FINDING happy campers in the motor industry these days is a rare event, but Honda is bucking the trend. At a time when new car sales are forecast to fall six per cent on top of last year's disastrous figures, Universal Honda bosses here are forecasting an increase of up to 29 per cent.
Last year, Honda's sales were up by 11 per cent at a time when the market dropped 12 per cent. The extraordinary prediction by marketing and sales director, Frank Kennedy, for this year is based not so much on the model line-up but on an engine. "We haven't reinvented the wheel – just the engine," is his new mantra.
The reason for the euphoria is the long-awaited arrival of a new lightweight 1.6 iTDEC for the Civic model, which up to now relied on a 2.2-litre diesel unit. The engine is mated to a new six-speed gearbox and the Civic gets revised suspension and steering settings for a more fluid drive.
The engine is 54kg lighter than the 2.2 unit, which is still available, and Honda boasts that it outperforms the diesel units in the VW Golf 1.6 TDi Trendline and Ford Focus 1.6 TDi Edge in terms of bhp (120 vs 105 and 95bhp), torque (300NM vs 250 and 230NM), C02 emissions (94 g/km vs 99 and 109g/km) and in fuel consumption (3.6L/100km vs 3.9 and 4.2L/100km).
Honda prices range from €23,975 to €28,330, with the standard SE version getting climate control, stop-start, remote audio controls and front-centre armrest. The compact Civic hatchback design makes for easy town driving and the new high performance engine has class- leading economy with Honda trumpeting 3.6L/100km (78.5 mpg), which will appeal to the long-range driver.
The Civic now has a more subdued noise coming from under the bonnet and the power weight ratio gives a lively drive without too much financial pain. Driving correctly over 15,000km a year will cost just €826 for diesel, which Honda says is several percentage points better than the most popular rivals.
Honda plans to sell 600 Civic models with the new engine this year, with a further 200 sales for petrol-powered versions and 75 buyers opting for the 2.2-litre version.