But Will It Do the Washing Up?

DTW reader, Dave Fisher matches wits with a recently purchased (previous generation) Honda Civic and finds himself coming a distant second. 

All images: The author

The question one asks on entering a car such as this – a 2016 Honda Civic Tourer – is whether it is more intelligent than its owner. The car can certainly do many things its owner cannot, but if that means it’s more intelligent is a moot point. Many a dog would agree with the car, especially because, with its rear seats down, the car could easily swallow three or four Great Danes. And if you want to give Mr. Honda another three hundred pounds for a wee gadget, you can mount two bicycles (front wheel off) inside. Very clever.

The entering is the tricky bit, you are forced to more or less crawl into it, as one would a cave, and then wriggle around a bit to get comfortable, as if it’s a wellington boot. The driver’s seat is adjustable in every dimension except unfortunately, through time, and features a handy inflatable lumbar cushion.

Once inside the overall impression is one of cluttered spaceship, of slight claustrophobia, it feels a little as if you’re sitting in a jacuzzi, up to your chest in leather and plastic and clever cubby-holes and dials and switches. You are somehow restricted at every turn, by the poor visibility to the rear, by the massive front camera unit hidden behind the rear view mirror, itself over large and able to change colour in response to headlights behind at night.

One feels slightly disadvantaged, doomed even by this large blank spot at 10 o’clock when looking forward, if a meteor shower were to descend you wouldn’t see it coming. The driver really has become a part of a car like this, he’s not operating the machine, he has become it.

The car does assume it’s owner is too stupid to drive it. Sensors and cameras everywhere tell you where it sits in space, your speed (a number on a display because there is no conventional speedo), when an object is nearby, when something is overtaking, when you are leaving the lane, when the tyres are flat, when the oil is low, even when you are approaching a cyclist (an alarm goes off and the cabin gives a strange shudder). Still, at least I was able to proclaim to my wife that I can’t be going senile because I saw the cyclists up ahead before the car did!

So what does it look like? When clean, like a tray of jewels with seventeen inch alloys. It gleams seductively at you. From the side, it resembles a chisel with a rake on the windscreen that says it can’t wait for anything. From the front it’s identical to the Civic saloon – aggressive with headlights like a gunslingers eyes. But it drives like a soft, old slipper.

It was born to make long, relaxed, thousand mile journeys to Nice or Sicily with nineteen children and camping gear in the back, just don’t have a puncture because Mr Honda doesn’t give you a spare, just a pump and a bottle of goo. If you want a boot the size of the Albert Hall, and I do, then something has to go.

At five hundred pounds for a wing mirror (all those motors, heaters, sensors, LED’s and cameras inside), please don’t break down, or touch anything sharp with this car. And hopefully none of the motors/sensors/cameras/software/switches will ever fail, which of course the car encourages you to believe.

If they did, how on earth would you be able to adjust your seat? Indeed, it encourages one to rely on the information all the tech offers the driver, thus deskilling him. Does that make the car more intelligent than the driver? It would like to be, future incarnations by Mr. Honda probably will be and while it’s clear that soon the driving bit of driving will be done by the car as well, this car is probably much safer, if a ton and a half of steel moving at speed controlled only by a semi-intelligent human can ever be described as safe.

8 thoughts on “But Will It Do the Washing Up?”

  1. Good morning Dave. Thanks for a vivid and entertaining description of your new car, nicely illustrated with some lovely, atmospheric photos. Your description of the A-pillar blind spot being large enough to obscure a meteor shower made me smile! Being a Honda, all of that expensive tech should prove to be highly reliable.

    Your piece encouraged me to find a larger photo of the whole car:

    These days I expect to find Honda designs not to my taste, but your Civic estate really is rather sleek and nicely resolved, and in a great colour too.

    Best of luck with your Civic. I hope it gives you long reliable and enjoyable service.

  2. It’s a Honda, at least, so you should be reassured about the reliability of all those electronics. It is unlikely this car will ever break down.

    Your comments about claustrophobia and visibility do highlight a significant drawback of the ‘monobox’ profile. We used to run a Honda FRV (spacious, reliable and in many ways very well suited to purpose) that had a similar extreme rake to the A pillars. And very significant blind spots as a result. In time you learn to move your head to look around them at junctions, because the feeling that a cyclist or pedestrian ‘appeared from nowhere’ is disconcerting and alarming, but it is a significant flaw.

    I detest SUVs and ‘crossovers’ but in one respect I will grudgingly concede that a more upright windscreen and two box profile does make more sense than the typical MPV profile with vast expanse of dashboard dead space below the windscreen.

    Anyhow, best wishes with the car.

    1. Almost had an accident once with an FRV because of that blind spot – more luck than anything else. Apart from that, an absolutely brilliant car it was. I actually owned two in a row.

  3. A very entertainingly written article, and enlightening too. I have never been very sure about this version of the Civic, although I do think the estate is the most attractive version. I had a real thing for its predecessor, which was little short of sci-fi bonkers in looks, and yet quite practical and decent to drive under the pleasingly mad bodywork.

    But, more please, Dave!

  4. I never cared for these Civics, but I rather like the Tourer and was surprised it was discontinued. We have a 2016 Honda also, and that pesky tyre light is a constant irritation – what with having to check all the pressures and then trying to cancel the light.

  5. Well-written in sardonic style, which I always enjoy. I echo the sentiment for more, please.

    That Civic body style was never offered in North America. It certainly is visibility compromised all right. No wonder Honda didn’t bother with that model here! But seriously, as for the safety nanny electrickery and the difficulty getting in and out of the car, surely a potential buyer would check that sort of thing out before purchase? You know, to see if it suited them? I wrote Civics off my car list years ago because they’re too low, and the new one that arrived in 2016 was even lower again; the Swindon-built new hatchback was then offered here to round out the line of Canada’s best selling car, and which is actually built here. Never did sell many because hatchbacks don’t and it looked outre just sitting there, all fake intakes and exhausts and spotty body panel alignment. The rather insipid HR-V has completely outsold the hatchback Civic. But that was pre-ordained these days because mention crossover/SUV and the general public drools over a three-inch lift, if that.

    Euro NCAP, that private for profit outfit that masquerades as “official”, started handing out safety stars for nanny sensor electrickery quite early on compared to testing organizations here, leading to a derisory two stars for the new Mustang for example, so Europe got Honda’s Mark One Sensor versions. The 2015 new Acura TLX ( a sort of luxury plumped-up Accord) had those Mark One electronic sensors too, which I found risible in a two mile drive of a four cylinder version which was all I could take with its rotten DCT gearbox, before moving to test the V6’s. Constant quacking and beeping, giant orange BRAKE warnings on the dash when coming to a halt in normal fashion at traffic lights, missing granny crossing the road until she had actually made the other side, a clueless salesman who could explain nothing, etc.What an amateur palaver that car was in all its iterations! Even today, Honda safety nannies don’t seem to have advanced much judging by the complaints one reads. Usually after that, discussions follow on about how good an automous car with Honda sensors would be careening around the countryside. Reliably-operating but second-rate systems don’t do it for me, I’m afraid.

    As for reliability in general, Mazda tops the list here in North America, and I got me one. It was number two last year. See how your brand compares below. You’d have thought Tesla with an electric drivetrain would be number one, but it’s second to last and JLR doesn’t even register on the scale, nor does Alfa, as wealthy owners don’t buy a mere consumer magazine to be told they made a poor choice, nor respond to a reliability survey if they do have a subscription. Nice vehicles, abysmal reliability, as Car and Driver continually documents in its 40K mile long-term tests, but if you’re well-off, who cares? Mount one of your other steeds instead while Prince Charming is sent off to the semi-knacker yard fronting as a luxury car dealership for a tune-up with new software that invariably seems to rubbish what was actually working properly before.


    1. Most Mazdas sold in Europe are diesels, and sadly Mazda have always tended to struggle with diesels ( the best diesel Mazdas were the ones with Isuzu engines ). I thought things would improve when Mazda separated from Ford, but I’m not convinced.

    2. Bill the Mustang got 2 stars because the front airbags didn’t inflate properly allowing head contact to steering wheel and dashboard (not sure why Ford didn’t sponsor a retest if there was a fault), plus bad performance for children the rear seat which dragged the score down.

      On the Civic, it is not alone with blind spots due to the A pillar being so far forward, and it’s so unnecessary. Pedestrians beware. Another ‘good’ one more common on SUVs is side mirrors blocking vision for short drivers.

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