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Honda Civic 1.8 i-VTEC ES GT 5-door Automatic

Click to view picture galleryWith car makers gearing-up for
  a perceived upsurge in the market,
  Honda has some good offers of
  its own. Plus its British-built Civic
  hatchback range — recently
  refreshed for 2009

MONEY FOR OLD ROPE… WELL, OLD CARS, ACTUALLY. Thanks to the new sales incentive scheme, recession-hit car makers are hoping to see more buyers back in the showrooms. With over ten million old cars in the UK eligible for the £2,000-per-car 'old car' scrappage incentive, manufacturers are now busy working out their sales and finance offers.

Good news, too, for Honda workers at their Swindon plant in the UK — production centre for Civic three- and five-door hatchbacks and CR-V 4x4s — who are scheduled to go back to work at the beginning of June following a four-month break to cut production in line with reduced demand from recession-hit world markets.

Hopefully, the scrappage offer will encourage the British car-buying public back into the new car market. However, in reality, with the number of cheap finance offers and discounted prices already on the table, there is no shortage of choice — just nervous buyers naturally worried about their jobs and unwilling to spend money.

To counteract this, Honda UK have a plan. They have just launched their 'free car payment protection against redundancy' scheme to boost customer confidence on all promoted Civics and CR-Vs purchased on Honda finance. This means Honda will cover the monthly car repayments for up to a year, safeguarding customers should they be made redundant for more than three months.

As well as complimentary payment protection, Honda's Spring promotion also offers on-the-road cost savings and a range of finance packages, including 0% APR Hire Purchase or low deposit, low monthly payment PCPs at 4.9% APR.

Honda customers also benefit from reduced on-the-road prices on selected models: a Civic 1.8 SE with leather (2008 year model) is available for £14,495 on-the-road — a saving of £1,520; while the 2.2-litre diesel counterpart is offered at £14,995, saving £2,295.

Rev-hungry customers can pick up a Civic Type R GT for just £199 per month at 0% APR, while the CR-V range now starts from £17,995, offering customers a saving of up to £3,100.

Prices aside, what about the car? For 2009 Honda has refreshed its British-built Civic three- and five-door hatchback range. The latest Civic models have minor styling changes and are very much focussed on families and 'young-at-heart' customers. That said, a significant number of older buyers still remain faithful to the Civic because of the build quality and reliability factors.

The Type S will appeal to a younger customer base with sportier features that make it look even more like the Type R, but while offering sensible ownership costs that are lighter on the pocket.

The current Civic (launched in 2006) was heralded as a breakthrough in design for Honda: no more safe, rounded, bland and typically Japanese volume car styling. The new Civic came with an edgy design; stealth-type angular panels mixed with sharp lines that brought an aerodynamic coupe theme to the car. The dashboard looks like something out of the Starship Enterprise — space age for sure.

Since its launch, the daringly-styled Civic has been either loved or loathed — fortunately more people seem to like it than not, but it took me a while to see its potential. The big question was: Would it date more quickly? The coupe styling restricts rear passenger headroom and the confusing — and not easy to read instrument panel — were just some of the doubting comments.

The latest Civic range (for 2009) gets a frugal new 99bhp 1.4-litre i-VTEC petrol engine which offers 47.9mpg with CO2 emissions of 135g/km. Ideal for downsizers and I know this unit — taken from the latest Jazz models — is fuel-efficient in real-life. As an option, there is also a six-speed i-Shift automated manual transmission to go with this powerplant.

The 1.8-litre i-VTEC petrol and 2.2-litre i-CTDi diesel engines are retained, and a conventional five-speed torque converter automatic transmission is introduced for 1.8-litre petrol models.

To coincide with the back-into-production period of the latest Honda Civics, I managed to get my hands on the 1.8 i-VTEC ES GT 5-door model fitted with the new five-speed automatic transmission. The price of the car is a very hefty £19,827, which includes metallic paint. Given that the cheapest five-door Civic with this engine starts at a little over £15,000, the price is steep. The facts are that the Civic has to compete against the superb new VW Golf, the high-selling Ford Focus and the budget-but-excellent Kia Cee'd/Hyundai i30 ranges, to name just four of many competitors.

However, the Civic offers good build quality and all models have a high level of specification. My test version had the five-speed auto 'box which makes life — driving in town or up and down motorways — much easier but harms the acceleration performance on country A roads where getting past slower traffic quickly and safely is a priority.

Other items of kit and equipment of note included 17-inch alloy wheels, 60:40 split-fold rear seats (the boot capacity ranges from 485 to 1,326 litres), cruise control, central locking, digital information displays, drilled aluminium sports pedals, dual-zone climate control, engine start button, panoramic glass sunroof, rain-sensing wipers, sophisticated sound system, voice recognition satellite navigation with integrated Bluetooth system and, of course, vehicle stability assist.

There were many more items of specification; I will not bore you with them except to say this Civic was indeed 'fully kitted' and probably did justice to the high price. It would, however, have been nice to have a wash/wiper system for the rear tailgate. Visibility from the Civic hatchback is not great, front or rear, and having said the build quality was good I have to add that there were a few rattles, mainly from the tailgate region — certainly unusual for a Honda.

Other minus point included a jittery ride that was hard at times over poorer road surfaces, the limited rear headroom (and rear passenger leg room that's not the best in this class) and limited visibility. On the plus side the Civic is built in Britain, has sharp, distinctive styling inside and out, precise handling, a high level of equipment and has a large boot with fold up or fold flat rear seats. — David Miles

Honda Civic 1.8 i-VTEC ES GT 5-door Automatic
| £19,827
Maximum speed: 122mph | 0-62mph: 11 seconds | Overall test MPG: 33.6mpg
Power: 138bhp | Torque: 128lb ft | CO2 169g/km | Insurance group 10