Who is at fault here?
Sitting at the wheel of the new Honda Civic Tourer – admiring its ravishingly original instrument design and lay-out, loving its excellent ergonomics and unsurpassed all-round visibility – I find myself asking “Who is to blame that I would never normally think of buying this car?”
In theory, I am a committed Honda fan. The NSX (1990-2005) remains one of my top 10 cars of all time. The Accord Aerodeck I owned in the early 1990s is one of the cars I remember most fondly.
At least five friends and acquaintances who needed a simple, reliable utilitarian little car that they wouldn’t have to worry about have bought the Honda Jazz on my recommendation; and I am happy to say that not one of them has ever regretted the decision. The McLaren-Honda partnership with Ayrton Senna will always be the pinnacle of my lifelong interest in F1. And when I think of Honda, I always remember the words of a senior Toyota executive who once told me “Honda is the only manufacturer in the world we fear.”
Why, then, does the name of Honda actually reside so deep in the shadows of my thinking that, if somebody asked me to recommend a small, stylish, sporty family car with some estate car capacity around £25000, the Civic Tourer might come to mind only if I did some dedicated research, not as a first thought? Volvo’s V40, Kia C’eed SW or Ford’s Focus ST estate would be among my leading thoughts for new cars. If a second-hand car was under consideration, I would probably think of Lancia’s enchanting but fallible HPE, Volvo’s 1800 ES or even my own old Aerodeck. But the current Civic Tourer might come to mind only on second thoughts.
What’s going on? Who’s responsible for this omission?
I blame Honda.
It always used to be said of Honda that, as a company, they were so dominated by engineers who were having a thoroughly nerdy good time with technology that design was the last thing on their minds when they were creating a car. That’s self-evidently not true of the Civic Tourer which – with its ultra-low roofline and chunky, rear door handles concealed in the pillars and butch rear light assemblies – is one of the very cars that will stand out on the street among the shoals of identical hatchbacks.
What Honda do seem to have omitted to consider, however, is the rudimentary business of marketing and selling this car. Can you remember seeing any advertisements for the Civic Tourer? I can’t. Was it ever on the cover of a car magazine or a newspaper’s motoring section? Not in my memory.
It’s as if Honda said to themselves “Oh well, we’ve knocked ourselves out to create a bloody good car here, as good as anything on the market. But we’re exhausted now. Let the thing sell itself.”
And the truth is that, for anybody who gets their hands on the Civic Tourer, it does sell itself. It’s so good that you can’t believe you ever gave a thought to anything else.
The reason Toyota fear Honda is that Honda does everything in its own original way. Nothing in the creation of a new Honda is ever taken as a given – from the aircraft cockpit array of instruments and digital dials to the amazing Magic Seats in the back.
Those Magic Seats not only tilt and fold forward to form a flat floor; but they also lift from the bottom and fold back towards the rear of the car, creating a space between the front and the back seats in which you could certainly deposit a month’s supermarket shopping in carrier bags. At the same time, there’s also brilliant box-shaped cavity in the floor of the rear loadspace in which to secure more stuff that might roll around. When the seats are folded flat, a 1668-litre load space like a cargo plane’s is formed – enough to swallow a bicycle without removing the front wheel and a child’s push-chair, as well.
Honda being Honda, they’ve knocked their brains out over inventions nobody will ever see – including an adaptive damper system for the rear suspension (a world first) which automatically adjusts to match road conditions and load weights.
They have not, however, come up with an engine to match the excellence of this car’s design and ride. The 1.8 litre petrol engine on offer is far too feeble to engage an enthusiastic driver. The £25560 1.6 litre diesel I borrowed for a week’s loan has more torque or pulling power but adds a perceptible lardiness to the handling.
What it needs is, obviously, the 2.2 V-Tec engine that Honda, alas, have discontinued.
What may be obvious to me, you or anybody else is, however, a matter of supreme indifference to Honda. They will do what they want and you can just take it or leave it.
Me? I’d take it.
Honda Civic Tourer 1.6 i-DTEC SR Manual
Engine: 1.6 i-DTEC, 4 cylinder diesel
Transmission: 6-spd manual
0-62mph: 10.5 seconds
Top speed: 121mph
Fuel economy: combined 72.4 mpg
CO2 emissions: 103 g/km
Honda Civic Tourer 1.8 i-VTEC SR Manual
Engine: 1.8 i-VTEC, 4 cylinder Petrol
Transmission: 6-spd manual
0-62mph: 9.6 seconds
Top speed: 121mph
Fuel economy: combined 44.1 mpg
CO2 emissions: 149 g/km
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