Watching the D-tectives
The Honda Civic 1.6 i-DTEC might just be the Honda diesel you've been waiting years and years for. With 120PS under its belt, it's got a bit about it, but will return 78.5mpg and 94g/km – better than the company's Insight hybrid in other words.
Just as the 2.2-litre engine has been thoroughly revised, this 1.6-litre diesel requires some fresh perspectives. It's been designed to offer high performance and low emissions and goes about its job in a very Honda way. For a start, it's extremely small and light for a diesel lump, weighing in at fully 47kg less than the 2.2-litre engine. It makes 120PS at 4000rpm, which is impressive enough, but perhaps more interesting is the 300Nm of torque it can develop at just 2,000rpm. That's only 50Nm down on its (much) bigger brother.
The engine's built in Swindon and designed for the European market, where one will roll of a specially-developed line every 138 seconds. This ninth-gen Civic features a mix of new and carry-over tech from the last car. The rear end is suspended by a simple yet space-efficient torsion beam, Honda reasoning that if it could make the feisty Type-R work, and work well, with a torsion beam rear, then there was clearly nothing wrong with the fundamental layout. It uses clever fluid-filled compliance bushes to improve overall ride and handling. A lot of resource has been poured into improving ride and refinement on this car, with particular emphasis placed on reducing wind noise and improving the cabin noise insulation, something that is key with a small but high-power diesel engine. A six-speed manual gearbox is the default transmission pick.
The designers of this ninth-generation Civic wanted to keep the sporty and advanced elements of the car's character but tweak them to express a more dynamic feel. The car is 20mm lower and 10mm wider than its predecessor, giving it a squatter, more purposeful stance. This 'blended body' features smarter aerodynamics, including a rear light cluster that works as an aerodynamic spoiler, managing air flow over the top and sides of the car. The interior is focused around the driver and, like the eighth generation car, features a split-level instrument binnacle. One area where clear strides could be made was in the perceived quality of the cabin. The old car featured quite a lot of scratchy hard plastics but this ninth generation model alters its approach to meet a far more demanding European customer base. Class leading boot space and versatile seating boost its credentials for family buyers.
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The belief that variable valve-timed petrol engines and then petrol/electric hybrids would satisfy customer needs better than diesel engines was one of Honda's rare engineering mistakes. It's taken the company a long time to buy into the philosophy of compression-ignition engines but it now seems to have grasped that if it's to do well in Europe, it needs a diesel engine and a good one at that. In typical Honda fashion, it's built two, but this 120PS 1.6-litre i-DTEC is the one that's going to shift the big numbers. I can see that some old-school dyed in the wool Hondaphiles may see this as a dilution of the way the company once was. But there's no point in living in the past.
Anyway, the ninth-generation Civic as a whole is already a distinctly pragmatic vehicle, utilising technology that works. All right, so some feel that Honda was at its best when the engineers didn't listen to the marketing people and just produced extreme vehicles nobody else was capable of. I'm not of that school.
While it's true that this Japanese brand built some amazing cars as a result, these days that's a recipe for financial ruin. So Honda's become a bit more mainstream, a little more expedient? As this Civic 1.6 i-DTEC shows, sometimes there's genius in exactly that.