Motoring: Independent Road Test: Civic pride given a flash of colour: Brett Fraser drives Honda's new coupe, aimed at drivers who want a bit of dash for not much cash

In America, where the new Civic Coupe is made, Hondas are comparatively inexpensive, and are bought by young people, or bought for them: 'Hey, Brad. Off to college? Here, have a Honda.' In Britain, however, despite the millions Honda has poured into Formula One racing, its image is considerably more mature, so the Coupe has to entice the younger buyer.

It hits British streets with the best selling point of all: a price of pounds 10,495 in base-model trim, which makes it one of the cheapest coupes on the market (the rather inept Hyundai S-coupe MVTi costs only a couple of hundred pounds less). For an extra pounds 1,000, the LSi version we tested offers electric windows, mirrors and sunroof. Alloy wheels for a further pounds 500 are optional - and if you buy a coupe because you want to look flash, plastic wheel-trims can seriously damage your street cred.

Compared with the Honda CRX coupe of a couple of years ago, also based on the Civic, the new coupe's styling borders on the austere. It looks like a sleeker, two-door version of the Civic saloon, and though there is nothing wrong with that, it may seem a bit grown-up for the young buyers Honda is seeking. Perhaps that is why it is offering a choice of zappy paint colours.

Sadly, the interior lacks spice. The facia is a copy of the Civic hatch/saloon version, a neat design made of high- quality plastics with well-sited controls, but short on excitement. If you can live with the dour black-and-grey colour scheme, at least the cabin is comfortable. The front seats are well shaped for bum and back, and though they feel rather firm at first, their virtues are obvious after a long journey. Back-seat passengers will grumble because the headlining grazes the hair-do of anyone approaching 6ft tall, but by the standards of most coupes, the Civic offers a reasonable amount of space in the back seats and the boot.

It is tempting to think of coupes as sports cars, but some, the Honda among them, are simply more stylish versions of a saloon and hatchback range. Although the Civic line-up presents some highly sophisticated engines, the Coupe makes do with a comparatively humble 1.5-litre four-cylinder unit, knocking out 102bhp. It is a genteel performer up to 4,000rpm, at which point it becomes more macho.

Forget any idea of coupes as sports cars, keep the Civic's price in mind, and it will rise in your estimation. Its 118mph top speed and 0-60mph time of 10 seconds are quite adequate for most drivers. More importantly, the car's other dynamic qualities are better than you might expect for the money.

Apart from a little too much road and tyre noise, the Civic is admirably sophisticated. Its floorpan is based on that of the saloon, whose longer wheelbase offers a suppleness of ride the hatchback versions cannot match. Despite a slight jitteriness at low speeds, the Coupe rides far better than any other small Honda. Steering is light yet accurate, and although roadholding is not as good as that of the hottest hatchbacks, body roll is controlled to reduce the drama of cornering.

If you are tired of being one of the GTi crowd, you should test-drive the Honda Civic Coupe. It does have a certain style, and it enables you to be different without incurring a premium.

COMPARISONS

Hyundai S-coupe MVTi pounds 11,299. The only other coupe in the Civic's price bracket, this turbocharged Hyundai is quick and well equipped, but that's the end of its attributes.

Peugeot 106XSi pounds 10,495

The whizzo little Peugeot is cheaper than the Honda, and much more fun, but buzzy on the motorway.

Seat Ibiza GTi pounds 11,250

A 2.0-litre engine gives Seat's striking hatchback low-down punch and flexibility, and strong all-out performance. Top-notch build-quality.

SPECIFICATIONS

Honda Civic Coupe LSi pounds 11,495 Engine: 1493cc, four cylinders, 102bhp at 5,000rpm. Five-speed gearbox, front-wheel drive. Performance: top speed 118mph, 0-60mph in 10 seconds. Fuel consumption 28-38mpg.

(Photograph omitted)

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