Honda's premium push has seen the Civic go all stylish on us, but while this new model plays to Honda's strengths in terms of making great engines and chassis, the price you'll have to pay is questionably high.

Once upon a time, the Honda Civic was merely a sensible, practical, and cheap way of getting from A to B. Sure, there have been sporty Type R versions over the years, but the standard Civic was never the sort of car you’d think to look twice at. No, the Civic was the sort of car you’d recommend your grandparents buy when new, and your kids buy used when they get their P plates.

Fast forward to today, however, and the 2023 Honda Civic marks quite the reinvention for the once-humble hatchback. No longer does it look boring and basic like Civics of the 1990s and 2000s, nor is it as divisively styled as the 10th-generation model it replaces. Now, the Civic has gone all stylish and premium on us – and you can bet that it’s reflected in the cost.

The version tested here – the VTi LX, which I can only presume was named such using a smattering of Scrabble tiles – was the only variant available at launch in late 2021, but now sits as the entry-level version of the full range which arrives for 2023 with the e:HEV LX hybrid and the hotted-up Type R. Mind you, with it priced from $47,200 drive-away, there’s nothing entry-level about the VTi LX’s price tag.

With that said, Honda’s aspirations of reinventing itself as a more premium brand are as clearly reflected in the new Civic’s styling as they are in the price. Having ditched the sedan body style for the new 11th-generation model, this hatch with a sloping rear roofline is the ultimate compromise of the two. In the Premium Crystal Blue colour my tester was painted, its a fantastic looking car in my eyes. So, too, in the eyes of a passer-by who yelled “I love your car” out of their window as they drove past while I was snapping these photos. If that’s not a stamp of approval, I’m not sure what is.

It’s actually the third-generation Civic that designers claim influenced this new model, with an expansive glassy cabin and a thin and sporty-looking cabin being the key aims of this design. While I’m not sure I’d call the boxy third-gen particularly sporty, this new car undoubtedly is.

Although these measurements sound small on paper, a 12mm wider track width, 35mm longer wheelbase, the bonnet sitting 25mm lower where it meets the A-pillars, and the boot hinge area sitting 50mm lower than on the 10th-gen model it replaces all add up in a big way. The shadowy black 18-inch alloy wheels also add a nice touch to the Civic’s design, and even better that they come wrapped in sticky Goodyear Eagle F1 rubber.

Its body is not only attractive, but cleverly engineered as well. Torsional rigidity has been increased by 19 percent compared with the old Civic thanks to circular frames in the front bulkhead and behind the rear seats, lattice frame members in the floor, and structural adhesive applied over spot welds. It’s also 15.6kg lighter despite these strengthening measures thanks to the use of an aluminium bonnet (normally reserved for Type R models) and 1180MPa high-tensile steel.

However, the big premium push comes on the inside of the Civic where its interior marks a big departure from the model it replaces. With a smart-looking steering wheel, continuous mesh air vents with toggles to adjust air flow, brushed metal trim on the centre console, and bucket seats clad in red-accented suede, it’s one smart looking cabin. Admittedly, there’s still a lot of plastic in this cabin so don’t expect it to be the most premium feeling cockpit you’ve ever sat yourself in, but no surfaces feel egregious, the switchgear feels high quality, and it hits the mark on cabin design visually.

For what is a fairly small car, it’s also a rather roomy cabin with plenty of room to stretch your legs out. The roomy feeling is also aided by its large windows that let in a good amount of light as well as offering impressive visibility in an age where modern cars favour ‘high belt-lines’ on the outside which takes away from visibility inside. There’s also a surprisingly large 449 litres of space in the boot, although 45 litres of that is under the boot floor. It’s easily accessible though with a folding boot floor that can be locked into place in the middle to allow for taller items or to stop shopping from sliding around.

Its ergonomics are impressive as well – the seating is supportive, the armrests are at the right height, and all controls fall easily to hand. However, it’s worth noting that the seating position is particularly low-slung which is great for a younger person who loves driving like me, but it’s less appropriate for grandparents looking to upgrade from their old Civic.

In terms of tech, the Civic VTi LX comes as standard with a 9.0-inch infotainment system with wireless Apple CarPlay and wired Android Auto (along with a brilliant in-built navigation system with a fast search function), a 7.0-inch display in the instrument cluster sat next to a mechanical speedo, a wireless phone charger, dual-zone climate control, heated front seats with 8-way driver and 4-way passenger power adjustment, and a 12-speaker Bose audio system.

While the sat nav system may be great and wireless CarPlay is nice as well, it must be said that the quality of both the infotainment and instrument cluster displays is particularly dull and grainy. The reversing camera is of particularly low resolution as well, although at least there is one since there are no rear parking sensors. Speaking of safety, at least there’s a good array of active safety technology thanks to the Honda Sensing safety suite which includes Level 2 semi-autonomous driving support.

Do be aware, though, that there are a few features you might expect to see here which are actually missing. Given the Civic’s new premium positioning, you’d expect to see a panoramic sunroof, heated steering wheel, a fully-digital instrument cluster, and front and rear parking sensors all included as standard – however, all these features are reserved for the $55,000 e:HEV LX.

READ MORE: The new HR-V shows Honda’s premium push is heading in the right direction

At least what the VTi LX does have is a great little engine under the bonnet. A 1.5-litre turbocharged four-cylinder, it makes 131kW at 6000rpm and 240Nm from 1700-4500rpm when running on standard 91 RON fuel; fill it with 95 RON and you’ll get a little power boost to 134kW. This engine comes backed by a CVT automatic with a simulated seven-speed manual mode, and like all Civic variants the VTi LX is front-wheel drive.

Certainly, the little turbo four-pot is a peppy engine, with the improved responsiveness Honda boasts about being clearly felt. Mid-range torque is pretty impressive for an engine of such low displacement making acceleration feel progressive, while there’s just a hint of that classic VTEC touch at the top end of the rev range. On that topic, Honda’s iconic variable valve timing system has been added to the exhaust valves as well as the intake valves.

However, this engine being a good little unit comes as no surprise as we all know Honda knows how to build a decent engine. What is more of a surprise is the CVT transmission which is far better than I was expecting. Honda has updated it to feel as though its ‘stepping’ through gears like a traditional automatic transmission, and it does a pretty good job of it for the most part – only once or twice can I recall feeling that unwanted ‘rubber band’ sensation from it. Do I think the CVT is in keeping with this new premium image? No, but it’s no big mark against the Civic in the grand scheme of things as it works better than a dual-clutch transmission would in traffic and is smaller and lighter than a torque converter auto.

The other thing we know Honda can do is build a car that handles brilliantly, and it’s here that the Civic excels most. The summation of its more rigid chassis, lighter weight, and sticky tyres is clearly felt when you pitch it into a corner. Its steering is sharp, precise, and ideally weighted; it’s easy to place the Civic where you want it on the road; and the grip and body control is fantastic. It feels genuinely, thoroughly sporty – no doubt about it.

Mind you, this sportiness does mean there’s the compromise of a firmer ride, but it’s not so firm that it becomes grating at any point. What does become rather grating, though, is the sheer amount of road noise in this cabin. Although Honda claims it has gone to many measures to reduce road noise, there’s plenty of it to be heard at any speed above 60km/h, which is something that really rather spoils that ‘premium’ feel. A great shame, seeing as the rest of the driving experience hits right on the mark.

At least the Civic’s diminutive size and light weight help afford it impressive fuel economy. Without really trying, and with the air con blasting in the Adelaide summer heat, I saw fuel consumption of just 7.0L/100km over the course of my 379km of testing – impressive when compared with the 6.3L/100km combined cycle claim. Mind you, it does only have a small 47-litre fuel tank.

As with all Honda models, the 2023 Civic VTi LX is covered by a five-year unlimited kilometre warranty. Honda also offers five years of capped price servicing, and although service intervals are short on distance at every 12 months/10,000km, each visit to the dealer is very cheap at $199.

However, I can’t avoid circling back to that price tag which most certainly isn’t cheap. Looking around at other hatchbacks, that $47,200 price tag stands out like a sore thumb even with on-road costs included. A Volkswagen Golf 110TSI R-Line is just $39,990 before on-road costs. A Mazda3 Astina is $39,690 for the G25 model and $42,690 for the supercharged X20 Skyactiv-X model. Even a Hyundai i30 N manual is $46,200 before on-roads, and that’s a class above in terms of performance.

That price problem is unfortunately the Honda Civic’s undoing. In almost every way, this is a truly impressive car. Styling, interior design, performance, dynamics, efficiency… it’s got it all in spades. However, it’s just too expensive for its own good. Cheap servicing at least gives it one plus point in that regard, but it’s never going to be a volume seller at that price point.

Honda, of course, knows that to be the case – that’s why there’s no cheap, stripped-out base model available. However, were the Civic not a little bit cheaper, you have to wonder if it would tempt at least some people away from getting an SUV. Certainly, its good looks and charming dynamics should be enough to convert anyone in my eyes.

2023 Honda Civic VTi LX Drive-Away Price: $47,200
  • 8/10
    Performance - 8/10
  • 8.5/10
    Ride & Handling - 8.5/10
  • 8/10
    Tech & Features - 8/10
  • 8/10
    Practicality - 8/10
  • 6.5/10
    Value for Money - 6.5/10

Pros: Superb chassis, stylish looks, effortlessly economical, roomy interior with good visibility
Cons: Far too expensive relative to rivals, ride is on the firmer side, many features you’d like to have are limited to the e:HEV LX

In a nutshell: The 2023 Honda Civic VTi LX is undoubtedly a good car, with its charming good looks and fabulous chassis giving it an advantage over many rivals. However, the relatively massive purchase price and missing features such as parking sensors or a sunroof mean it falls short on value.

Full Disclosure: The vehicle tested here was provided by Honda Australia for a week with a full tank of fuel.

Patrick Jackson
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