level of stuff on higher-trim (and price) models.
Much of the attention, rightly, is on the engine and the spread of safety equipment. But the time will come, sooner rather than later, when they will, like an old pop hit, fade into the background.
That’s when elements such as the cabin, the driving and even the looks bolster or diminish how you feel about the car.
Visually this new Civic is an obvious, direct follow-on from the previous version – with one improvement: the view out the back window is much better. They have lowered the rear ‘spoiler’ to leave a much deeper area of visibility. However, the rear pillars are of sufficient girth to warrant the need for a rear-view camera/parking aid.
You either like the car or you don’t. I know people who wouldn’t touch it; too fancy and all over the place, they say. I like it. Maybe it is a bit fussy, but it’s different. And I’m persuaded by the level of safety you get for your money.
So I would buy it, if I had the money and need. There are a couple of other reasons: Civics hold their value well. I know from personal experience they tend not to give much trouble.
Sure, I’d prefer the Ford Focus as a driver; the Toyota Auris is a vastly underrated car too. But for a bit of difference, the Civic appeals.
And for those who don’t put up a lot of miles, that 1-litre petrol makes a persuasive argument.
If you drive under 15,000km a year, the reality is that this, or one of the many other small petrols out there, is a real option now.
I think this will stand the test of time a lot better than most of those forgettable dirges dredged from the depths of those Top of the Pops archives.
FACTS & FIGURES
Honda Civic 5dr 1-litre, 3cyl, turbo petrol (127bhp, 4.8l/100km, 110g/km, €190/€200 road tax – depending on model.
Prices from €23,750; Premium trim car on test: €30,150.
‘Sensing’ package is standard: intelligent adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, Collision Mitigation Braking (stops your car if it senses inevitable front-end crash), lane departure warning, road departure mitigation, lane keep assist, Intelligent Speed Assistance (adjusts speed to road sign limit), low-speed following etc.
Premium trim: leather, heated seats, glass roof, adaptive dampers, 11 speakers.