DRIVEN: 2020 Honda Civic 1.5L VTEC Turbo facelift review – same, and more02/25/2020
Few would have thought that the arrival of the tenth-generation Honda Civic here in 2016 would help rejuvenate a segment that was in disarray, languishing in the face of stiff competition from SUVs and ever-growing B-segment offerings.
At that point, things looked dismal for the C-segment sedan, at least from a volume perspective, with very little to spark the imagination and conversely, buyer’s wallets – the ninth-gen FB was nowhere close to its predecessor in terms of appeal, and everyone else with a three-box sedan solution at that point wasn’t having a grand time either, be it the Toyota Corolla Altis, Nissan Sylphy or the Mazda 3, to name some still playing that field.
But that’s what the Civic did, stir the pot, as reflected by the large number of FDs you see running about on the roads. Its success speaks volumes of it as a product, turning things around in a segment that many observers felt was on the way out or had already left town.
No, it’s not quite a watershed moment, because the category will no longer be king, but it does go to show that there can still be validity – and relevant numbers – in it if you get the product right.
Rakish looks, improved presentation and smaller displacement turbocharging were the selling points, and that gained the car plenty of traction with the buying crowd. Three years into the game, the facelift is hoping to continue the momentum – ahead of its arrival here, we sampled the refreshed offering in Thailand to see what to expect.
The 2020 Civic facelift arrives onto the scene tomorrow, which is well delayed considering that it made its first public appearance last September and was supposed to have been launched soon after, the delay brought about by pricing issues. Nonetheless, it’s finally here, and we know the general specifications of the Malaysian variants, of which there will be three, consisting of a base 1.8 litre NA and two 1.5 litre turbos.
Not much has been reworked on the outside. Working on the “if something isn’t broken” adage, the Civic keeps the changes to a minimum. The front end gets a subtle makeover, with the “wing” extensions on the grille now finished in piano black as opposed to chrome previously, and the lower section of the front bumper now integrates the black trim into a single piece running across the width of the unit.
At the back, the car gets a new rear bumper garnish piece and a new boot spoiler has been added. New wheels designs too, but seen here in 17-inch and 16-inch versions for the Thailand-spec cars. The Malaysian Civic will get a new 18-inch alloy wheel, but only for the high-end 1.5 TC-P variant, with the mid-spec 1.5 TC and base 1.8 S running on 17s.
Thailand, which introduced the car late last year, also gets a dressed-up Turbo RS. The version features dedicated badging on the front grille, a sporty rear wing and a different five-spoke wheel design from the Turbo. It also gets a Brilliant Sporty Blue Metallic exterior colour, which isn’t coming our way.
Otherwise, it’s par for the course. There’s no change in the output of the two powertrains available for the car, with the L15B7 1.5 litre VTEC Turbo four-cylinder engine continuing on with 173 PS and 220 Nm of torque, while the normally-aspirated 1.8 litre SOHC four-pot retains its 141 PS and 174 Nm output numbers.
As before, both engines are paired with an Earth Dreams continuously variable transmission (CVT). The main change in specification comes with the addition of Honda Sensing, the automaker’s suite of safety and driver assistance systems as already seen on the CR-V and Accord, although that is only available on the top-end 1.5 TC-P.
No changes here, so available components in the group contnue to be Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) with Low Speed Follow (LSF), Forward Collision Warning (FCW), Collision Mitigation Braking System (CMBS), Lane Keep Assist System (LKAS), Road Departure Mitigation (RDM) and Lane Departure Warning (LDW).
The Civic isn’t the only player in the segment to be equipped with such a suite of safety and driver assistance kit – in their high-spec forms, the new Corolla comes with the automaker’s Safety Sense, while the new Mazda 3 features the company’s i-Activsense.
The car also adds on an Auto High-Beam (AHB) feature and a LaneWatch camera side-camera system on top of a safety equipment list that includes six airbags, front parking sensors, Vehicle Stability Assist (VSA), ABS, EBD, brake assist, Emergency Stop Signal (ESS), Hill Start Assist (HSA) and a reverse camera.
New equipment making its way on to the Civic include front parking sensors, automatic wipers and 60:40 split-folding rear seats, replacing the fixed bench on the pre-facelift. Aside from this, the cabin remains unchanged from a presentation – and material – viewpoint, the only trivia being that the Thailand-spec models feature a slightly different seven-inch touchscreen infotainment system than the one we have.
The drive in Thailand didn’t cover a lot of distance, the route running from Honda’s manufacturing plant in Prachinburi to Bangkok, and was more of a refresher. Given that there have been no changes to chassis and running gear, the drive wasn’t expected to throw up any surprises, and it didn’t.
The Civic drives as it did when it first appeared, very competently and without fuss. There’s plenty of low-end torque, which ensures drivability, and the car is actually quite pacy, even if doesn’t suggest so for the most part – as before, the pitch to speed is progressively made, and this is amplified by the attendant CVT, which is geared for efficiency rather than outright push. Still, it’s fast, and that motor is definitely willing when coaxed.
As for ride and handling, the Civic’s middle-ground approach continues to offer plenty of charm – the ride is comfortable without being sloppy or vague, and its handling is sporty enough that it never feels dull, the sort of balanced perspective that will appeal to most buyers.
Granted, the Mazda 3 definitely has more outright feel and driver allure, but if you’re not the “charge along into every corner” type the Civic’s handling more than passes muster, with traction easing up progressively into corners, and easily anticipated. If it’s not quite the The projection remains sportier than the Corolla’s, even if that has seemingly closed the distance with its latest iteration.
The report card for the cabin however is a bit mixed. It remains cossetting from a driver’s point of view, the seat comfort levels are good, and there’s really nothing wrong with the overall presentation and switchgear layout from a functional or operational point of view.
It’s just that from a materials and finish perspective, the Civic is inevitably starting to show its age, especially given the presence of something like the new Mazda 3, which is class-leading. Still, that one, while having more premium aspirations, is also a pricier proposition, so if you want more, you have to be willing to pay more.
As for Honda Sensing, which we managed to trial both on a closed circuit in Prachinburi and on the road, the system continued to work as advertised, with no anomalies cropping up over both samplings. In particular, the ACC and LSF modes aced the heavy rain test again (like it did in the CR-V back in 2017) during the approach into Bangkok, performing without a hitch in the adverse conditions.
More than three and a half years ago, the Civic arrived as a segment defining product, and the 2020 facelift continues on where the original one left off, with just a few cosmetic revisions and the inclusion of new kit – notably, Sensing – the only changes.
Is it enough? Well, Honda seems to think so, and there’s plenty of reasons to believe that view holds validity. Its suit still looks very contemporary and it continues to drive well, and while the sales numbers for the refresh probably won’t be as heady as that managed by the pre-facelift, the Civic looks to have enough going for it to continue keeping it as the particular category’s best-seller, despite strengthened competition.
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