Tested: Honda Civic 1.6 i-DTEC Today’s True ‘Green’ Choice

One of the joys of a solitary long-distance drive is the time it gives us to mull things over while performing the constant assessments of road conditions, vehicle approach speeds and direction.

I find that having to perform these semi-automatic functions can liberate the mind from preconceived ideas and allow it to dwell in areas unexplored at more idle times. So, it was no surprise that on the drive from London to the Paris Motor Show 2018, the delightful Honda Civic 1.6 i-DTEC car I was testing figured large in these musings. Or, more accurately, its diesel engine occupied my thoughts. Firstly, the reassuring digital dash display showing that, with a full tank of fuel, I did not have to worry about hunting down a fuel stop for the next 540 miles or so – something no EV can yet boast.

Secondly, the fact that with a mix of congested urban driving and high-speed cruising, the car’s on-board computer recorded a healthy average of 52mpg with no attempt by this motorist at fuel conscious driving, albeit I did leave it in Eco mode. I’ve driven many differently fueled vehicles over the years on similar trips and, to date, no gasoline hybrid of similar dimensions has ever matched that level of economy.

Other features I very much appreciated on this the EX MT Tech Pack model included its speed reactive suspension a feature until recently only seen in premium executive-level vehicles well above the Civic’s on-the-road price UK tag of £27,425 ($35,986). The suspension automatically tautens the ride when you fancy slinging the car with some gusto into one of your favorite bends and can also be deactivated to the normal comfy setting with a stab of the console button when touring at leisure in adaptive cruise control on the smooth EU-funded pavement of the French auto routes, seemingly a world away from the crumbling infrastructure of an austerity worn and weary UK.

One feature that I was less than enamored with was the electric handbrake function that would not release unless the driver’s seatbelt was secured. This is taking molly-coddling too far in my book and a right royal pain in the derrière especially when having to clamber out of a right-hand drive car to be informed at the peage booth designed for left-hand drive vehicles that the car needs to be edged a few inches forward for the system to recognize, a maneuver that then makes it difficult to stretch round the front of the car to operate the machine!

However, its connectivity was also simple to activate and provides the full suite of bells and whistles most come to expect these days, including a wireless charging pad for those with Qi activated smartphones. Owners can also download the My Honda app to their smartphones and, with the on-board dongle installed, enjoy a range of added services including one-click road assistance, car security and location, journey analysis and remote planning, vehicle health and impact alerts.

4G not yet sorted

That said, I did hit a sizeable cellular ‘canyon’ approaching the Champs Elysees where the sat-nav lost its way but, fortunately, I know enough of Paris to get in and out without much assistance. It’s worth pointing out here that there are also such canyons in central London so the telecoms brigade who are pinning their hopes on 5G leading the way with autonomous vehicle communications have still an awful long way to go even with the current technology.

However, the diesel engine came back into the forefront of my thoughts as I entered the city that has pledged to ban this type of powertrain by 2030. Naturally, the plan is to improve air quality by switching from fossil fuel to EVs and France, having a healthy percentage of its electricity generated by nuclear power, see a quick fix to benefit its residents. Yet, in the UK, we’ve seen the fallout of the Volkswagen Dieselgate scandal has resulted in new car buyers are shunning oil burners and the subsequent increase in auto emissions of C02, the gas many scientists claim is the chief culprit in greenhouse gases warming the planet.

Then, this week, scientists from the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) alarmed us all with dire warnings of future catastrophe if nothing is done to halt the planet heating up. Now, notwithstanding the fact we are at the end of an Ice Age and our world is due to warm up whether we are on it or not, or, indeed, the fact that many of the scientists on the panel may have vested interests in ‘holding on to the job’, no-one can fail to agree that we should be doing our level best not to pollute our environment.

How and when to act

Yet, what is up for debate is how and when we do this? Naturally, immediately following the IPCC’s report, the pro-electric vehicle experts came rushing out the of long grass screaming about the need to instantly switch to these ‘clean’ zero-emission cars. This despite the IPCC’s admission that more than three-quarters of the world’s energy is still produced using fossil fuels. Indeed, a report by oil giant BP, highlighted in The Economist’s August 2018 edition, points out that probably the worst climate warming fuel, coal, is as popular now in producing electric energy globally as it was in 1995, forming around 38% of the energy in spite of the rise in renewables.

With this in view, it’s something of a stretch to say EVs represent the greenest power option for vehicles considering how their electricity is currently produced and the huge carbon footprint of the commissioning and decommissioning of their lithium-ion batteries. Here’s where the humble oil-burners make great sense in our bid to cut greenhouse gases threatening the future of life on this planet. They remain, for the present at least, the lowest emitters of climate warming emissions we have for transport solutions. For those wishing to get as unbiased view of the climate credentials of EV versus ICE powertrains the UK’s RAC provides a pretty balanced assessment.

Out of breath cyclist

Of course, as a city-dwelling cyclist and here the Civic’s cavernous 1,245-liters storage space with the rear seats folded was a joy for stowing my racing bike still with its wheels attached, I’d selfishly love to see diesel powered cars banned from my city. That’s because they are compromising my personal health along with the 10,000 other Londoners who die each year mainly owing to their particulate emissions. This is doubly so because, as many auto experts know, while the diesels begin life with sophisticated catalytic converters and particulate filters, after a few years many unscrupulous owners will have these ‘serviced’ – a euphemism for stripping their innards out to restore performance and rendering them completely useless. Yet, even in this sadly abused state, the modern diesel auto engine will still be emitting less CO2 into the environment over its lifespan than an EV in a nation which produces heavily fossil-fueled energy. So, for many, a diesel engine in the long-term may not be seen a Mr Right but, in current climate change terms, it is probably Mr Right-Now.

Here’s the rub for those people truly serious about making an attempt to change our planet’s intention to warm up – if you’re driven by a need to live a few years longer at the long-term cost of making the world less hospitable to your children and your children’s children, then an EV is the way forward. If not, a diesel like this lovely little Honda Civic, has to be your choice today.

— Paul Myles is a seasoned automotive journalist based in London. Follow him on Twitter @Paulmyles_


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