If you’ve been reading the news lately, you might have seen Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, stand up and tell us his plans for charging people extra to drive a diesel car into the city.
This news has been somewhat galling for many, coming after many years of successive governments shooing us all towards small, efficient diesel cars with low CO2 emissions.
Of course, those that don’t live in London might at this point be asking why this matters; it matters because what happens in London often finds its way into other cities across the country, with Oxford, Birmingham and Leeds, among others, all watching closely to see how things pan out.
It will likely take car manufacturers some years to respond to whatever system Boris finally puts in place, but if you’re thinking of changing your car now, it might be worth putting a few petrol versions of your favourite models onto your shortlist.
Compile a list of the world’s most reliable petrol engines and it’s likely one name will appear above all others, and that’s Honda.
However, the success of their diesel engines, particularly their relatively new 1.6-litre i-DTEC unit available in both the Civic and CR-V, has led many to forget that the company is famous for its high-revving and largely unbreakable VTEC units.
Two are offered in the Civic range – a 1.4-litre unit with 99hp, and this, the 1.8 with 140hp.
With the exception of the forthcoming Type R, the 1.8 is currently the fastest model in the Civic range, with a 0-62mph time of 9.1 seconds and a 134mph top speed.
Its official economy figure of 46.3mpg is remarkably realistic, and we achieved an average around the 44mpg mark during our testing. CO2 emissions of 145 g/km place it in VED Band F with a £145 annual road tax bill, allowing the diesel to keep its advantage of having nothing to pay at all.
Where the petrol beats its diesel brother is in its refinement – the 1.8 is barely audible at idle, and on the move once up to speed there’s not much to hear either. It makes its presence felt when accelerating through the gears, but it’s more of a hard-edged characteristic VTEC sound rather than anything coarse or thrashy.
Punching through traffic, the diesel wins in terms of driveability, thanks to its vast torque reserves, but spin the VTEC a little faster and there’s no reason why the petrol model can’t be just as enjoyable as the derv-drinker.
That’s thanks to the Civic’s eager turn-in and composed ride, although despite a recent update to its suspension settings there is still a slightly unsettled sensation that makes itself felt on poorly-surfaced dual-carriageways.
Externally, the Civic range received a quick update earlier in the year, with new black trim on the front bumper, and again on the tailgate.
The interior benefited from a few minor tweaks, too, although these were mainly limited to detail changes such as upholstery stitching and switchgear updates. That’s fine by us because the Civic’s cabin is already very well laid out, with attractively cowled instruments arranged around a central rev counter, and the speedo and trip computer mounted higher up where it’s easier to read them at a glance.
The seats are just as comfortable as ever, and they offer a wide range of adjustment, and this degree of comfort continues into the rear where three adults should be quite happy even over long distances.
Honda’s Magic Seats are standard across the range, and these allow the seat bases to flip up to accommodate tall loads in the cabin, but also fold flat in one movement to form an almost completely flat load floor.
The boot offers 401 litres of space, plus a further 76 litres in a handy under-floor compartment, and this can be increased to a total of 1,378 litres with the seats folded.
Honda also took the opportunity to introduce a series of electronic driver aids that provide functions such as lane departure warning, traffic sign recognition, collision warning and autonomous braking, cross traffic alert and blind spot information.
There are undoubtedly situations where these systems would save your bacon, but we found the blind spot monitoring system to be a little paranoid, issuing unnecessary warnings when joining motorways and changing lanes in traffic. We also found various situations where the collision mitigation systems would throw up warnings unnecessarily, and unchecked these warnings could lead to the car performing an unwarranted emergency stop, something we’ve experienced before. Thankfully, these systems remain on the options list, so this can all be avoided easily.
Those minor issues aside, the Civic continues to be one of the most practical hatchbacks on the market, and should the day arrive that demands we all move away from our beloved diesels, it’s reassuring that the wizards that created the famous VTEC system have got us covered.
|Entry-level Price||£19,255||Price as tested||£24,635|
|Engine||4-cyl petrol, 1798cc||Transmission||Six-speed manual|
|Power||140hp @ 6,500rpm||Torque||174Nm @ 4,300rpm|
|0-62||9.1 secs||Top speed||134 mph|
|Economy||46.3 mpg||CO2||145 g/km|
|Dimensions||4315 x 1770 x 1470 (LWH)||Kerb Weight||1344 kg|