A sporty trim level that echoes the look of a more powerful model is probably a bigger thing than ever before. With that in mind, it’s almost surprising it’s taken Honda a few years to distil the visual fury of the FK8 into a styling pack for the regular Civic.
The Japanese company has finally done the deed, giving birth to the Civic Sport Line. It’s missing the giant rear wing of the real deal, using a pair of smaller ones instead - one for the boot, and one for the roof. The front end more closely follows the Type R’s, and there’s an angrier rear bumper with something vaguely resembling a diffuser poking out the bottom.
Rounding off the sportified package is a new set of 17-inch alloy wheels. Yep, that’s it - no chassis changes here, and it’s only available on the EX-trimmed Civic hatch, for an additional £1000, bringing the total price to £25,510. This means you can’t team it up with the potent and revvy 182bhp 1.5-litre inline-four turbo engine, as that’s reserved for the Civic Sport - note the lack of the apologetic ‘Line’ slapped on the end there.
As such, this car makes do with a turbocharged 127bhp 1.0-litre inline-three. And that’s a shame. All three-cylinder engines have the same downsides, but there’s something particularly joyless about Honda’s take on the genre. You have to turn your music down to a whisper to even hear the damn thing as it strains against the weight of the car.
It doesn’t do a whole lot below 3000rpm, and is out of ideas by 5500rpm, giving a relatively small portion of the rev range that’s of any use. It’s slow to rev and generally needs to be worked hard if you want to make decent progress. 0-62mph takes over 11 seconds, but at least you can get an easy 50mpg out of it on a run.
Turn your focus away from the engine, though, and the Sport Line claws it back. Firstly we have to consider the six-speed manual gearbox, which is quick, accurate and has a lovely short throw. Whether you’re a petrolhead or not, you’re going to find it satisfying. For the love of God don’t spec the CVT automatic.
Then we have to consider the way the Civic handles itself. It’s another lesson in how even humdrum C-segment hatchbacks can be seriously impressive to drive these days; it’s well balanced and well-damped, with fast, accurate (but perhaps too light) steering that makes carving through a set of bends an enjoyable process.
Grip and traction from the Michelin Primacy tyres are good, and body control is well contained even if you don’t have the adaptive dampers switched to their firmer mode. That’s something you’re probably better off avoiding anyway - all the button seems to do is make the normally very smooth ride too choppy, without any tangible benefit.
It’s one of the most practical cars of the C-segment bunch, with a roomy interior and far more boot space than you get with a VW Golf 8 or Ford Focus. But there’s also a lot the Civic doesn’t do anywhere near as well as rivals. Infotainment is one of the biggest issues - post-facelift, the Garmin-based system is better than before (the screen is flanked by better shortcut buttons this time around), but it’s still not great.
Meanwhile, the traffic recognition system on it is so inaccurate and fickle, it might as well be a random number generator. The screen isn’t responsive enough, either. Our biggest complaint of all, though, concerns the adaptive cruise control; as was the case with the Type R we ran last year, the car constantly brakes for no apparent reason, to the point where you just stop using it out of frustration.
If you want something that looks like a hot hatch but isn’t, a Ford Focus ST Line is better and cheaper. Plus, the Ford can be specced with a 148bhp 1.5-litre engine and still come out less expensive than the Civic, or better yet as an ST Line X with the 180bhp version of the same lump for only a little more.
If it really must be a Civic, the 1.5 Sport would be our preference. The engine’s a cracker, which helps mask some of the Honda hatchback’s foibles, without giving the kind of rubbish fuel economy and high insurance people aiming for something like the Sport Line might be keen to avoid.