Friday, 18 April 2008

Hate Something, Change Something

Here’s a thing: I wrote this weeks ago, decided I was being a bit harsh and parked it. Then I decided perhaps I wasn’t being so harsh so here we are:

So after a false start, the Civic was finally delivered a few weeks ago and has immediately been pressed into service as family taxi, due for a life of hundreds of suburban middle-class family-life type trips.

First impressions were that the ‘revolutionary’ Euro Civic design isn’t as revolutionary as it seemed to be at launch two years ago, and that it really isn’t far removed from other current mainstream hatches. Ok, front light/trim strip is striking, and the multi-level dash is unusual, and the way it sweeps around either side of the wheel does put the varied minor controls close to hand, even if you have to make sure it doesn’t kneecap you on entry. The start button also works better than you might think: put key in, turn one click, push button (handily close to the key) and away you go. The wheel, unusually for an entry level spec. mid-size hatch, adjusts for reach and rake. And its just as well it does; the flip side to putting the fuel tank under the front seats to give the spacious rear compartment a usefully low, flat floor is that the driver’s seat is higher than you really want.

Although there does seem to be a modern trend of adjusting one’s seat height to the top most position available (judging by the number of folks you see around with their scalps pressed against the roof lining) I’m more of a sit-on-the-floor-wheel-in your-chest-like-in-the-DTM sort of bloke. I'm sure Ralph the Shoemaker isn't going to have to sit on the fuel tank of his Merc.....

The Civic is another modern that suffers from an intrusive ‘A’ pillar, and moving the seat around doesn’t make much difference to the view out, so you develop a head wobble at junctions to allow you to spot on-coming 40-tonne artics that would otherwise spoil your day. The rear view is also problematic; a combination of large C pillars, a split rear screen and rear head restraints reduce visibility to that of an early KdF-Wagen. Oh well; retro-fit beepers are available.

A longer cross country run to a children’s activity zoo presented an opportunity to get acquainted with the chassis. In 16” wheeled SE form, it’s on a par with peers – competent, but not much more. The ride, however, is mercifully compliant in comparison with peers equipped with ‘Sport’ suspension, and body roll is not going to produce sea sickness in the children.

And yet the overall Civic driving experience is overwhelmingly dominated by two features, one excellent, the other excruciatingly what-were-they-thinking-of? bad.

The Good
Sing it Like you Hate it - that damn motor is tremendous. For a 4-pot diesel, its also very quiet – from cold there’s no clatter like two Navies banging in an iron spike with their spades, and at any kind of speed the whisper of turbulence around the A pillar has a far higher decibel count than the engine. The thrum-free power deliver is also much more linear that the VAG oil burners I’ve experienced; torque builds steadily from 800rpm through to 3000 rpm, without that nothing-nothing-WHAM! big bloody thump its so difficult to drive around in the VAG cars. At less than 400 miles, its still very tight, so I’d expect to see the 44mpg improve as it loosens, and the slight reluctance to run a much less than 40mph in 5th also improve.

Sometimes its good to hate something.

The Very Bad
Like I hate this. It was Honda’s stated aim that the ’06 Civic was to reduce the average age of their buyers from the 70’s. Funky non-fogey friendly design appears to have achieved that objective, so why on earth does the steering has so much assistance that a withered 90 year old spinster could happily turn it with her little finger?

And not only that, but so feel-free is the thing in use that the family’s Logitech PS2 wheel (ok, it has 'Force Feedback') gives you a better idea of what’s happening at the front wheels. So you drive around trying not to constantly overcorrect, holding the anesthetised wheel between finger tips, and forcing yourself not to lean on the rim for the remotest of support in corners, lest you spear off into the verge.

I know that even the Type R version suffers a little of the inevitable electric-assisted numbness, and that the diesel lump will add to the nose weight, but never has my experience of any car been so dominated by such a misguided dynamic feature. So much so that I really do think Honda needs to get a dealer retro-fit fix out.

Anyone listening in over there in Datchet?

PS Be very careful searching for 'Camel' on ebay images......

No comments: