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Honda Civic is a rockstar of a car

The last time there was this much excitement about this car, we brought you your first ever look at the Swift, so this time again I’ve come to Singapore to give you the first look at the 2006 Honda Civic.

It’s not very often that we get a brand new car – not a reworked car, not an extension from model to model. Just from the name, the Civic might not seem like it, but that’s what this car is. It’s like the people at Honda have picked up the 2004 Civic, and chucked it away, blueprints and all.

Perhaps the designers were not even allowed to look at an old Civic, so that they might be influenced in any way and it seems to have worked. The new Civic has an all new chassis, new interiors, new engine, and something of a rockstar attitude.

To be sure, there are bits and bobs from the previous Civic carried over, but they’re too few to consider. What we have here is the eighth generation Civic with a 1.8 litre engine under the bonnet, and this is the car that’s heading India’s way. Honda felt a little snubbed when the 2001 Accord got an indifferent response, and so they waited, till they had something really fresh, and that’s what the Civic is - fresh as a daisy.

The first thing you notice about this car is the complete smoothness of the design. You can trace a finger right from the front bumper, up the roof and down the back without any angles or sudden changes in direction. Now what does that translate into? A drag co-efficient that is one of the best in the business.

The one that comes into India has larger headlamps than the North American version. If you think that the Civic is radical, its perhaps just a step above the radical wedge shape of the older City, what Honda calls the monoform. Check out the V shaped bonnet, and the way the passenger cabin has been separated from the bottom half of the car, and you can’t miss the tail lamp cluster. This is downright pretty.

Legend has it that Toyota was so intimidated with the design of the new Civic that they sent the new Corolla right back to the drawing board for a serious rethink. According to us, the Civic will make everything else in its class look quaint and vintage. But now lets get under the skin of this car and take a look inside...

The funkiness continues.. getting into this car is like strapping yourself into something from the Star Wars movies. Here’s something I really liked – the split instrument panel with a supplementary display at the bottom of the screen.

It looks cool, but this panel has a practical purpose as well, essential information like speed is displayed directly in line of sight of the driver, so now you don’t have to ever take your eyes off the road. Everything here has a blue glow, even the airconditioner and the CD displays, and the tachomter looks attractive too.

The three-spoked steering wheel is sporty with a large boss and hollow spokes that gives the Civic's interiors that funky cockpit-like look. Sadly, the trendiness stops here, as the rest of the design becomes a bit more conservative – the two-tone dash and airconditioner vents are similar to those in the Accord and the seats have see-through headrests, like those on the original VTEC.

The front seats themselves are wide and the backrest has a lot of lateral support. They are, however, slightly low and flat, the low roof being the possible culprit. Similarly, the wide rear seat that provides for decent thigh support has a well angled backrest, but is lower and thus not as comfortable as the Corolla.

If there’s one thing that Singapore has a lot of is lovely roads – the perfect place to get a feel for this car. It's time to open the taps on Honda’s new 140bhp 1.8 motor, time to let the blue-backed tachometer fly.

I love the way this car feels, especially as it zips past the 4000rpm mark – something wonderful happens and the motor takes on a snarl. Power comes in clean and hard above 5000rpm, the top end of the powerband delivering a delicious burst of power.

But here’s where we have to deliver a bit of good news and some bad news. Honda says that it detuned the 1.8 to deliver the fuel economy of a 1.6, but then at the same time, there is some loss of power.

The directness of the steering is a real boon at low speeds, and even at higher velocities, the Civic’s straightline remains impressive, so good in fact that you have to keep checking to make sure you’re actually going as fast as the speedometer claims.

Body control around the long corners and in the tighter ones is good, as is the grip - both in the front and rear. The Honda feels well planted on its 205 tyres and takes to the changes in direction well, with no discernible skittishness. Finally, a car that will run the Skoda Octavia RS close as a driver’s car, one that is quick as well as a hoot to drive.

Right until now, I’ve been singing praises, but like all of us, the Civic is not perfect. The ride quality is something of a disappointment, but maybe I expected this, as I felt the same way in my Accord. This car is stiff at low speeds, and like the Accord, you have to be careful around sharp dips and vertical rises.

However, this does not affect body control, as bumps are swallowed silently by the stiff chassis - the independent double wishbone rear suspension. There is even ABS and a stability control electronic device on some models, similar to ESP, known as Vehicle Stability Assist (VSA). But we doubt whether it will make it to the Indian Civic.

Renuka Kripalani

Honda Civic is a rockstar of a car
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