Honda Civic 1.8 i-Vtec



Price: £17,995
Engine: 1,798cc, four cylinders, 142bhp
Transmission: six-speed gearbox, front-wheel drive.
Performance:134mph, 0-62 in 9.1sec, 47.1mpg official average, CO2 143g/km (137g/km for entry SE model)

Time flies. This is the ninth generation of Honda's Civic, the car that is the epicentre of the Japanese company's range. Who could have foreseen that founder Soichiro Honda's disastrous idea of a 1300cc family car with an air-cooled flat-four engine, would turn, in 1972, into the first Civic, a car of neat design but normal architecture, and that almost 40 years later, it would still be going strong.

The Civic that has just stopped rolling down the production lines at Honda's Swindon factory, where 80 per cent of the cars it sells in the UK are made, was a dramatic-looking, futuristic car outside and in. It represented the manic side of Honda's slightly bipolar personality, in opposition to the forgettable Accord, curious CR-V and grey-pound Jazz.

But the lack of a rear wiper – droplet-dispersing aerodynamics are little use in slow traffic – and the abrupt ride that resulted from a most unHonda-like, torsion-beam rear suspension, annoyed buyers. So the latest Civic seeks to keep the good and banish the bad. The style is similar, but more voluptuous and less taut. The rear lights are oddly protruberant, and joined via a strip of red which contains the central brake light. The bar this forms sits lower than the previous Civic's rear-window divider, so the upper window is larger with space for a wiper. Some of the unusual details of the old car – the triangular front foglights and rear exhaust pipes, the rhomboid recesses for the front door handles – have gone, but the hidden handles for rear doors remain.

Inside, it's a smarter, plusher, higher-quality, slightly less extreme version of what went before. The rev-counter is still dead ahead of the driver, and fairly normal dials sit either side, all of them in deep bezels. As before, a digital speedometer sits above, much further away so your eyes can easily focus on it. Also as before, you have to set the steering wheel lower than you otherwise might to stop the rim obscuring the speedometer. Segments either side of the speedo change colour according to how economically you are driving.

You'll be able to drive extra-economically when the hybrid version arrives, but for now the engine line-up is much as before: a 100bhp 1.4, a 142bhp 1.8 and a 150bhp, 2.2-litre turbodiesel. All have six-speed gearboxes, with a five-speed automatic optional in the 1.8. Also as before is the clever placement of the fuel tank under the front floor, freeing-up space under the moveable rear cushions for carrying tall objects.

As promised, this new Civic is a much more restful drive. Bumps seem distant now despite the retention of the torsion beam; clever fluid-filled mountings are why. The 1.8 proves particularly comfortable, yet much of the old feeling of precision and alertness remains.

The electric power steering feels more natural than some such systems, and the 1.8 feels just as a keen Honda should. By contrast the diesel feels unwilling relative to its better rivals, lacking the easy surge of energy that such engines usually possess nowadays. This is strange; in the outgoing Civic, the punchy diesel was the star and the 1.8 felt a bit flat.

So, a better Civic? It's more pleasing to travel in, and better equipped with hi-tech gadgets, including an automatic braking system. It's still a radical-looking car by most standards, but not so much as to frighten buyers away. If you want a diesel you should look elsewhere (probably at the Volkswagen Golf). The Civic 1.8, however, could make a very satisfying buy.