Unlike the situation here in the UAE, most other countries are waking up to the benefits of small cars. Cities are congested, roads are narrow and costs are skyrocketing. With fuel in Europe being roughly five times the price we pay here, it's little wonder that the bottom is rapidly falling out of the luxury car segment there. Yet seemingly every new version of every model of car is bigger than the last. BMW's 3 Series is huge compared with the model on sale 25 years ago, while the Mini is now anything but miniature. But you know what? Small cars are actually more fun to drive. They're generally more responsive, easier to park and these days are really safe, too.
If you ever want evidence that cars have become too big nowadays, take a look at the original Honda Civic. It was a cute little runabout, launched in 1972 (the latest one is practically the same size as its Accord sibling) and it had a 1.2L transverse-mounted engine. This helped to provide a surprising amount of room inside, considering its lowly physical dimensions. These Civics were fun to drive, had plenty of personality and they had a tendency to rust that was so bad cars transformed into heaps of brown powder before they'd been unloaded from the ships that sent them round the world from Japan.
My brother used to own one. He was a young man at the time with very little money to spend and the Civic got him where he needed to be, but it was always a laugh to be in. The clutch pedal creaked like Dracula's coffin lid, trim fell off as soon as you touched it, you had to hold onto the doors when cornering lest they fly open and only the rust held the bodywork together. But it had character - it made us smile a lot.
The latest Civic is nothing like that, of course. But after driving around in one for three days I'm struggling to think of a single attribute that brought a smile to my face. It does nothing
wrong, it doesn't offend in any way whatsoever. It's okay to look at, if a little amorphous. It's difficult to tell it from any number of "small" Japanese saloons - quite unlike the Civic hatchback that I used to see on British roads, which is one of the coolest small cars on the market there. It actually still looks like a concept car made real, even after five years of production. No, this new Civic is bland and ordinary in the metal.
The interior is a marginal improvement (design-wise at least) over the previous (eighth) generation model, with a more space-age dashboard. But the plastics are all hard to the touch, which is a bit disappointing when even the likes of Ford's new Focus are approaching Germanic standards of cabin goodness with cushioned surfaces that are pleasingly tactile. Having said that, despite the brittle surfaces, they don't appear at all cheap.
The leather seats in the 1.8 VTi model I tested are pleasant enough to look at and sit on, with a suppleness to the upholstery not normally seen and at night time the interior takes on a completely new dimension thanks to the futuristic digitalised displays up front. Thinking about it, I did almost raise a smile at that. But the rest of the Civic experience is dull with a capital D.Perhaps it's because Honda has admirably aimed for maximum efficiency with its latest cars. But when did something efficient ever mean it was enjoyable? I buy washing machines and fridge freezers that are efficient because they provide a most mundane service. I don't buy a television for its efficiency, or a stereo system. No, I buy those with a different set of criteria: how much enjoyment will I get out of them?
From / The National