Honda Civic 1.5L RS Review: Do You Really Need That SUV?

Why buy an SUV when the new Honda Civic is a definitionally-perfect Sport Utility Vehicle?

For those in the market for a new car these days, many will have likely earmarked an SUV or a crossover of sort as their first choice. Such is after all the allure of being able to sit high up from the ground and the promise of more space with these jacked-up vehicles, that the entire auto industry has now essentially put stilts on nearly every model in its lineup. 

Having recently spent a few days with the latest Civic however, I had come away from it with one rather nagging question, and that is do you really need that SUV? So, instead of just providing a simple review of what is actually a rather good Honda, what I shall attempt to do here is also attempt to justify that not everyone really needs to go for the CR-V.

Now let’s start big first and well, discuss the big-ness of SUVs. Most people who want these high-riding boxes on wheels tend to desire them precisely for their practicality, which is typically (and not entirely wrongly) thought to inherently come from their comparatively larger size against its sedan alternative. 

Though those large exterior dimensions of the SUVs don’t always translate to interior practicality, as exemplified by the slightly more compact Civic to actually somehow have a boot volume than a Mazda CX-5. And just to back up the fact that this Honda really has enough cargo capacity for 99% of anyone’s use case with a real-world example, its 497-litre boot was indeed more than capable of swallowing all the baggage five lads needed for a 3-day road trip to Penang. 

Continuing too a little more on the topic of practicality, I am happy to report that the aforementioned 5 lads were all decently comfortable within this Civic throughout the nearly 24-hours spent in it during the road trip. A sleek and sporty sedan it may be, but there was nevertheless more than enough room up front for the six-foot driver and copilot, while space out back was also sufficient for three lanky adults to sit abreast behind as well (with headroom to spare for the six-footers too, courtesy of some rather steeply-reclinable rear seats).  

Most impressive though with regards to the size aspect of this Civic is that while it certainly ain’t the tiny car it originally was for quite a while already, it does still feel like a smaller car to drive than its practicality might lead one to believe. A feat which neatly segues into the highlighting for this particular Honda sedan to also have rather competently ticked off the ‘Sport’ bit in SUV name. 

On the handling side of things, the Civic’s steering is weighty and communicative enough for the driver to confidently whack it into a corner at speeds that is best not publicly disclosed. Its multi-link rear suspension meanwhile gives it a rather lithe and nimble quality to most importantly miss the tree that most actual SUVs will have already inevitably understeered into after the corner, and hence further enable its the driver to carry on whacking it through the subsequent corners. 

Rather happily as well, on the power front meanwhile, the 1.5-litre turbocharged four-cylinder under the hood of this Civic does certainly provide more-than-adequate shove (as well as a rather raspy exhaust note) for the driver of this surprisingly light (1.36 tonne) sedan to have some fun with it. Oh, and while some custodians of older Civics may complain that this 11th generation is perhaps more mature (read: dull) than its fizzy predecessors from the days gone by, this enhanced grown-up attitude does nevertheless also come with the rather neat side-benefit of still feeling planted to allegedly about 70 km/h over the legal speed limit.  

In just going further on a little tangent on how the maturing Civic is actually a good thing too, the cleaner and sleeker (and incidentally almost Accord-like) exterior aesthetic of this latest iteration is certainly a marked improvement (at least in my eyes) to its overstyled Gundam-spec predecessor. Though perhaps more pertinent to Malaysians is that in spite of its more demure face, the Civic still certainly has sufficient on-road presence to still be rather capable in “persuading” traffic in shifting to the slower lanes on the highway without much fuss at all.  

Now getting back to making the case for a Civic as an SUV, it has to be conceded that the comfort most people undeniably get from sitting higher up in a proper SUV is unfortunately not to be replicated in this low-slung Civic. But what the Civic can offer in its place instead is a genuinely more comfortable ride than at least any of the higher-riding Honda alternatives, and this is in spite of this RS variant tested here riding on its low-profile 18-inch tyres. 

Sure, the Civic is admittedly still a bit more stiffly sprung than the pillowy-soft Corolla counterpart, but it is to be a Rolls-Royce in comparison to say, the new HR-V. And while some may not be overly keen on the more laidback driving position inherent with this sedan (relative to the upright style in an SUV), ample cushioning, especially for the rear, means the seats are to be more than perfectly comfortable even for those who have been confined to it for five hours straight. Those with flatter arses might be wanting a bit more padding if designated to either two (albeit well-sculpted) chairs up front though. 

As for other aspects of refinement meanwhile, wind and road noise in the Civic is low up front while being bearable behind. Rain noise is similarly dampened well enough also to still be capable of holding a decent conversation while the heavens decide to open, with the 8-speaker sound system being slightly above decent for a car of this price point too. 

And on a similar note of things being more than decent for the money as well, Honda has done rather well for itself in making the Civic’s interior at least look premium. The rather stylish metallic honeycomb vent design along the dashboard and decently padded door tops does a pretty good job in covering up the existence of other harder and tackier plastic trim further down below, as well as a pretty low resolution (non-surround view) reversing camera. 

In any case, just wrapping things up regarding this Civic here, while it may not be perhaps the best car to be in when caught in a flash flood, what this humble Honda sedan could offer instead is about the equivalent space as an SUV, with actually more grace and pace than its higher-riding counterpart. So what this essentially means is that for those who are going to be checking out at the new CR-V, maybe spend some time looking over the Civic too, just to see if it could actually be all the SUV that you really need.  

Odds & Ends

  • In a world of USB-C, it is interesting to note than the Honda Civic still uses USB-A for all its available ports.

  • Honda LaneWatch is still rather hopeless at night, and rather annoying/dangerous when it cuts off the Waze map on the central screen. Having the arrow direction relayed on the instrument cluster is however a decent-enough workaround for the latter issue. 

  • The auto-dimming rear view mirror on this Civic works amazingly well. And in fact might be a little too well, as there were occasions where I at least didn’t actually notice when someone is high beaming you from behind. 
  • The adaptive cruise control system in this Civic is actually rather decent. While as the driver I may have found it a tad too eager on the brakes when activated, my passengers on the other hand reported that they could not detect that I’m on the cruise or not (which could serve testament to either the cruise being good or my highway driving being bad).

  • Having the door lock and unlock buttons on both the driver and front passenger door panels is a surprisingly useful feature to have on hand, especially for those times when the driver is something at the petrol station shop while everyone elects to stay in the car and enjoy the air-con instead. 
  • While it may perhaps be a fluke, but it was discovered for this particular Civic on test here to have wireless Android Auto and wired Apple CarPlay, which was opposite to what was advertised in the brochure. 
  • Funnily enough for the supposedly sportiest-looking Honda Civic, this 1.5L RS variant is actually the slowest Civic in the current lineup, with an official claimed 0-100 km/h of 8.5 seconds. But honestly, it is faster than most people will ever want it to be. In fact, the eco drive mode is realistically more than enough even for exuberant driving, with the Sport setting seemingly just there to make everything that little bit more shouty. 

  • Rather impressively, in spite of all the rather heavy-footed driving, the Civic still managed to achieve a reasonable 9 km/litre fuel consumption on a mix of highway, city and backroad blasts. Now sure, it might be way off the near 16 km/litre Honda claims it could do, but it is all but likely still better than what any equivalent SUV could achieve under the same conditions. 

Honda Civic 1.5L RS Technical Specifications

Engine: 4 Cylinder, 16 Valve, DOHC VTEC Turbo 

Capacity: 1,498 cc

Gearbox: Continuous Variable Transmission (CVT)

Max Power: 182 PS @ 6,000 rpm

Max Torque: 240 Nm @ 1,700 – 4,500 rpm

Top Speed: 200 km/h

0-100 km/h: 8.5 seconds

Fuel Consumption: 6.3 L/100 km

Price: RM 151,900

Joshua Chin

Automotive journalist. Professional work on and Personal writing found at Instagram: @driveeveryday

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