THE cousin never stops talking about a little Japanese import he had a few years ago that apparently went on a sniff of diesel fume. Listening to him (and we did, we did) we got the impression he only filled it once in his three years of ownership.
I don't know how many similar claims and conversations I've had with hundreds like him about what a car can 'do'.
Of course, the figures meld into urban myths: 45mpg becomes 50mpg and so on. I still think if you get 45mpg in everyday terms you are doing well.
Carmakers are doing themselves, and more importantly us, no good at all with some of their outrageous claims – such as 75mpg.
They get away with a lot because they are allowed all sorts of 'get outs' to arrive at these 'official figures'. They are allowed to use the slimmest and slickest of tyres, drive over the smoothest of surfaces, etc.
In fairness to them, on another front, they have drastically cut consumption through engine technology in particular. But let's be realistic with the MPG, okay? Which is what I said to myself when the lady from Honda said the new 1.6-litre Civic diesel could do 1,000 kilometres on one tank. Honda does claim fuel consumption of 3.6l/100km or 78mpg. See what I mean?
This is the smallest diesel it has made. In reality, it is only the second one. Honda was late coming to the conclusion that diesels were part and parcel of tomorrow's world – and that was yesterday. It has a 2.2-litre as well. It, too, is surprisingly frugal for its size – it only costs €10 a year more on road tax in several Civic models. But we still have this hang-up about size. A 1.6-litre, at least, is a must in a small-family hatch, especially one as light as this.
The 1.6-litre was decently powerful and nippy, with maybe a bit too much growl in the higher revs of the lower gears, but with an impressive amount of pulling power. The big thing is that it is deemed to be as frugal/green as a Toyota Prius on emissions. It invokes exactly the same road tax based on emissions.
The thing to look for here is the link between emissions and mpg. Lower emissions = lower fuel consumption.
So I welcomed it to the real world.
I drove it like a golfer on a good day – long and short, rough and smooth. There's an eco-assist system that indicates how harshly or economically you are driving. I took no notice. I drove my normal game.
I did so in a cabin that is different to most in this small-family class. There's a sweeping dash with big numbers and figures updating in front of your eyes on the large dials for speedo/radio/temperature, etc.
I'm still not happy with the spoiler-split rear screen and the effect it has on me, psychologically, about visibility. I want a big, deep clear screen, not one that has a terrier's tail of a wiper to clear a small crescent area.
Quite the opposite at the front, where I had great visibility (good wing mirrors, too). The seats are really strong and there was plenty of adjusting on them because I like to sit fairly high.
Incidentally, you could be forgiven for thinking this was a three-door hatch.
That's because it has, rather cleverly, positioned the rear handles up in the angle of the back door. Neat. Does wonders for how the car looks.
By the way, it has these 'magic seats' that fold and lift up and lock into place, depending on what you want. They split 60:40 so you get as much boot space as 1,200 litres with them lying flat.
The way it has the Civic set up to drive and handle means you don't notice the clatter of tyres on holes, scars and bumps on roads. Good tyres and decent suspension made it so easy to drive. It is a much bigger, sturdier car than you would think to look at. Not as good a handler as the Ford Focus or as big and roomy as the Skoda Octavia, but a thoroughly sound hatch with a touch of the upmarket about it.
Anyway, the real purpose of the test was the 1.6-litre diesel and I can only give you the figures on my drive as they evolved.
The tank holds 50 litres, which is a thimbleful short of 11 gallons.
After 520km in the Civic (last week I put up 1,000km in other cars) I still had 478km left in the tank according to the computer. If driven, the total would have been 998km (620 miles). That, I reckon, is 56.4mpg, give or take a sip or two.
That is excellent – in my real world of driving on highways or some muddy byways.
Wait til I get the cousin.
Honda CiviC i-Dtec ES
* Honda Civic i-DTEC ES: five-door hatchback, 1.6-litre diesel, 120bhp, 94g/km, €180 road tax, six-speed manual gearbox.
* Standard equipment on ES test car included dual-zone climate control, six airbags, 16-inch alloys, cruise control with speed limiter, remote audio controls, electric windows, USB/aux input sockets, electric mirrors, Isofix child-seat points, front fogs, auto-dusk sensing headlights, rain sensing wipers, stop/start, and hill start assist.
* Price: €25,095 for model on test. Range starts at €21,895 for 1.4-litre petrol. Diesels start from €23,975. Remember, delivery and related charges are extra.