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TWO aspects of the new Honda Civic mark a break from its popular but generally pedestrian predecessors - the design and engine.
The 10th-generation compact sedan is now bigger and sportier with unusual fastback styling. And under the bonnet lies a new turbocharged petrol engine - a first for the Civic sedan here.
It would not be an exaggeration to say the latest Civic has breakthrough styling. Compared to past generations, Honda designers appear to have gone wild with swoopy curves and body creases.
The roofline is sporty, and masks a generous boot that can be made deeper with the rear seat backs split 60:40.
Compared with the ninth-generation Civic, the new Civic is bigger with an extended wheelbase. At 4,630 mm, it is 105 mm longer, as well as taller and wider. The wheelbase is now 2,700 mm - up 30 mm - with a wider track both in front and behind.
Incidentally, this Civic notchback is produced only in Thailand, which is why there aren't any parallel imports.
There are two engines options - a naturally aspirated 1.6 and a 1.5-litre turbo.
The Honda Civic 1.6 is a COE Category A model with 125 hp and 152 Nm.
The Honda Civic 1.5 Turbo, on the other hand, uses the same basic 1.5-litre four-cylinder unit first seen in the Honda Jade RS. This Cat B model produces 173 hp and 220 Nm and transmits them to the front wheels through a seven-step continuously variable transmission.
The relatively small turbo is there to even out the torque curve rather than deliver outright performance, which means linear, lag-free response when you step on the accelerator.
It complements the continuously variable transmission (CVT), which employs a torque converter with a lock-up clutch for smoother operation. With manual shifting using the steering wheel-mounted paddles, progress is uninterrupted.
Low-end torque is good and the Civic 1.5 Turbo is a very comfortable drive, unlike some turbocharged cars which can be nervous.
The driving position, which was lowered by 20 mm, is excellent for taller occupants. It also makes the Civic feel more planted even with its supple suspension set-up of front MacPherson struts and rear multi-links for good ride comfort.
Body control is excellent, and it is wonderfully fluid in sweeping curves. In these situations, the electric power steering displays the typical Honda precision with good feedback.
But the variable-ratio steering also reveals an uncharacteristic vagueness at higher speeds in the straight-ahead position.
Inside, the Civic looks clean and almost spartan. There is a clutter-free centre console and an electric parking brake with auto hold function below it. The centre display has only a handful of buttons, so functions like the climate control and audio are operated mainly through the touchscreen. It is supplemented by a cool touch-sensitive volume button on the multi-function steering wheel.
In the instrument binnacle are virtual meters, with the tachometer in the centre and a digital speed readout under the arc. For the Civic 1.5 Turbo, the multi-function display's menu has two extra items associated with forced induction - a boost gauge and an engine oil life indicator.
The Turbo cabin also gets an electric sunroof, while on the outside, it has full LED headlamps with foglights in the front bumper, plus bigger alloy wheels (17 inches vs 16) and a tail spoiler.
The party trick, however, has to be the Honda LaneWatch System. Using a camera mounted on the passenger door mirror, the LaneWatch function projects the blind spot image on the centre screen when the turn signal is activated. It will also come on when the button at the tip of the signal stalk is pressed.
It is a helpful overtaking aid if you don't mind looking down and away from the road momentarily, especially since it can show two metres more than the wing mirror image.
With its sporty look and more upscale equipment, the Honda Civic is cooler than before.
As a more complete package, its already broad appeal is certain to widen further.
Honda Civic 1.5 Turbo
Engine 1,498cc inline-4 turbocharged
Transmission 7-step continuously variable
Max power 173 hp @ 5,500 rpm
Max torque 220 Nm @ 1,700-5,500 rpm
0-100 kmh 8.6 secs
Top speed 200 kmh
CO2 emissions 135 g/km
Average OMV S$25,000
Price S$129,999 (with COE)
Distributor Kah Motor