Losing the Plot?

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Ryan Baptiste still loves Honda’s VTEC engine, but the rest of the recipe . . ?

The dawn of the next millennium is almost upon us and Honda’s sixth generation Civics will be there for the party, if perhaps lacking the flair of their immediate predecessors. The ultra-successful range’s most interesting model has always been the three-door VTi, and what a little gem it was (Motor SPORT, June 1995).

However, Honda assures us that the new Civic is a far better and more user-friendly product designed as a “world car” offering “class above quality”. For starters, the new model boasts a slightly bigger shape with a front-end grille (which is really a sad attempt to add character to a very ordinary looking car).

A stronger emphasis on meeting European safety legislation has been applied, not only in the car’s structure, but with safety equipment throughout the range such as passenger airbags.

Interior space is far more generous than before, while the double wishbone suspension and power steering have been reworked in a bid to improve the ride/handling compromise. Many components have been carried over on the basis of, “If it ain’t broken, why fix it?” And about time too.

Though carrying a modified management system to cope more efficiently with different grades of fuel, the super little 1.6 dohc 16-valve VTEC is retained, and now more than ever proves to be the chief seduction factor. Even so, you still need to rev the hell out of it to make real progress. How about a sixth gear, Honda?

Driving the new £15,495 VTi promises to be a more rewarding experience than ever before. Vision is better and controls have been changed for the European market. The lighter steering has lost its immediate predecessor’s sporting feel, and the car in general has a more ‘mature’ feel when driving hard.

Grip appears to be marginally better than before and the chassis still has brilliant balance, though you can break the traction of the inside front wheel when throwing it about. However, Honda has yet to sort its rear damper settings and even this Civic feels a touch floaty over ridges.

Verdict? The new Civic VTi is bigger and stronger and will have a broader appeal now that the interior packaging is more competitive. It remains one of the best handling hatchbacks you can buy. On the downside, the steering isn’t as communicative and it looks like every other Japanese runabout. Mainly, it lacks an intangible quality which made its antecedent a genuine star.

I’m sorry Honda, but you seem to have lost the VTi plot.

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