It is as perky as its chief rival, the Focus


Would suit: 'Red Dwarf' fans
Price: £18,100
Performance: 127 mph, 0-62mph in 8.6 seconds
Economy: 55.4mpg
Further information: 0845 200 8000

Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the car of the future... as seen from 1988. This is the new Honda Civic: a car which looks like a 20-year old styling exercise from a studio in Shinjuku, but is in fact built in Swindon, today.

It has a scarab-like shape with concealed rear doors, all the better to make you think it's a coupé; a double-decker dashboard which looks like a Wurlitzer jukebox designed by Bang & Olufsen; and triangular twin exhaust pipes built into the rear valence (a trick first seen with the " rocket ship" styling of American cars of the 1950s). The door handle is a floating lever in a kite-shaped recess; when you pull it, you half expect it to make one of those sci-fi "shhhh-um" door-opening noises. And to top it all there is the rear spoiler, integral to, and horizontally bisecting, the rear window so that it has glass above and below. It knocks the new Citroën C6's rear window - which manages to be both concave and convex - into a cocked hat.

I tried the top of the range 2.2-litre diesel version. There's the usual gravel-in-a-tin-bucket rattle at idle but at speed, a cheery turbo whistle takes over. This used to be a turbo's way of reminding you not to overtake anyone suddenly, as it wouldn't have had time to spool up the power, and you'd be left pottering and panicking into oncoming traffic, but the Civic's thrust comes almost immediately. It's a fun drive - light, agile, yet with a splendidly comfortable ride. It is as perky as its chief rival, the Focus, and thanks to those Space 1999 aesthetics, considerably more charismatic.

Honda is one of the great car makers of our time which, personally, made the brittle cheapness of some of the plastic bits tantamount to a betrayal. That spangly silver, plastic petrol flap is an abomination, for instance, and the steering wheel annoyed me from the start because my unusually short arms (a sign of intelligence, I maintain) couldn't reach it. The wheel is a messy collage of leather, plastic, various buttons (wheels, flaps and pushers) and, inexplicably, a tiny filet of mesh on the middle spoke. Bizarre. On the dashboard there's a scattering of knobs and buttons, some of them duplicating the other controls just centimetres away, and a low roof that is definitely going to result in serious hair issues for six footers. This new Civic is lower and shorter than the last model, but it feels disconcertingly broad. I spent some minutes sat behind an Audi A8 in traffic on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice during the launch, and I'd swear I was in the wider car.

None of these faults should put you off buying a Civic if the Blake's 7 look floats your boat, but I feel duty bound to warn you that it will probably all start to look very dated right about... now.

PS: Having been tiresomely sanctimonious about the lavish hospitality/institutionalised bribery of car launches in the past, I would like to point out that I accepted no hospitality from Honda, and went to Nice and back in a day (despite dropping hints about feeling tired and in need of five-star pampering). Meanwhile, some journalists who shall remain nameless, stayed at the Four Seasons, with their wives. It can only be a matter of time before a company offers journos the chance to stay at the Four Seasons with someone else's wife. Rest assured I shall make my excuses.

It's a classic Honda S800 convertible

My favourite classic Honda has to be the dinky little S800 convertible. You don't really get a sense of just how tiny this car is from photographs but, I assure you, if you ever encountered one in the flesh you could quite easily mistake it for one of those cars Barbie tools around in.

One of the reasons for its diminutive scale was that the S800 was powered by a development of a Honda motorcycle engine. This meant that, though the top speed was limited, the 781cc engine would rev to an ear-splitting 11,000rpm.

It would seem that all of Honda's engineering budget went into the engine, however, as the rest of the car was, even for 1966, primitive with a separate chassis and, on early cars (badged S500s) a chain drive to the rear wheels. There was a coupé, with a hatchback rear door, but the convertible is the most desirable model. Rust, however, has claimed many if not most S800s.

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