The Honda Civic is one of the biggest mainstream family hatchbacks to stick with normally aspirated engines. Key rivals like the VW Golf and Ford Focus have long since switched to smaller, turbocharged motors, and now the latest Vauxhall Astra has done the same.
Honda is preparing to join the party by offering smaller, turbocharged engines in the next generation of its Civic, which is due in 2017. Faster models in the range will get a 1.5-litre, four-cylinder engine with more than 160bhp, but the bottom end of the line-up will switch from a 1.8-litre normally aspirated unit to a three-cylinder, turbocharged 1.0.
That’s the engine we’ve had a chance to test, albeit in a short drive around Honda’s test track, and in an existing Civic instead of the next generation.
What’s the 2017 Honda Civic 1.0 like to drive?
The new engine has some pretty sophisticated components, including all-aluminium construction for less weight and Honda’s VTEC technology to help with flexibility. Its specs look encouraging, with 127bhp and 148lb ft of torque.
That’s a bit less outright power than the current 1.8, but more shove at lower revs, and it translates pretty well into what the engine feels like on the move.
At no point does the engine make the Civic feel really rapid (it’s fair to say, in fact, that it doesn’t feel like it’s got 127bhp) but that low-down torque means you don’t have to give it lots of revs to make reasonably paced progress. That’s just as well, too, because the engine doesn’t seem that happy to rev up quickly.
At a cruise of around 80mph the 1.0-litre car was sitting at 3000rpm - and again, the turbocharger gives it useful amounts of shove in fifth and sixth gear, so you shouldn’t have to change down to overtake on motorways.
Refinement is a bit more of an issue. There didn’t seem to be a great deal of vibration through the pedals or the seat, but the engine did have a more obvious, discernible three-cylinder rasp than, say, the Ecoboost that you can buy in a Ford Focus.
Honda is still working on the engine’s final specification - and of course, it’ll be installed in an all-new Civic in 2017 - but the signs are that they’ll need to work hard on the car’s noise insulation to give it the same sort of sophistication that you get in the Focus or Golf.
Honda hasn’t released any efficiency figures but engineers freely admit they’re targeting 99g/km of CO2 emissions with a manual gearbox 1.0-litre Civic; that’ll compare well with the 137g/km of the current car’s 1.8-litre engine (or, indeed, the 129g/km of the relatively weedy 1.4 petrol).
Should I buy one?
There are still more than 18 months left before the next Civic makes it into showrooms, so we wouldn’t get your chequebook out for the deposit just yet. In any case, this short drive has shown that while Honda is heading in the right direction, it will need to work hard on engine refinement in the new Civic if it’s to take on the likes of the Golf 1.2 or the Focus 1.0 with this car.
As it stands, Honda is on track to deliver improvements in flexibility and running costs that owners of the existing 1.8 Civic will appreciate. But we think it needs to do more than that if it’s to really compete against the established small-turbo models from Ford, VW and Vauxhall.
2017 Honda Civic 1.0 (prototype)
1.0-litre turbo petrol
9.5 seconds (est)