Surprise, surprise: Honda Civic Ti 1.8 i-VTEC

New cars Honda Reviews
PetrolBlog spends a week with the limited edition Honda Civic Ti and thinks it's one of the most surprising cars of 2012.

The last time Honda released a Civic Ti it was to say goodbye to the previous generation of the popular family hatchback. Only 500 were produced and they sold like hot puddings. In 2012 they launched another Civic Ti, but rather than saying farewell to anything, there's a sense that it's designed to keep the sporting fires burning until the Type-R arrives in 2015.

A total of 1,000 will be produced, with each one coming with 17" Team Dynamics ‘Le Mans’ alloy wheels, Yokohama tyres, colour-coded wheel arches, leather-trimmed steering wheel and gear stick and Bluetooth connectivity. It's available in three colours - Milano Red, White Orchid and Alabaster Silver.

PetrolBlog has always loved fast Hondas. Of all the Japanese brands, it's Honda that feels the most authentic. But then a back catalogue that contains the likes of the Integra Type-R, S2000 and NSX is quite a formidable heritage.

So we were keen to give the latest Civic a review. And what better car to review than the limited edition and ‘sports-inspired’ Civic Ti.

Surprise, surprise

In this day and age it's rare that you're genuinely surprised by a new car. Before it has even reached the dealer forecourt, a car will have been judged on Twitter, liked on Facebook or commented to death on YouTube. The element of surprise has gone, meaning that by the time you get to drive the car, you're basically just filling in the gaps.

But occasionally, a car comes a long that leaves you a little perplexed. A car that has managed to pass under the radar unnoticed. A car that slips in through the backdoor, tip-toes into the living room, takes a seat and lights a cigar before anyone's gaze is diverted from Coronation Street. For me, the limited edition Honda Civic Ti is one such car. Of all the cars I've had the pleasure of testing this year, it's the Civic that's been the most surprising. But for all the right reasons. Allow me to explain.

Honda Civic Ti on another wet day in Devon

Unless you've been stuck in an Australian jungle for the past couple of weeks, you'll know that the weather in the south west of England has been a little damp. Enthusiastic and spirit driving has, for the most part, been completely off the menu. But never mind, at least a Christmas shopping trip and a day out with the family highlighted the Civic's prowess as a good, solid and probably reliable family car. Even in the base-spec SE model, you'll find the things that matter to the modern motorist - climate control, LED daytime running lights, steering wheel-mounted audio controls, MP3 connectivity and front and rear electric windows.

Massively improved interior

It's well built too, with the interior in particular representing a massive step up from the previous generation model. The felt padding on the inside of the glovebox and the damped grab handles are just two examples where the Civic's interior quality shines through. If Honda can be bothered to make these two relatively insignificant features feel special, it bodes well for the bits that you can't see. What's more, every switch, button and dial feels brilliantly engineered, giving the whole thing a definite sub-premium feel to it.

The interior is also beautifully laid out. I'm not sure how Honda does it, but the dashboard manages to combine a gloriously space-age feel to the layout with a healthy dollop of common sense. The speedometer is perfectly positioned above the steering wheel, with the remaining driver-focused dials falling just below. The non-essential elements are situated to the left above the centre console. Honda has succeeded where Citroën failed in the 1970s and '80s. Citroën's interiors where fantastically eccentric, but required a PHD to work them out. The Honda Civic finds the perfect balance between form and function.

Interior of Honda Civic Ti 1.8 i-VTEC

The Civic 1.8 i-VTEC should be cheap to run too. An 'ECON' button helps the car achieve a combined MPG of 48.7, with a CO2 figure of 137 giving it a tax band of E, the equivalent of £120 a year. You'll want to avoid pressing the green 'ECON' button though as in an instant it makes the Civic feel lethargic and altogether rather unpleasant. Saving the planet and your wallet isn't much fun in the Civic.

I could go on to mention the generous 477 litres of boot space, which includes 76 litres hidden below an under-floor compartment. I could also mention the Civic's 'Magic Seats' which fold in a number of different configurations, including folding flat to extend the boot space to 1,210 litres. I could say that it's possible to get three mountain bikes into the boot of the Civic. Or the fact that Hill Assist is standard across the range. But this is PetrolBlog, so I won't.

On the road

Instead, I'll describe the day when the rain finally stopped and I was free to explore the Civic to its fullest potential. And on the roads of rural Devon and Dartmoor I discovered that the ninth generation Civic has gone back to the future. In this particular spec, the new Civic feels more like the fifth generation car and that's a good thing. No really, it is.

Take the interior. The Ti is based on the supposed poverty-spec SE trim level and yet you never feel shortchanged. But more importantly, it's largely devoid of the bits of extra equipment that we think we really need. You won't find a ‘Sport’, ‘Sport Plus’ or ‘Extreme Go-Faster Sports Plus’ button in the Civic Ti. This leaves you free to enjoy the car. How novel. Just like being back in the early ’90s.

The retro feel continues once you get moving. There's no starter button in the Ti, so you twist the key and get comfortable in the wonderfully supportive seats. The SE seats don't look anything special, but they offer a decent level of side support and are extremely comfortable. My only complaint would be that the lever for positioning the back of the seat makes it tricky to make small adjustments. A wheel would be far better.

On the road, the 140bhp 1.8 i-VTEC unit initially presents itself as a relatively docile and characterless engine. But anyone familiar with VTEC will know that the most fun is had near the redline and the Civic Ti is no different. Keep the revs high and it's possible to make rapid progress. The trick is to enter a corner a gear lower than you would in a more powerful or turbocharged car. Get it wrong and you can be left feeling incredibly frustrated trying to exit a corner. Get it right and it's immensely satisfying with a genuine sense that it's you driving the car. The Civic Ti involves you in the drive and for that, I applaud it.

On a B-road: The Honda Civic Ti

The act of threading the Civic Ti through a series of B-road bends is an immensely satisfying experience. The only time the Civic Ti displays its lack of real sporting character is the second gear ratio which feels off the pace having changed up from first. There's a momentary lag as the revs spool up and you're free to get moving again. But on the plus side, third gear is quite delightful.

There's further good news when it comes to the ride and handling too. At a little over 1,200kg, the Civic Ti can hardly be described as featherlight, but it's some 300kg lighter than the heaviest Civic on offer. Bereft of fancy frilly bits and expensive toys, the Ti could almost be described as stripped out. The relative lightness helps to give the car more pace than its 0-60 time of 9.1 seconds would lead you to believe. Hardly a headline grabbing figure, but it goes to show that stats only tell half the story.

Developed on UK roads

The new Civic was developed on UK roads, so it's no surprise that it copes with our rutted and pitted B-roads with ease. The ride quality is improved with the introduction of fluid-filled suspension bushes which manage to smooth out all but the worst of surfaces. It's technology from the Honda Legend, so clearly the focus is on comfort. And yet, despite dare I say, ‘Legendary’ levels of comfort, the Civic Ti remains a hoot to drive. The rear trailing arm is actually stiffer than the old Type-R, so the Ti feels supremely stable when cornering at high speed. There is virtually no body roll.

Honda Civic Ti on an A-road in Devon

Honda has also worked on the power steering, helping to make it feel more direct and immediate. That it feels over assisted and lacking in feedback is becoming a common complaint these days, but its lightning quick reactions and directness help to even things out. The leather steering wheel is also wonderfully chunky, although it's probably helping to drown out what little communication was coming through from the 17" Team Dynamics alloys and Yokohama tyres.

How often is a potentially good drivers' car ruined by an inadequate gearbox? Not so in the Civic Ti. The 6-speed ’box is wonderfully light and smooth with the stick conveniently positioned alongside the steering wheel. The relationship between the gearstick and the steering wheel has been a hallmark of the Civic for many years, so I'm pleased it has carried on with this generation.

One of the bargains of 2012

As you may have gathered, I adored driving the Civic Ti. I was completely won over by its old school charm and involvement. I was able to draw comparisons with the previous generation Suzuki Swift Sport, a car I rate amongst the best. Like the Swift Sport, the Civic Ti needs work to get the best from it and it's not without its faults. But the fact that I see it as a larger, slightly more grown-up version of the Swift has got to be a good thing.

In fact, it's one of those rare new cars that I'd actually see myself spending my own money on. And here's where Honda demonstrates some strange mathematics. The standard 1.8 i-VTEC SE is priced at £18,170. The limited edition Civic Ti, with £1,000 worth of extra equipment is available for £16,995. I'm no Carol Vorderman when it comes to maths, but I reckon that's £1,175 less for a car that's better equipped, looks better and is limited to just 1,000 units. Even after adding the White Orchid Pearl paint at £500, the Ti still looks like one of the bargains of 2012.

There will be those who will steer you in the direction of the 2.2-litre i-DTEC Civic, pointing out its ability to do 67mpg and emit just 110g/km of CO2. And if these are your priorities, then that's fine. But with prices starting at £20k and rising up to nearly £27k, you can keep it. I prefer the old school charm and pricing of the 1.8-litre SE model. A lowly trim level that punches well above its weight.

Honda Civic Ti 1.8 i-VTEC review on PetrolBlog

Nearly a week after saying goodbye to the Civic Ti, I still miss it. Immediately after it left, I jumped into my Citroën ZX 16v to test my old school theories. Thankfully I was right. Both are involving, great fun and a little bit different to the norm. Real underdogs that can punch above their weight. In other words, true PetrolBlog heroes.

One day I'm sure we'll look back at manual ’boxed normally aspirated drivers' cars with a sense of wonder. They're a dying breed, but Honda has demonstrated there might just be life in the old dog yet.

Grab one while you can.

PetrolBlog Score:

Honda Civic Ti 1.8 i-VTEC

  • Pint of Milk: Far better than you'd ever believe. Begs to be taken by the scruff of the neck and given a damn good thrashing: 8

  • Filling station forecourt: The looks divide attention, but the black alloys and colour-coded arches give the Ti a striking look : 7

  • You don't see many of those: The Civic is hugely popular, but with only a 1,000 being made, the Ti will remain exclusive: 7

  • Is it worth it?: Absolutely. Coming in cheaper than the car it's based on, the Ti makes a mockery of the £27k price tag of the top spec diesel: 8

  • PetrolBloggyness: A surprise PetrolBlog hero. It won't be for everyone, but the Ti is an involving and rewarding car to drive: 8

  • Total for the Honda Civic Ti: 76/100

Full details of the scoring can be found here.