The latest Honda Civic has always been a bridesmaid in its class, trailing the Ford Focus and VW Golf.
One of the main reasons for this was the lack of a sub-100g/km diesel engine. This new 1.6-litre i-DTEC is the answer to that, and with impressive CO2 emissions of 94g/km and average fuel economy of 78.5mpg, it's sure to be popular with company drivers.
What's the 2013 Honda Civic 1.6 i-DTEC like to drive?
There's not too much rumble at tickover and at low speeds, but as the revs rise there's a distinct increase in noise levels, while a fair bit of mechanical vibration can be felt pulsing through the pedals.
Although the engine revs willingly, most of the 221lb ft of torque it produces is delivered low down, so there's little point pushing the revs above 3000rpm.
As a result, you'll find yourself regularly reaching for the six-speed manual gearbox (also new, and with a pleasantly short throw) to keep the engine in its sweet spot. Ultimately, though, the Civic will leave most of its sub-100g/km rivals trailing.
Turn in to a corner and you can feel the benefit of the engine's lightness, but even so the nose of the car is still rather slow to change direction. The steering is horribly remote, too. It's nice and light at low speed, which is great when you are just trundling around town, but doesn't inspire any confidence at higher speed because it fails to weight up sufficiently in corners.
Comfort is improved compared with the 2.2-litre diesel Civic, with the lighter front-end allowing for better bump absorption. The ride still isn't as supple as a Volkswagen Golf's, but is a big step forward for Honda.
What's the 2013 Honda Civic 1.6 i-DTEC like inside?
Like any other Civic, which means it's quirky and interesting, but very poor ergonomically. Many drivers will find the speedo is partially obscured by the steering wheel, rear visibility is awful and the dashboard has too many fiddly buttons.
It could be more practical, too, because headroom is tight in any one of the five seats and rear legroom isn't as generous as in many rivals. That said, the boot is a good size, there's another huge storage space under the boot floor and the clever way the rear seats fold (the seatbases drop automatically as the backrests lower on top) gives you masses of cargo space in two-seat mode.
Equipment is good throughout the range, although it's a shame you have to fork out £23,175 for the top-spec EX model to get a DAB radio as standard. Other standard features on the EX include sat-nav, leather seats and front and rear parking sensors. However, even the £19,400 entry-level SE model gets climate control, Bluetooth, a USB socket and steering-wheel-mounted audio controls.
A further £1195 for mid-spec ES adds cruise control and automatic headlights, and ups the speaker count to six.
All models get a comprehensive list of safety kit, including hill-start assist and six airbags.
Should I buy one?
The Civic 1.6 i-DTEC has plenty going for it; it betters rivals on both performance and emissions, and like all Hondas it promises rock-solid reliability.
Unfortunately, the new engine isn't especially refined, and the Honda isn't as comfortable or as enjoyable to drive as a Ford Focus or a VW Golf. Ultimately, then, the Civic remains an also-ran.
What Car? says...
Ford Focus 1.6 TDCi 115
Volkswagen Golf 1.6 TDI 105
Engine size 1.6 TD
Price from £19,400
Torque 221lb ft
Top speed 129mph
Fuel economy 78.5mpg
CO2 g/km 94g/km
By Vicky Parrott and Pete Tullin
Our reviews are based on hard data and thorough testing in the real world.
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