Japanese manufacturer has finally introduced its own 1.6-litre engine

Price: From £19,400, Civic (petrol) prices from £16,955

Engine: 1.6-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel

Transmission: Six-speed manual

Power: 120 PS at 4,000 rpm

Torque: 300 Nm at 2,000 rpm

Fuel consumption (combined cycle): 78.5 mpg*

CO2 emissions: 94 g/km*

Top speed: 129 mph

Acceleration (0-62 mph): 10.5 seconds

All real car fans like Honda. It’s very good at engines, and you always have the feeling that it’s just about the most “engineering-led” mainstream car manufacturer. Sometimes, though, you’d have to admit that the product planners and marketing people should probably have been allowed a bit more influence.

Honda didn’t produce its own diesel engine, usually considered essential for success in the European market, until 2003 - although predictably, when it did turn up, it was one that set a very high standard indeed. That engine, which had a capacity of 2.2 litres, was subsequently replaced by another of the same size which has been the only diesel engine offered in UK market Honda cars.

While the 2.2 still does a pretty good job, especially in the latest version of the CR-V SUV, the centre of gravity, especially in the market for Golf-sized cars such as the Civic, has shifted towards smaller, lighter lower-emission diesels with a capacity of 1.5 or 1.6 litres, That’s where the big sales are. But Honda, absorbed in fascinating projects like the CR-Z, the only petrol hybrid model with a manual gearbox, and the brilliant low-volume hydrogen fuel-cell-powered FCX Clarity, failed to provide a diesel engine of that size - a big self-inflicted disadvantage, especially in the emissions and taxation conscious company car market.

Until now that is, because Honda has finally bowed to the inevitable and at last introduced its own 1.6. It appears first in the Civic but will also make its way into the CR-V next year. In both cases, it will slot in alongside the existing 2.2, rather than replace it. Like Honda’s original diesel launch back in 2003, the arrival of the 1.6 is long overdue, but history is also repeating itself in one other respect; the new engine makes up for its late appearance by leap-frogging much of the competition. That much is clear even before you try it – with a power output of 120 PS, CO2 emissions of 94g/km and combined cycle fuel consumption of 78.5 mpg, the new engine puts the Civic towards the top of the class for both power on the one hand and economy on the other.

And the on-the-road experience largely lives up to the promise held out by those figures. The new engine is smooth and quiet. There’s no real diesel clatter, but there’s a slight drone in the mid-range, and that’s about it. A stop-start system cuts the engine at rest and a smooth new six-speed manual gearbox makes the most of the power that’s available when you’re on the move.

The other notable thing about the new Honda diesel is that it’s very light for its type, which means that the Civic escapes that nose-heavy feeling that affects most other smallish diesel cars.

For the rest, the Civic is pretty much as before. Its unusual interior, in particular its split level, space-ship-style part digital/part dial-based instrument panel is a bit of an acquired taste, but this car is also, as the old estate agent’s cliché has it, deceptively spacious. In fact Honda reckons it provides more room for passengers and their luggage than just about any of its competitors, a claim that seems unlikely given the Civic’s distinctly flowing, unboxy appearance but which does seem less implausible once you start poking around in the luggage compartment and trying out the rear seat.

The new 1.6 diesel engine will provide Honda with a big boost, especially in the company car market, but now the company needs to turn its attention to another pressing issue. Like the other Japanese manufacturers, Honda has been caught napping by the European car-makers’ advances in the down-sizing and turbocharging of petrol engines in Golf-sized cars, and it has nothing to rival Ford’s 1.0-litre three-cylinder EcoBoost engine, or Volkswagen’s 1.2 TSI power unit. But we know Honda is working on it and we know from past experience that in this area too, Honda’s effort, while late, is likely to be very good indeed.

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