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- Jun 14, 2019
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The Honda Civic name returns to India after a 6-year-long hiatus. Sure, it’s now available with a diesel engine, but when you think Civic, the mind naturally tilts in favour of petrol power. But that’s where Honda’s thrown us a something of a curveball.
It does have a 1.8-litre, rev-happy petrol engine but there’s no manual transmission, not even as an option. And what? The automatic is a CVT? How is that supposed to compete with the absolute rocket we call the Skoda Octavia 1.8 TSI DSG? It’s fast, fun and filled with the feel-good factor.
But with the new generation Octavia just around the corner, time isn’t on the Skoda’s side. Can it retain its position as the best petrol executive sedan against the newer, 10th generation Honda Civic?
While these cars do compete in the same segment, they aren’t exactly bedfellows when it comes to their design mantras. The Octavia has always prided itself in flying under the radar. It’s longer, wider and taller than the Civic, but while people will know it’s an expensive car, it’s not a head turner. Even with those controversial quad LED headlights. Make no mistake, this isn’t a criticism, because low-key is exactly how many want their cars to be.
For those who don’t, the Civic is the perfect alternative. The low-slung stance is bittersweet on first impressions. It certainly makes the Civic look sporty but also makes you wonder if the underbelly will swipe right on every speed breaker (more on that later). The Civic also has the novelty factor on its side, given that it’s still a new sight on Indian roads. It even has a larger wheelbase than the Octavia and rides on bigger 17-inch wheels than the Skoda’s 16s.
But the slim looking body, the boomerang-shaped tail lights & the coupe-like roofline make you gasp in appreciation of just how sexy it is. The Octavia will make you stop to take another look as you walk away after parking it. The only difference with the Civic is, so will everyone else in the parking lot.
The beauty of the Octavia’s subdued styling is the rousing performance it hides under the bonnet. It’s a “sleeper” right from the factory. The same displacement and the same number of cylinders as the Civic petrol but with one big difference: turbocharging. Producing 180PS and 250Nm vs the Civic’s 141PS & 174Nm, the stats already tilt in favour of the Octavia. Sure, in the top-spec grades, the Octavia is about 80kg heavier than the Civic, but the Skoda still enjoys a power-to-weight bonus of about 23PS per ton. And then there’s the fabled 7-speed DSG gearbox which strikes an enviable balance of smoothness and immediacy vs a functionality-focused CVT in the Civic.
So, the results come as no surprise. Floor the happy pedal and the Octavia darts ahead with more vigour than a Doberman asked to fetch its favourite chew toy. We’ve driven the Octavia TSI on a few occasions before, but it’s still surprising how quickly it gets into the triple digits. Taking 8.26 seconds in our 0-100kmph tests, it’s over 3 seconds quicker than the Honda Civic and that’s just the beginning. Keep the throttle pinned and the speedo keeps rising through the next 100kmph with ease, never feeling strained or making the driver aware that the engine is going full roar.
The potent motor combined with the slick transmission also makes it 2 seconds quicker than the Civic in the 20-80kmph (kickdown) test. So whether you’re trying to filter through high-speed traffic or rocket out of a hairpin on the ghats, the Octavia never leaves you wanting for more.
In contrast, the Civic just doesn’t have the same muscle. It works brilliantly as a highway cruiser but when you have to sift your way through lane discipline-impaired truckers, the Civic needs you to be more mindful of every move you make. The performance is certainly there but if you plan to overtake on the highway, you do need to be sure there’s a greater gap behind you. By nature, the CVT needs a little more time to deliver what the engine has to offer.
We won’t call the Civic underpowered by any means, but it doesn’t give you that kick in the pants you’d expect when you’re paying this kind of money. Even the efficiency benefits you get with the Honda’s transmission aren’t significant, with the Civic delivering 15.92kmpl vs the Octavia’s 15.11kmpl on the highway. Now, we don’t buy into the belief that real enthusiasts will always choose manuals over automatics but in this case, we can confidently say that a stick shift would exponentially boost the Civic’s appeal to petrolheads. Especially because it has a big trump card on its side: handling.
The low stance is no optical illusion. The floorpan in the Civic does sit nice & low, so you’re perched almost as close to the road as you would be in a proper sports car. And boy, do the dynamics compliment this committed driving position.
The 10th generation Civic’s chassis is simply blissful. Hard cornering in this sedan is an epic experience, as the car stays flat and predictable. There’s barely any body roll and the uber-precise steering means no input is wasted. We’re talking about something that gets very close to the go-kart experience MINI brags about since the steering isn’t just quick, it also does a decent job of expressing surface changes to your fingertips. While it doesn’t have the gusto of the Octavia while throttling out of a corner, it does a noticeably better job of masking its size while entering or exiting one.
We’ve always considered the Octavia to be a great handler but the Civic just does so much more in this department. Through sharp bends, the Octavia has more roll, the steering has more play and isn’t as communicative, and even the brakes aren’t as progressive.
That said, as a petrol sedan for the enthusiast, the Octavia is a stronger pick simply because it strikes a better balance of performance and agility. But which one is better to live with?
The Civic gets an edge over the Octavia when it comes to daily drives. For one, the ride comfort: yes, it is undeniably better. And yes, speed breakers are indeed no longer a problem, even with four on board.
The Octavia feels more sensitive to surface changes and there’s an ever-present, albeit slight, jitteriness to the ride. Both take on potholes and broken roads well enough but the Civic settles after driving through them a lot quicker. Occupants in the Octavia will feel a noticeable amount of side-to-side tossing through ruts in the road, which isn’t the case with the Civic.
Also, the Honda Civic works excellently as a commuter. Given that there are no shifts per se in a CVT, it makes daily drives a hassle-free and relaxed affair. And that’s the beauty of this CVT. It doesn’t do fun to drive but is almost shockingly responsive. The slightest change in throttle input is immediately complemented with an altered transmission ratio. There’s a very direct relationship between pedal play and the changes on the rev counter, which makes the Civic supremely predictable to drive.
It also doesn’t have to deal with the occasional turbo/transmission lag you do witness in the Octavia. However, the Octavia is hardly a handful. The powertrain has a split personality: accelerating with bloodlust when you drive hard but changing gears and gaining speed calmly when you’re just driving to the office. Here too, we find a modest difference in efficiency, with the Octavia sipping 9.04kmpl vs the Civic’s 10.21kmpl.
The Civic’s stance also isn’t without collateral damage, if you’re looking to be chauffeur-driven. Ingress/egress is far from oldie friendly. The entryway to the rear seat is narrower than the Octavia’s and more importantly, a lot lower, which does require some pressure on the knees. Even with the sloping roofline, headroom isn’t an issue but that’s largely because the rear seatback is set at a fairly sharp recline angle which some may find a little too laid back.
Otherwise, though, both cars offer adequate space to seat two 6-footers one behind the other. Caveats? Well, there’s loads of foot room in the Civic but if you have a tall driver who sets the seat height low, you will be left with little tuck space. Also, the Civic’s low seats mean the window line is quite tall, affecting your view outside.
Tools Of Pampering
Leaving nothing to suspense, we have to say that it’s the Octavia that feels richer inside, on the counts of quality and features. Granted, it’s not a particularly funky cabin, in that the design is very business-like with no eclectic curves, cuts or twists anywhere. But the quality feels more premium and every bit of trim feels more opulent.
Of course, there are many features common to both cars like powered driver seats, dual-zone AC, rear AC vents, passive keyless entry & go, digital screens for the driver information displays, one-touch up/down power windows that can also be operated remotely and sunroofs. Both also get touchscreen infotainment systems with support for Android & Apple’s car apps. But not only is the Skoda’s screen larger (8-inch vs 7-inch), it also has a nicer user interface, is more responsive to use and the resolution is crisper too.
The same applies to their digital driver information screens. Skoda’s virtual cockpit uses a much more versatile screen with multiple views and data to choose from.
Each car also brings some unique features to the table. The Civic gets a remote starter which also activates the air conditioning so you can step into a cool cabin. It also has a walk-away lock function and lane-watch camera. The latter is quite handy in city traffic or while parking but you do need to consciously train your eyes to look at the touchscreen and not the left wing mirror, which is understandably instinctive.
The Octavia gets unique features like a powered front passenger’s seat, memory settings for the driver’s powered seat, a cooled glovebox, rear foot AC vents and hands-free park. It also, technically, has a panoramic sunroof. However, that’s more for the exterior aesthetic since inside the cabin, only the portion above the front seats is actually visible.
For luggage, the Octavia has a strong upper hand. At 590 litres, expandable to 1580 litres with the 60:40 split rear seat folded, the storage in the Octavia is simply colossal. The Civic’s 430-litre boot is not only smaller but its opening is also narrower, so loading up isn’t as convenient as it is in the Skoda.
The Civic’s safety arsenal is plenty strong with 6 airbags, ABS with EBD, vehicle stability assist, agile handling assist, hill-start assist, ISOFIX rear parking sensors and a multi-view rear camera. Of course, the lane-watch camera is unique to the Civic too.
But the Octavia takes things a step further with 8 airbags, front & rear parking sensors, rear camera, cornering front fog lights, rear fog lights & tyre pressure monitoring. Like the Civic, it too gets ABS with EBD, ISOFIX, hill-start assist, along with VAG safety tech like ESC, multi-collision braking and anti-slip regulation (ASR).
Not So Obvious
The new Honda Civic is a great all-around package. It works excellently as a daily driver thanks to its easy to use powertrain and surprisingly pleasant ride comfort. It also handles like a dream and brags of show-stopper styling that’s guaranteed to have you staring before or after a drive. And then it comes with the Honda badge, which in itself seals the deal for many.
But what it does better than the Octavia, it doesn’t do by a significant margin. It’s a great handler but the Skoda’s engaging too. The Civic rides better but the Octavia is still plenty comfortable. And then the Octavia takes it away with its explosive performance, richer interior, better features list and more family-friendly boot. Skoda’s warranty package (4 years/1,00,000km standard, extendable to 6 years/1,50,000km) is also very reassuring, though Honda’s isn’t far behind either (3 years/unlimited km standard, extendable to 5 years/unlimited km).
However, at Rs 23.60 lakh ex-showroom (all-India), the Octavia L&K is nearly Rs 3 lakh more expensive than the Civic ZX. That premium is for kit like 2 additional airbags, front parking sensors, TPMS, the powered passenger seat, virtual cockpit, Canton 10-speaker sound system and sunroof. While these goodies are well-worth the price, you could instead get the Octavia Style which only misses a sunroof vs the Civic ZX but is cheaper by over Rs 40,000 and retains the Octavia’s USPs.
So, the Honda Civic is a brilliant car that we’d have no hesitation in recommending or buying ourselves. But the Skoda Octavia is still the top dog.
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