2018 Honda Civic 4 Door review: there's more to this saloon than simply putting the boot in

2018 Honda Civic 4 Door

Hands up – who remembers the booted hatchback? Cars such as the Ford Orion and Vauxhall Belmont, and more obscure gems like the Renault 9 and Honda Ballade; upmarket saloon versions of popular hatchbacks, produced in an attempt to keep more traditional clientele on side as manufacturers made the switch to five-door family cars. 

They were conceived quite simply: take your family hatch, and stick a boot on the end. The result: that traditional three-box profile – but, also, diminished practicality. Consequently, these small saloons became less and less popular in the UK market, with the result that almost all were eventually phased out.

Which is why there was some puzzlement when Honda said it would be bringing a four-door version of its Civic – a Ballade for the modern age, if you will – to the UK. But Honda has noticed the demand for the Audi A3 saloon and Mercedes CLA; booted hatches with premium badges that have proven popular with company car drivers who, it seems, still have an appetite for a smart saloon, but who can’t stretch to an A4 or one of its ilk.

So where the hatchback is aimed at the retail market, the Civic 4 Door is being pitched at fleet buyers. And with that in mind, Honda hasn’t simply bolted a saloon boot to the hatchback version; it has softened the suspension, so that the 4 Door is more pliant.

There’s also a simpler model range than the hatchback’s with just three versions – SE, SR and EX – and two engines – a 1.0-litre petrol and a 1.6 diesel, both cribbed from the hatch – to choose from. And there is, of course, a splash of aspirational chrome trim on the grille, to remind you that this is, supposedly, no ordinary Civic.

The Civic hatchback has been transformed into a handsome saloon with a large boot

The chrome doesn’t change much, but the suspension tweaks do. The hatchback sits on the firm side of comfortable; fine, really, but not as smooth and composed as the best. But in the 4 Door, while there’s still a touch of jitter over the worst road surfaces, you really have to be looking for it. Around town it does an excellent job of damping down even the very worst ruts and bumps, and at motorway speeds it’s even cushier.

The best bit is that there isn’t really much compromise as a result of this softer set-up in corners. True, if you’re really pushing hard the 4 Door rolls perhaps a tad more, but it’s still flatter through bends than many family cars. The steering is progressive and well-weighted, too, with a decent amount of feel that really gives you confidence in the front end, which is justified as the nose is keen to turn in and holds its line well. 

Inside it's the same as the hatchback, which is no bad thing - apart from Honda's archaic-feeling infotainment system

All of this combines with the factors that already made the Civic hatch such a pleasant thing to drive. The way your posterior is set low, for example, which feels instantly sporty and means the high-mounted gear lever falls perfectly into your hand. The gearchange is cracking, too; slick and precise, but with just the right amount of resistance. It’s all far more sporting than you might expect from such a quotidian machine. 

The engines, too, are just as good as they are in the hatchback. The petrol is fabulously zingy, while the diesel is smooth and flexible; both get a little raucous when you press them hard, but settle to a relaxed background hum once you’re up to cruising speed, and both deliver gutsier performance than their relatively unassuming power figures would suggest.

Honda has softened the suspension so that the saloon is more comfortable than the already good hatchback

Unfortunately, there are aspects of the hatch here that we’d rather weren’t carried over; number one among those must be the infotainment system. Honda has been soldiering on with its current set-up for years; it felt pretty awful when it was still relatively new but now it feels positively archaic – it’s slow to respond, the graphics are clunky and the menu system labyrinthine. If there’s one thing that prevents the Civic challenging Audi and Mercedes, with their swish, cutting-edge entertainment set-ups, it’ll be this. 

It’s even more of a shame when you consider that the rest of the interior is so smart. Granted, the odd, neoprene-like seat fabric you get on SE and SR models is an acquired taste, but otherwise high-quality plastics, neat detailing and jewel-like dials make the Civic a pleasing place to be. There’s plenty of space in the front seats for both driver and passenger, while the rear seats are even better, with acres of leg room and a decent amount of head room too.

The boot is huge, although obviously not as practical as a hatchback 

But what about that boot? Well, it’s huge, too, with far more room than you’ll find even in some saloons from the class above, and more even than in the Civic hatchback thanks to that extra length, to the tune of a cabin-sized suitcase.

But while a 60/40-split folding rear bench seat adds even more practicality, you’ll only be able to carry items small enough to slot through the narrow boot opening – as with any saloon, of course.

Which is why the hatchback is still the Civic to have if you’re a private buyer looking for a family car. Save yourself the £500 premium you have to pay for the 4 Door; you’ll thank yourself the first time you have to load your kids’ bikes or a bulky buggy into the boot. It’s just a shame you don’t get that smoother ride as well. Indeed, it makes you wonder why Honda didn’t just set up the hatch like this in the first place.

There is plenty of leg and head room in the rear seats, despite a sloping roofline

However, if you fancy a svelte saloon as a company car, this one should be on your list. It’s astonishingly frugal, and while its CO2 emissions aren’t significantly better than those of its premium rivals, a lower P11D value means you should still up paying less tax each month.

Don’t write it off as a relic from the old days of hatchbacks with boots; the Civic 4 Door deserves more than that.

THE FACTS

Honda Civic 4 Door 1.6 i-DTEC SR

TESTED 1,597cc four-cylinder diesel, six-speed manual gearbox, front-wheel drive

PRICE/ON SALE £22,795/now

POWER/TORQUE 118bhp @ 4,000rpm, 221lb ft @ 2,000rpm

TOP SPEED 125mph

ACCELERATION 0-62mph in 10.0sec

FUEL ECONOMY 83.1mpg/80.7mpg (EU Combined/Urban) 

CO2 EMISSIONS 277g/km

VED £125 first year, then £140

VERDICT It’s tempting to think of this as a hatch with a boot, but the tweaks differentiate the Civic 4 Door just enough to give it its own character. It’s a good one, too – in fact, were it not for its practicality deficit, this would be the Civic to have.

TELEGRAPH RATING Four stars out of five

See our long term test of the Honda Civic here

THE RIVALS

Audi A3 Saloon, from £20,365

it can’t match the Civic’s practicality or its ride quality, but a fabulous interior, great infotainment, a superb engine range and a terrific driving experience make this the one to beat. Getting long in the tooth now, though. 

Mercedes CLA, from £26,495

Firm ride, cramped rear seats and suspect interior quality make this something of an also-ran – especially given how much it costs. About to be replaced by the new A-Class Saloon, which is likely to be much better.

Mazda 6, from £19,995

Comparable on price, despite being ostensibly a size larger, but still loses out to the Civic on boot space. Swish new interior feels more plush, though, and it’s sharper to drive, but the tradeoff is that it isn’t as comfortable – or as frugal.

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*Lease price from list price shown in the article is correct as of 04/12/2018 and are based on 9months initial payment upfront.  Prices exclude VAT and are subject to change.  Ts and Cs and Arrangement Fees apply.