First Drive: Honda Civic 1.6 i-DTEC
Sector: Lower-medium Price: £19,400 – £23,175 (Jan 2013) Fuel: 78.5mpg CO2: 94g/km
Honda was a latecomer to the diesel market, and it has not exactly blazed a trail since. Since its first engine – the pretty decent 2.2-litre i-CDTi launched in the Accord in 2003 – there have been rumours of stalled and abandoned projects and an apparent lack of desire or cash in Japan for diesel development.
It showed in products: while a substantially overhauled version re-joined the Civic range late in 2011 after a year with no diesel offering, this relatively large, powerful engine was the only diesel on offer, meaning the car was a hard sell for fleets, despite a useful drop in CO2 emissions.
But the firm is now focussed again, and that can only be good news for the corporate market. The 1.6 i-DTEC is a completely new engine, developed in-house and manufactured at the carmaker’s plant in Swindon. It’s significant not only for its European sales potential, but as the first engine from Honda’s Earth Dreams Technology sub-brand, with which the carmaker is aiming to offer a similar low-carbon, driver-focused line-up to BMW’s EfficientDynamics models.
Three quarters of UK Civics with this engine will be sold to fleets, and it’s expected to make the 2.2-litre Civic almost obsolete. At 94g/km it boasts some of the lowest CO2 figures in the segment, and with 118bhp the Vauxhall Astra is the only sub-100g/km car to offer more power. Honda’s plan here is to offer a no-compromise fleet option, swaying buyers with high driver appeal and low running costs.
In reality, most won’t miss the 30bhp drop in power. This is a very lively small engine, keen to rev and responsive from low down thanks to the lag-reducing small turbocharger. It’s also happy to be worked hard, delivering linear power as opposed to the sometimes peaky delivery in other small diesel engines, and never feeling laboured or thrashy.
Lighter components have saved 54kg at the front end, so while it’s slower on paper the 1.6 Civic feels noticeably lighter and more responsive, helped by a positive, short-throw gearbox.
There’s also no loss of refinement. It can be a little grumbly at low revs and high loads, but quietens at speed to a barely audible hum. If anything, it feels sportier to drive than its larger sibling despite the drop in power, without losing any of its high speed ability in the process.
All of which belies this being a first generation unit. Honda may be new to the small diesel pack, but this feels as polished as any of its closest rivals. The weight saving should contribute to respectable driveability in larger cars too, though whether it’ll be a little overworked in the Accord and CR-V is another matter.
Honda has rational appeal on its side too. Fuel economy is a claimed 78.5mpg and while the test route wasn’t ideal for demonstrating this, figures in the mid-50s imply over 60mpg should be easily achievable on a combined cycle. It’s keenly priced, should be reliable and benefits from stronger residuals than most in the segment, at 36%, which the carmaker is keen to maintain by limiting volumes and controlling sales channels.
This is an engine which will, in time, make up a quarter of all Hondas sold in the UK, and it’ll be offered with multiple power outputs that may make it suitable for cars like the Jazz. It will also be an important engine for the forthcoming Civic Wagon due early in 2014. For the short term, though, it’s a well-engineered and well-timed addition to one of Europe’s biggest segments that Honda dealers must be glad to have at last.
Honda has a little repair work to do on its fleet presence in the UK, but this engine will go a long way towards doing that. It’s keenly priced, great to drive, tax and fuel-efficient and a perfect fit in the Civic. Perhaps now is the time to put this back on your choice lists.