Here's what happens when you give Honda Civic the saloon treatment
More substantial ‘sedan’ costs €1,000 extra — but a few foibles irritate
It can be surprising - and wonderful - to see how a few changes, such as a hairdo/cut, a restyle or a bit of added colour can make such a difference to not only how we look but feel. I've seen people emerge from hair salons elated with their new cut or style. Same person; different look; big smile.
It can work the other way too. I have to admit my visits to the barber are now punctuated with the regret of seeing such a steady encroachment of grey.
Momentary vanity sometimes prompts thoughts of a little colour, maybe more volume, but they are quickly suppressed. I'm a realist; some things cannot be helped.
Honda have done something akin to putting a few extensions into their Civic range by bringing in a new four-door saloon.
Up to now, there was just the single, if colourful, choice of the stylistically challenging five-door hatchback.
I have seldom seen such a transformation of a car's entire appearance from the few broad strokes that constitute the emergence of the saloon.
It's a different car - yet it's not.
And that is mostly for the good (though I wish one or two things more had been clipped).
It still has the same dash, instrumentation and seating as well as similar trim, equipment and its 'Sensing' spread of safety technologies.
What they've done is to alter the shape of the car from the middle pillar backwards. Up to there, it's more or less the same.
After that, the car stretches in a way that bestows not just a new look but far greater substance than the hatch. I like the idea of the triangular rearside corner windows giving it a Fastback appearance.
You benefit from a greater sense of room inside and the boot gets an additional 52 litres of storage.
Obviously, things were tweaked and highlighted but what I didn't expect was the difference in how the car felt, handled and drove.
In my humble opinion, it is a nicer drive than the hatch (of which I remain a big fan). It certainly felt more comfortable, better planted and assured.
I put up large mileage in the 1.6 diesel model on test and I didn't spare its feelings in hours of grinding, gridlock or free-flowing motorways.
Some things don't change, so let's take the positives first. That 1.6-litre diesel was quite something. I got 4.6 litres/100km, which, when I had all brown hair, meant 61 miles to the gallon. Put another way: one litre of diesel was capable of taking me 21.7 kilometres.
That is exceptional considering the amount of time I was stuck in low gear and heavy traffic: I don't know how people suffer that every day, nudging along. It would have me pulling my hair out (no pun intended). Such an awful sense of being trapped, too.
As well as being so frugal, the diesel was exceptionally quiet. It's just a great engine. It's one of the best around and, despite everything being said about diesel, it is one I'd have no trouble recommending to a family putting up substantial mileage.
There is, of course, a price for the privilege of driving it, though I do not think it excessive by any means. They charge €1,000 more than the equivalent hatchback. I'd pay it.
And I can see current/former Accord owners considering it, as it is only 100mm shorter than its larger brother (which has now bowed out, as you probably know).
There were a couple of things I would have changed in the Civic saloon. The central display/interactive screen was just about okay. I was crying out for a proper volume-control button instead of the feckity, louvred, hard-to-find-and-work substitute. Generally speaking, I'm no longer a fan of this interface. It worked but it could be better. A bit distracting too.
And then there was the mystery of the bootlid. How such a solid-looking/built car could have a lid that felt and sounded so light and plasticky is beyond me. It lets a fine package down a bit; an unwarranted blemish.
These may appear to be minor criticisms but, at a time when cars such as the Civic are being overlooked in the rush to SUVs, every element matters, and touchscreens/interfaces in particular can be vital deciding factors on whether people buy or not.
By no means, however, would those shortcomings change my view. The car I drove is as good a family saloon as is out there right now.
I don't say that too often but I was impressed - I really liked the cut of it.
Facts and figures
Honda Civic 1.6 diesel 4dr
From €24,750 (1-litre, 126PS petrol). CVT from €26,350; 1.6-litre diesel tested (6spd, 120bhp, €180 tax) from €26,550. 'Sensing' safety package (lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control etc).
Typical 'Smart Plus' trim: 17in alloys, electric driver seat, climate control, rear parking camera, Garmin nav (7in t/screen, DAB, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto).