KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 22 — I thought that it was a brilliant idea for Honda Malaysia to fly a bunch of motoring media over to Kota Kinabalu to test drive the new Honda Civic — this is only the second time that I have attended a car test drive event over in East Malaysia — most of the time, the test drives here are for the 4 X 4 trucks or SUV’s, because the light trucks and SUVs make up a large portion of the market here.
I particularly liked the fact that one of the routes included a ‘hill climb’ up to the highest mountain in Malaysia, the majestic Mount Kinabalu, because it gave us a chance to check out the new 1.5 litre turbo-charged Civic over the very challenging 55km uphill climb that starts from the roundabout at Tamparuli all the way up to the Kinabalu Park area.
If you are reading about the all-new 2016 Honda Civic for the first time, here is an update — the new Civic top-of-the-range model is now equipped with a down-sized 1.5 litre, but turbo-charged engine, that produces more horsepower (173 PS and 220Nm torque) than the previous 2.0 litre Civic while consuming less fuel.
The 1.8 litre engine with 141PS and 173Nm of torque is retained in the lower spec (but with higher cubic capacity) civic, and of course, there is a totally new body with more space and comfort feature.
So there we were, the three of us, Uncle Chips Yap, veteran writer from Motor Trader, and young Eric Goh of AutoFreaks and yours truly in the 1.5 litre turbo-charged Civic.
Eric, being the youngest, had to give in to seniority, and take the first stint out of Kota Kinabalu city to the outskirts — this part was the boring part, with heavy traffic, made worse by the right lane hoggers.
Still, it was a good test of the drivability of the turbo-charged drive train, which drives the front wheels through a CVT (Constantly Variable Transmission).
Not being a real fan of CVT, I still need convincing that it is good — whilst acknowledging the fact that it really contributes to better fuel efficiency, and is smoother in operation, I still do not like the “rubber band” effect that is typical of a CVT, but I cannot argue with the fuel consumption numbers.
The good news is, CVT technology is advancing by leaps and bounds, and even as I sit and write this article, there are people working on making the CVT better somewhere in the world.
My prejudice against CVT is a result of a poor early experience many years ago, and I must admit that the newer CVT’s are much better.
The climb up the hills to Kinabalu Park is quite steep, with many sharp corners — the road is constantly being improved, and whilst the re-worked parts are generally wider, there are still many parts of the road that are narrow, with many blind corners.
Whilst it can be fun driving up at high speed, it can turn ugly, so proper caution is advised, especially around the blind bends, and one must be ready to stop or take evasive action immediately.
It was agreed among the three of us that I take the second stint which starts from the pre-determined Driver change point at Shell Tamparuli and goes up for 40 kilometres to Nabalu Village, while Uncle Chips would take the last stage up to Kinabalu Park for lunch.
As with most turbocharged engines, the Honda Civic excelled on the uphill climb — power delivery was flawless.
Whilst most naturally aspirated engines would be under some stress whilst going uphill and also suffer some “breathing” problems due to the increase in altitude, turbocharged engines are not affected as much.
The power from the 1.5 turbo is something you would appreciate when you are overtaking — much more so if the overtaking stretches are so much shorter due to the winding nature of the road.
Also much appreciated are the paddle-shifters, mounted in the ideal position just behind the steering wheel, within easy reach, in the conventional minus (-) left hand paddle and the plus (+) right hand paddle.
The paddle shifters allow one to hold the gear ratios and keep the engine on the ‘boil’, making the drive more enjoyable.
For certain, the paddle shifters make the CVT more fun – it will be somewhat detrimental to your overall fuel efficiency, but I think that driving is not always about fuel efficiency, and one should let one’s hair down every once in a while.
The Honda Civic is primarily a family sedan — it is well sprung, and the suspension set-up is what I would call “the firm side of comfortable”, which means that it is comfortable enough, yet can be “pushed” a little for those who like fast driving.
As far as I am concerned, the Civic took on the hills and conquered them without any problem at all.
I suppose Uncle Chips might have shared my thoughts on how great the Civic was — on the third stint from Nabalu to Kinabalu Park, the road was even more winding and the corners were even sharper, but he seemed to enjoy pushing the Civic to the limit, to the point of screeching tyres and huge amounts of sideways G-forces. The Civic took all of that in its stride, without any protest at all.
The new Civic continues to use an electrical power steering system — no issues here — if I didn’t tell you that the steering is electrically powered, you probably wouldn’t even know it.
For the return trip, we opted for the one and only 1.8 litre Civic available — I figured that it would be great to drive the 1.8 Civic as a comparison against the 1.5 litre turbo. Of course, going downhill, we didn’t need as much power, and neither did the 1.5 turbo Civics, and needless to say, the 1.8 Civic performed just as well.
Everybody was tired, so I got to drive all the way down from the dinner venue (which was in another beautiful location that allowed us to see the setting sun over Kota Kinabalu city and the surrounding area).
When we got down to the lowland area, I got a chance to check out just how adequate the 1.8 litre engine was with its new CVT was.
The Honda Civic 1.8 is more than adequate for approximately 80 per cent of the people who are likely to want to buy it. Of course there will always be those who want to top specs all the time and still go for the 1.5 turbo, which is perfectly all right too.
All things said and done, the question remains as to which one should one buy — my answer would be — both are good.
The 1.8 is great as it is, and most people would be happy with it, but if you sometimes still want to drive a little faster or let down your hair, the 1.5 turbo gives you a choice between great fuel economy and power.