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9Generation Honda Civic 1.8

The 9th generation Honda Civic was launched last year here in Malaysia with much fanfare, carrying with it the reputation of being a 'best seller' in the U.S. But due to a clash in schedule, I missed Honda Malaysia's media drive event for the 9th Gen Civic, which I very much regretted. I was looking forward to meeting and chatting with the engineer for the Civic. To make up for this, when Honda Malaysia open up the Civic for media review loan, they very kindly gave me priority which was truly very thoughtful of them. Thus I am able to get an early test drive in the 9G Civic.

Chronologically I had the 9Gen Civic Hybrid the earliest before getting the 1.8l variant. Then finally I tested the 2.0 Civic. But after returning the cars to Honda Malaysia, I thought that the most logical sequence of reviews would be the Civic 1.8 first hence this report. Note that at the time I had the Civic 1.8, I did not have my in-car camcorder, so this report will not feature any in-car videos of the Civic 1.8 except for the one of the 0-100kph test that I made using my Panasonic compact camera.

Specifications and the Interior

The Civic 1.8 is sold as the 'entry-level model' in the 9G Civic line-up and is packaged as a basic verion. The car has a fabric-based interior while contents-wise as expected there is reduction of contents compared to the top-of-the range 2.0 version and even the 1.5l IMA Hybrid version. The interior colour is based on a light-dark grey combination and the features and equipment level are down-sized. The casualties are mainly in equipments which can somewhat be considered as 'high-end' or 'luxury' e.g. the headlights are halogen instead of Xenon HIDs. Plus some of the niceties like power adjustable driver seat, cruise control, keyless entry, etc are also removed.

Panaromic view of interior

Having a chance to 'own' this Civic 1.8 for an extended weekend, I have a chance to really get a close look at the cabin. When I checked the car out during its launch event, I thought the interior to be quite acceptable. With an extended weekend of 'ownership' however, I can understand a little bit of the basis behind the many complains about the interior quality, or rather lack of, in the Civic. The basis for these complaints lies with older Civics from the 90's, the EGs and EKs, which have dashboard made of materials with a layer of fibre-foam padding. The dashboards on these cars are therefore slightly 'soft' to the touch. The main change with modern day Civics is the dashboards are now made with plastic which is hard and rather thinny sounding when knocked on. In Malaysia, there is yet another major disadvantage and that is the plastic is finished with a surface texture/pattern that is reminiscent of the Proton Iswara (a very common entry level sedan made in Malaysia) of old, which is a very bad coincidence indeed. So the look immediately gave problems and when one physically checks out the dashboard, it is worse. This is not helped by the fabric interior, especially the light colours which doesn't tolerate dirtiness well. Again those popular EG, EK Civics of old are mainly black or dark grey based interiors. To me, I feel this is the background for some of the unfavourable comments about the 9G Civic's interior. Much of these criticisms are alleviated with the higher end 2.0l and IMA Civics but that is another story for the follow-up articles. Nevertheless, it is important to understand that technology-wise, the new dashboard materials are more advanced. For one, they are much more recycleable now and this is a very important point in our world today. It is also important to realize that features and equipment wise, even this entry level Civic is equipped with a level that is quite up-to-date with the market today and this means critical safety features like ABS, EBD, and especially VSA are fitted. Airbags are front dual-SRS though without the side airbags.

Close up of dashboard surface

Close up of door trim surface

The other thing I noticed is that the new exterior design doesn't work universally well with all colours. The front end design is quite nice to my eyes but the rear end just doesn't work with certain colours like the Alabaster Silver. Fortunately the most popular colours of Crystal Black and Taffetta White seems to match nicely with the rear taillight cluster.

Mechanical-wise, eventhough still 1.8l SOHC i-VTEC, the R18A is a not the same as the one in the 8G Civic 1.8. The specifications are slightly different, this new version is spec'ed by Honda to deliver one horsepower more at 141ps versus 140 of the outgoing variant and at 6,500rpm, 200rpm higher than the outgoing R18A. So the max power and max torque rpm points are different and there are other differences as well, such as a slightly higher compression ratio at 10.6 versus 10.5 of the old engine.

In the U.S., the USDM R18A has been reverted to the standard intake valve-based low-high cams VTEC implementation for power instead of the one used in the previous R18A which varies the opening of the intake valve to reduce intake pumping losses and depends on a dual intake manifold runner system to generate good torque through the rpm band. It is likely that this change has also been done to the ASEAN R18As. I had originally planned to check with the Honda engineers at the media drive event whether the ASEAN spec R18As are now using this as well but Unfortunately I missed the event due to a clash of schedule. Also unfortunately I also have not seen any clarification on this anywhere.

Otherwise, the other mechanicals mainly remains the same - struts front and multi-link for the rear for the suspension, front and rear disks and so forth. Power steering however has changed from the previous hydraulics based to the electrical-based EPS.

Driving Experience

On the road, the Civic 1.8 delivers surprisingly good performance, in fact based on memory, actually quite a bit better than the outgoing 8G Civic 1.8. The pickup is relatively good and the car was willing to 'go' with throttle input. Honda has significantly improved the finese of the gearbox and this latest generation of 5AT was really good. Gearshifts were very smooth, near imperceptible, so 'kick-downs' (downshifts) were very tolerable. This is a significant advantage as the gearbox is now much more 'active', with frequent gearshifts especially on the stop and go, accelerate and brake kind of normal city driving. As a result, the car is now preppy with relatively good acceleration thanks to being in the lower gears whenever the throttle is pushed. For move-off from standstill, there was very good and 'firm' response and the engine does not bog down in the initial thousand revs (i.e. between 1000 to 2000rpm) like Honda automatics seems to commonly do. The Civic 1.8 will 'jump' mildly and from there surge forward consistently. It is one of the rare automatic Honda cars of today where I could actually get the tyres to chirp softly when doing the standing start acceleration.

I tried the ECON mode and as expected, it manipulated the throttle pedal to throttle butterfly opening ratio, i.e. in ECON mode, the ECU works with smaller butterfly opening than 'Normal' mode for the same throttle pedal position. This will cause the car to feel more 'lethargic' because we need to push the throttle quite aggressively before the engine starts to respond. For regular drivers, this mode might help with getting better fuel economy but for the enthusiast, it can be frustrating as the car feels underpowered. Actually knowledgeable enthusiasts knows well how to drive for max fuel economy anyway so the ECON button is going to be useful mainly for the more casual drivers.

The Civic 1.8 has what I would call 'sporty' suspension : springs with what can best be described as 'firm' rates (short of being 'hard') but with absorbers that matches. The ride is nicely compliant with little bounciness when cruising at typical highway speeds within the speed limit. However, off the highway and at lower speeds, the firm-ish springs are detrimental to ride quality over roads with unevenly flat surface. Over these less than perfectly flat road surfaces, the Civic 1.8 will ride 'according' to the imperfections, tracking the contours of the road surface faithfully. When the surface unevenness is quite bad, the car will pitch about, a bit like a boat on rough water. I believe this is the basis for the by now rather famous complaints about 'choppy ride' made by the very influential U.S. car publication Consumer Reports. However do be aware that the U.S. Civic has already received a very early MMC which includes revisions to the suspension which have reportedly fixed this complaint to a large degree.

In high speed cornering, the car still leans a bit too much in hard cornering but I consider this OK as my personal expectations from this 1.8 is that it is after all the entry level Civic sedan.

Moving on a straight road

Taking a corner, there is quite a bit of body roll

The 1.8 Civic brakes are nice and firm, reasonably progressive and allows close control without the common 'sudden bite' problem that can be common in normal cars. A little bit of brake pedal produces enough braking to hold car stationary in 1st gear so it is not too fatiguing to the leg in traffic crawls. But the brake pedal had a little bit of stickiness on the review unit, i.e. when I release the pedal, it seems to get 'stuck' for a moment before popping up to the released position. The throttle is light and easy to use. Steering feel is acceptable and not too light but light enough that when stuck in traffic crawl my hands did not get tired. This is an important factor for daily driven cars.

Recent Honda engines has not exactly been receiving praises from long time Honda enthusiasts whom are used to the D, B, K and other VTEC engines from the 'good old days' but I have to say I find the engine sound to be 'OK', not thin sounding or boring. Again as with all current Honda engines, redline is just too dissapointly low at around 6,600rpm.

The fuel economy of the 1.8 Civic can be erratic. I say this because during my review period, I felt it is a bit too dependent on driving aggressiveness. For e.g. I can easily acheive up to 15km/l with very light throttle and a driving style optimized for fuel economy. But go just a little bit more aggressively like overtaking road hoggers and picking up speed promptly from traffic lights, fuel economy quickly degrades to around 10-11 only. This means that unless we drive softly like a cissy all the while, we will never get good fuel economy.

Instrumented Testing

For this 1.8 Civic, I only performed the standing start acceleration tests but did not put it on the dyno. For the standing starts, I did both the 0-60mph and 0-100kph tests. For move-off from a standing start, the 'grabiness' of the 5AT was a big advantage for the 1.8 Civic. With the standard launching technique of flooring the throttle with left leg hard on the brake pedal, lifting off the brake pedal will cause the front tyres to chirp softly. This gives the 1.8 Civic a very good launch and thereafter the engine goes nicely through its rpm range, without any lagging at all. Lack of outright engine power prevented the 1.8 Civic from delivering very fast times but the best timings for 0-60mph was 10.70 seconds and for the 0-100kph, it was 11.41 seconds. The tables below are for these two best runs respectively.

Environment-wise, these tests were conducted with the petrol guage at 1 bar above the half-full mark and it ended with the guage 2 bars below the half-way mark. Outside air-temperature was around 31 degC consistently and the tests were done from 12:26 to 1:15pm, in the middle of the day. On the odometer, the reading was 2,992km accumulated mileage so technically the R18A was not fully run-in (usually taken to be a minimum of 5,000km).

0-60mph standing start
10.0 1.24
20.0 2.73
30.0 4.19
40.0 5.76
50.0 8.15
60.0 10.70

0-100kph standing start
kph sec
10.0 0.75
20.0 1.50
30.0 2.42
40.0 3.32
50.0 4.23
60.0 5.19
70.0 6.62
80.0 8.12
90.0 9.72
100.0 11.41

The video below was taken using my Panasonic compact camera during one of the 0-60mph runs. Note the relatively good launch I managed to get and how the engine revved confidently to its gear shift-up point. One of the hinderances to better times is of course the conservative shifting rpm which is always below the rev-cut and too low. The 1.8 Civic is not equipped with a manual shifter option.

Finally, I used the simple dB Volume APP on my iPhone to do a simple measurement of the cabin noise level during cruising and the measurement was 60-63dB when cruising gently at around 100kph. SPL measurements using this method are at best an indicator only. My average fuel economy over the 4 days of the review loan period settled at around 10.9km/l.

Closing Thoughts

Taken as an overall package, I personally feel this 9Gen 1.8 Civic offers a good upgrade over the outgoing 8G 1.8 Civic, personal opinions of the interior not withstanding. The engine and suspension are definitely improved, offering better performance both in straight line and over corners so the 9G 1.8Civic is faster overall then the 8G. On the 0-100kph and 0-60mph acceleration tests at least, this was the result. Then of course being an FMC, the 1.8 Civic offers better build and better features than the 8G.

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Wong KN
December 2013
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