cogito ergo vagus

October 24, 2009

It Drives Me.

Filed under: about me,tech,wishlist — vagus @ 6:46 am

The gist:

  • Test driven on Sunday October 4th.
  • Driven home from the dealer’s on Saturday October 17th.

Bought a new silver Honda Civic 1.8 S MT!

And like the marketing slogan claims “It drives you”, yes, it does drive me.

I also test drove the Toyota Corolla Altis a week before the Civic and even though the Altis is Rs. 1 lakh cheaper and has more stuff (better value-for-money) I got the Civic because it was more spacious inside, the ride was more comfortable (parents liked it) and, of course, it handled better and was way more fun to drive – especially the free/high revving engine.

With some post-test rumination I think the latent Honda fanboy in me started to awaken as I recalled Honda’s rich tech heritage such as ASIMO, their green initiatives and their “Big Bang” racing tech during the old days of Moto GP’s Michael Doohan on his NSR500.

It’s got an alphabet soup of technologies/features like the iVTEC engine, EPS (electrically assisted hydraulic power steering), SRS airbags, ABS/EBD/BA (electronic brake-force distribution with brake-assist), CD/MP3/AAC/WMA/USB/iPod audio input, power mirrors/windows and the fantastic instrument cluster with a digital speedometer looks not like a jet fighter cockpit as many have said but more like that of a spacecraft!

It handles well on Indian roads with low roll during moderate speed sweeping turns and the suspension soaks up rough patches for a comfortable ride while still being stiff enough to enjoy brisk driving.

The iVTEC engine gives excellent mileage (12.2 kmpl during Pune office rush hour traffic if you keep it at low RPMs (2000 plus/minus 500) on higher gears, about 14 kmpl during weekend brisk driving with less traffic) but I’ve yet to measure during the peak summer months when the AC will be on full time and will wait to take it on the highways until the engine break-in period of 1000 km is completed. Of course, jab the throttle a little more urgently and the variable valve timing kicks in for added thrust – enough to put a smile on your face. And I haven’t even started to approach the 6750 rpm redline just upto 3000 or so until the running-in is over and done with.

To get an idea of the performance during my weekend drive around the city: 3rd gear @ 2000 rpm = 45 kmph, 4th gear @ 2000 rpm = 60 kmph, 5th gear @ 2000 rpm = 80 kmph and 5th gear @ 2500 rpm = 100 kmph! Top speed must be over 200 kmph I’m guessing.

The standard music system is apparently an Alpine and has 4 speakers plus 2 tweeters and has very good clarity. I’m not an audiophile and others have said the tweeter is harsh high treble and dull bass due to the panels being plastic rather than fabric/board. But good enough for me.

It’s got a few other nifty little features like auto-lock when you cross 15 kmph, a security system with internal ultra-sonic sensors and some trippy blue ambient lighting.

Didn’t have a digital camera so rushed out and bought a Sony CyberShot DSC-WX1 to take these pics:

Also check out a couple of HD videos – make sure you turn up the volume and click the HD button!

Here’s some notes I’d penned down about the test drive:

So, the Honda guy showed up at 10am with a silver Civic V-MT. As the car rolled up to our gate and idled I immediately noted the car had a deeper/smoother exhaust note/rumble making it *sound* more powerful than the Altis.

Getting in and out (ingress/egress) was surprisingly effortless for the driver’s and rear passengers’ seats even though I’ve heard the Civic is relatively lower slung. Confirmed with my mom n dad who complain about many cars but not about this one (phew).

First things first, adjusted the steering and driver’s seat for max space and there was way more legroom/comfort for driver and rear passenger.

Then I just sat there for a while looking around at the interiors. I’m sorry but the quality “trim level” looks and feels a significant notch above the Altis especially the steering wheel wrapping (claimed to be leather) which was a little softer (but not too soft) and had better grip although it might just be synthetic/polyeurethane/whatever.

Not to mention the instrument cluster, which, as it’s been repeated before by others, is futuristic with the digital readouts except for the tachometer which is just the way I like it! It’s been called a “cockpit” before and yes you do get that feeling and no, its not like the cockpit of a jet fighter as most of them say, its more like that of a spacecraft with that trippy blue glow!

I started to play with the electronically retractable mirrors (opening and closing them) with images of ASIMO and Kraftwerk’s “The Robots” playing in my head when the Honda guy asked whether I was going to start the test drive this year or what. Yes, I need to grow up.

Starting the engine was quicker and less “jarring” than the Altis. I revved the engine up to 4000 rpm but really could not see/judge what people mean by “Civic has a more free-revving engine”. The Altis’ engine revved just as freely (responsiveness) but then I’d tested it a week ago so no chance of a back-to-back as is usually recommended one should do. I should note that just as the car arrived it started to rain a little and by the time I started the engine and drove on it was pouring so the noise of the rain might have spoilt it for me.

I drove along the Pune-Sholapur road (near KROME mall) and also took it over the B. T. Kawade road flyover. The Honda guy was friendly and “bindaas” when I asked if I may drive it “a little fast” he smiled and said “go right ahead”. With the rains and traffic I wasn’t able to go past 60 kmph but it was more about the “ripping” (acceleration) than the top speed. That too I hesitated to take it past 4000 rpm even though I was tempted to redline it but stopped myself partially out of courtesy and partially because I was chicken. Yes, the engine note is more satisfying than the Altis but both sound like pretty much standard inline-4s, if you want smooth you need a V6. Unfortunately, try as I might I was not able to recognise the “free revving sporty engine noise” again maybe due to the rain noise. Low-end pull was “good enough for me” – again I was unable to judge what people say that the Toyota has better low-end bhp/torque – I think they’re just saying that because the printed tech specs show it to be about 300 rpm lower. I was stoked by the description of the VTEC “dual mode” blah operation I’d read on a forum/wikipedia.

Now here’s something I know the Honda guy never before in his life saw a test driver do – “pick up speed then downshift the gears to slow down” – he gave me a worried stare like I going to seize up his beloved VTEC so I told him what “engine braking” was about. Surprisingly this was more fun than trying to rev it up, at least during the test drive, especially down the flyover. I don’t plan to do this on a regular basis coz I dont know how modern engines will react over the long term.

Suspension seemed as “stiff” as the Altis, yet it seemed to soak up the bumps and vibrations much better. I don’t have too much hope that this car will be a good handler but I don’t usually drive it that way – no fast/sharp turns – for me its the grunt/overtaking that matters more – at least in a car meant to be used for daily commutes.

In comparison the Altis felt like a smaller/lighter car, almost toyish, and the engine revved more noisily and sounded plainer (like a Maruti haha) too. The Civic’s throttle is a little firmer – just enough “tension” to not make me nervous like the Altis’ feather-light pedal and I had no problem modulating the RPMs during the test drive, especially when starting off from a standstill. The Civic’s gear lever is like a stub with no grip/handle you have to pretty much use your fingers rather than grab the whole thing – it could have been more meaty. The notches were also finer/closer like a Maruti 1000 and the first few times I shifted from 2nd to 5th missing 3rd but adjusted and got a hang of it quickly during the TD itself. I was so trying to focus on the engine (and enjoying the test drive) that I forgot a few things like checking steering feedback – it’s a little heavier than the Altis’ ultra-light-and-easy steering – and the way I’d like it.

Music system is (speakers are) of a “good quality” – now let me qualify that by saying I’m no audiophile – but before listening to it I’d thought I would need to add a subwoofer but now it looks like even that’s not needed for me.

This time I didn’t allow my folks to accompany me during the main TD because they wouldn’t stop chattering the last time and let me concentrate. This time I asked the Honda guy to drive (after I’d done my TD) while my mom and I sat in the back and he took my dad for a third outing while he sat in the back. This time got the thumbs-up from them that the back was plenty spacious and the ride was comfortable.

The Honda guy was quite knowledgeable, cooperative and enthusiastic the entire time so that was another thing that impressed me and my folks and we noted that when he went on his way.

So in the end, I only took a test drive of the Altis last week because it’s “cheaper and better equipped” than the Civic and also many user reviews claim it’s as good (if not better) a car. I have to say its just plain incorrect, the Civic is well worth the extra cost, and not just from a “driving enthusiast” point of view but also from other aspects like the feel of luxury and build quality (its like a segment above) and the roomy interiors. I just remembered I didn’t open the Civic’s boot – the Altis’ was like a cargo truck – but it’s not important to me and I’m guessing it will be smaller given the longer wheelbase and roomy rear legroom. If Honda’s range and cost of vehicles were closer to Toyota’s (like if they added an Innova competitor) then they (Toyota) would have to pack up their bags and shut their India operations.

I’m now totally smitten with the Civic’s looks and performance and this is the car to get. Only if it doesn’t work out will I bother to move on to testing others like the Cedia, City and Fiesta. This would be a very nice upgrade from the dull (and sometimes painfully annoying) daily Palio ride that I’ve had to endure for a few years now.



  1. Great man. So when is the treat?

    Comment by Aneesh — November 4, 2009 @ 6:23 am | Reply

  2. You mean when WAS the treat. :-)

    Comment by Vishal Rao — November 5, 2009 @ 9:24 am | Reply

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