Farewell little giant
Are people blind, simply too conservative, or did Honda just get it wrong?
Whichever way we look at it, it’s a great injustice that the Civic VTi never sold in sufficient quantities to justify being marketed any longer in the UK.
But then the world has never been a fair place.
Now available to special order only, we took the opportunity to indulge ourselves with one last blast in this most engaging of sporting hatchbacks.
Once, Honda had only the CRX to offer to anyone who was actually interested in the art of driving. The Civic was generally considered to be no more than a competent shopping trolley.
Then along came a glorious little fireball of an engine, the V-Tec, and with it the second generation CRX.
Suddenly, Honda became interesting. And it didn’t stop there.
The third, and current version of the CRX hit the scene. No longer a coupe, but a sportster extravagantly laden with a multitude of electric motors to lift and slide its targa top into the boot with the press of a finger. Though powered by the same V-Tec engine, its sheer weight makes it slow to react to the starting pistol.
The contemporary Civic VTi, on the other hand, has a similar top speed but will have already snapped the 100 metre tape as the CRX is just getting into its stride. But that’s not the only area in which the Civic has the upper hand. While the validity of some of the CRX’s styling credentials have been questionable, the aesthetic appeal of the Civic has never been in doubt.
As a whole and in detailing, the VTi is full of visual stimuli. Its squat yet timeless shape consists of panels of subtle curvature. Honda carefully avoids the organic overkill of which some Japanese manufacturers have been guilty, thus making this the most successful of the company’s ‘design for now’ executions.
One of the drawbacks of this particular design is that the packaging becomes a secondary consideration, and the Civic is almost in a class of its own, being unable to compete directly with so-called rivals. It may seat four adults in relative comfort but you can forget any serious additional luggage.
To skirt around this little shortcoming, the Civic has carefully designed rear seat backs which form part of a massive flat luggage area when folded. Thus, a youthful, sporty couple can travel anywhere with as much luggage as they’re likely to desire.
So the Civic VTi is pretty, it’s fast and it can be spacious. It is also a dream to drive for a fwd chassis, having the driveability round town you’d expect of the more mundane models. Light but precise controls feel almost non-engaging in these circumstances and one can feel rather uninspired when using low revs and the steering isn’t loaded-up.
Everything about the Civic is relaxing, nonetheless. Its ride and refinement would do any quality sports saloon proud, but one senses something more visceral lurking beneath the surface. This becomes apparent when the revs are unleashed, first hitting 5000rpm before the variable-valve system ‘boosts’ the power further still until all 158 horses are stampeding at 7500rpm, amazingly, still way short of the red-line.
Damping has been been something of an Achilles heel on previous Civics, and while still not perfect, at least has been sorted sufficiently to endow the car with sharp, vice-free handling. Grip is certainly not in the supercar league, so you can have genuine fun exploiting the chassis’s fine balance to the full. You’ll not wish to relinquish your grip when it’s time to give it back. I did so with genuine sorrow.
It’s all too sad that the VTi’s talents have not been rewarded with more sales. Perhaps Honda should have been more aggressive with its price strategy, at £15,695 it isn’t cheap. That said, there are still precious few hatchbacks around that come close to giving as big a thrill. Honda’s Civic VTi will be missed.