The new Honda Civic RS is a sedan packed with surprises
With the onslaught of SUVs and crossovers in recent years, driving a proper sedan these days feels almost like an experience from a bygone era – so all hail the new Honda Civic RS.
The Toyota RAV, launched back in 1994, set the craze for SUVs in motion. Over the following two decades, the segment has exploded with manufacturers flooding the market to meet the appetite for bigger vehicles with added ground clearance.
In the US, SUVs, light trucks and vans account for 72% of the new car market. In South Africa, if you add the sales of light commercial vehicles like the good old bakkie to the mix, US figures echo the local trend.
And so there was tangible excitement last week when a group of motoring media gathered in Gauteng to experience what – in the years to come – might become something of a relic: the all new Honda Civic RS sedan.
Before the Japanese motor manufacturer launched the Civic in 1972, the company was better known for producing motorbikes. A lot changed for Honda with the introduction of the 1.169cc, 4-cylinder water-cooled Civic that received wide praise for its reliability, quality finishes and low running costs. The oil crisis of 1973 precipitated the demand for fuel-efficient vehicles and, because the Civic could run on both leaded and unleaded petrol, it became an instant hit with consumers.
Cleverly marketed with the slogan, “It will get you where you’re going”, the Civic was offered in a number of guises: as a coupe, with both three- and five-door hatchback options, as well as a five-door station wagon. By the late 1990s the Civic, back then in its sixth generation, had outsold expectations. It was during this time that Honda decided to up its sport ante and launch what would become an iconic racer – the Honda Civic Type R EK9 in 1997.
A B16B engine was fitted into Honda’s sport demon, the first to integrate the manufacturer’s soon-to-be-legendary VTEC system within an inline-4, lightweight aluminium block engine.
Back then, the Type R offered one of the highest power outputs per litre for a naturally aspirated motor. The first generation 1.6 litre Type R wielded 182 horsepower and a redline pushing over 8,000rpm, to transform into a thrilling screamer, racing 0-100kms in just 6.2 seconds. Inside, the Type R showed its swag with red Alcantara trimmed Recaro seats, red Type R floor mats, a titanium gear knob and a Momo leather-wrapped steering wheel.
But lest I get too carried away with this iconic boy/girl racer that will hopefully reach local shores next year in its latest, more powered-up guise, the 11th-generation Civic RS – on review here – was in fact unveiled globally back in 2020, in the midst of what could go down in history as the worst year in motoring history due to the pandemic. Better late than never, as they say.
The new Civic RS has finally arrived on local shores just in time to celebrate its 50th birthday.
There’s often confusion that the RS has something to do with speed and its renegade Type R cousin. It hasn’t. The badge stands for “Road Sailing” and has zilch to do with performance, alluding more to its smooth drive and upscaled styling. And superior design is hard to ignore in this new sedan.
First, it’s 25mm longer than the previous generation – words like ‘svelte’ and ‘sporty’ come to mind. Honda has done something interesting by placing the wheels flush on the outer edges of the wheel arches and, along with a lower fender and dominant lower grille, it gives the Civic a purposeful “don’t mess with me” kind of attitude.
The cabin is uncluttered and has the minimalist feel that one of the other Japanese brands, Lexus, is so well known for. The all-new honeycomb mesh panel, along with a blend of high-quality suede and leather, set off with red stitching, ups the Civic’s premium appeal.
It’s packed with high-tech connectivity, driving and safety aids, many of which can be operated via buttons on the leather-bound steering wheel. To enhance its value-for-money lure, along with heated front seats and a sunroof, Honda has also installed a 12-speaker Bose Surround Stage audio system.
There’s only one engine on offer locally – the 1.5 litre turbo VTEC with outputs of 131kW and 240Nm, gaining 4kWs and 20Nms from the previous 10th generation.
Most Japanese manufacturers appear to love their CVT gearboxes and I am almost always unimpressed.
And so it was with trepidation that I turned on the Civic’s ignition and took her out for a test drive along various highways and the twisty outskirts of Muldersdrift. I waited for that characteristic CVT lag. I listened out for that irritating, washing machine-like drone on acceleration and lo and behold there was silence. In fact this engine is so perfectly mated to its gearbox that it’s a surprisingly smooth drive, embracing acceleration with gusto.
On the test run, the suspension came to the fore on some pretty shocking bumpy roads to support a drive that felt noticeably well planted on a number of different road surfaces. In fact, it’s worth mentioning that Honda has outdone itself by offering a bouquet of driver and safety aids often only seen in more expensive sedans – think Beemers and Audis.
First up, there are six airbags, there’s the usual ABS, EBD, ESC and adaptive cruise control. But then you’ve also got stuff like collision mitigation braking, forward collision warning, lane-keep assistance, road departure mitigation and auto high beam control.
My favourite has to be the lane-watch camera, reminiscent of a blind spot monitoring system, although it’s only active on the left-hand side of the vehicle. It works via a camera installed below the front passenger side mirror, whereby the image of the area on the left is transmitted to the central display screen, when the indicator is activated. This helps with changing lanes, especially in bad weather or poor visibility. The Civic also has a conventional rear bumper-mounted blind spot monitor which works irrespective of whether or not the driver is using the indicators.
In keeping within its tradition in the frugal fuel consumption arena, Honda’s claim of 6.2 litres/100kms was not far out on the day – I managed a respectable 6.6 litres.
By the end of the launch, there was noticeable enthusiasm among my often cynical motoring peers and consensus that the Civic RS is an outstanding product, comparing most favourably to its more expensive German sedan rivals. Yet there were also rumbles of concern.
It’s no secret that Honda has been underperforming in South Africa, with the pandemic adding to its woes. In 2021, the motor manufacturer only managed to sell 3,527 units. For some perspective, SA’s top-selling manufacturer, Toyota, sold 7,710 units last month. And while the Civic has chalked up sales in excess of 26 million units globally in its lifetime, and was recently crowned North America’s Car of the Year, the question that needs to be asked is: Will it sell here?
Honda Civic RS – R669,000
This includes 5-year/200,000km warranty and a 5-year/90,000km service plan. DM