Smaller diesel engine gives Honda Civic a bigger chance
IT is a sign of really competitive times when a company describes the unveiling of a new engine as the most important launch in its recent history.
That is exactly what Honda are saying about their new sub-100k/gm 1.6-litre diesel which debuts here in the Civic.
The reason for such historical hyperbole is that the 1.6-litre, with an impressive 120bhp muscle, and a mere 84g/km (€180 a year in road tax) in emissions, finally provides them with a level playing pitch to match their key rivals.
Up to now they've had the larger – if excellent – 2.2-litre, but truth be told it was just that bit too large for many potential Civic buyers.
Mind you, it didn't stop 187 of them buying one last year.
But this new kid on the block will attract far more, the strategists at the Japanese maker reckon.
Even allowing for some cannibalisation of existing powerplants in the range, they reckon 600 buyers will opt for the new 1.6 i-DTEC this year.
That's a lot of people, and money, at times like this. You can see why it is such an important engine. Not only that, but it will make the crossover/SUV CR-V a far tastier proposition in the autumn when it slots in under the bonnet of a two-wheel-drive version.
The 1.6-litre diesel Civic now costs around €2,000 less than the same ES car with the 2.2-litre (€25,095 vs €26,995 ex-works). The diesel range starts at €23,975 ex-works.
That puts the car right in the sparring zone with the likes of the Ford Focus and Volkswagen Golf, something they were not really able to do in the diesel area before.
Honda make no secret of their targets and went to great lengths to compare and contrast the prowess of their cars and spec levels over the other two giants of the small-family segment. It means, for the first time, they can go chase buyers at the lower-to-middle section of the market.
But the story doesn't end there. Because the engine is 50kg lighter, Honda took the opportunity to do a bit of nip and tuck. They revised the suspension and steering.
So we took the new combination for a good and varied run out through west Dublin on Monday. First, there was little or no diesel clatter or rattle on start-up.
Secondly it had loads of pulling power (torque) in what were difficult enough driving conditions.
And thirdly, the car's revised handling setup came across as being that bit sharper. There was better balance in cornering and overall the Civic has gone up a notch. Not as far as the two main rivals on handling and ride, perhaps, but they've given it a bit more verve to go with a really solid, well-built car now.
All of which points to why they are saying it is such an important piece of engineering for them as they face into a future that will continue to take diesel to its heart. And to think that just a few years ago, Honda didn't have a diesel engine of any sort.