Hot Heads, Cool Ride
The flight to Puerto Princesa was delayed. This certainly wasn’t a welcome greeting to the 10 motoring journalists who had to wake up at five in the morning, all dying to get behind the wheel of Honda’s new baby, the Civic. As the group, along with the other inconvenienced Cebu Pacific passengers, got familiar with Manila’s dilapidated domestic airport, all were wondering how the new Civic would do—as this would be the first-ever full media drive. After 4 hours on the perforated metal chairs, everyone was thinking, breathing and bleeding Civic. Perhaps this was a part of Honda’s ingenious plan to wet their appetites. Whether this is true or not, it certainly worked.
Upon the group’s arrival at Puerto Princesa’s “international airport”, everyone expected to be greeted by a Pearl White Mica 2.0S-L. Instead, two shuttles took them to the Asturias Hotel for a short briefing. Honda Cars Philippines’ Arnel Dornia led the enigmatic group of Tin Tin Reyes, Sheryl Delos Santos and Gabby Peren, who was unfortunate enough to get stuck with the journalist back in Manila. The all-new Civic’s key features were explained including the Multiplex Meter, telescopic steering wheel, organ-type accelerator pedal, new transmissions, suspension improvements and Vehicle Stability Assist. After a quick lunch, it was off to the cars.
The author, along with fellow Manila Times contributor and Metro Active Motoring editor Ira Panganiban and Manila Standard Today’s Randy Caluag, was assigned a Bluish Silver 1.8S automatic. Although Ira was eyeing James Deakin and Joselu Romualdez’s (Auto Extreme) 2.0S-L manual enviously, the 1.8S automatic was the perfect Civic to drive first, as this is Honda’s best-selling variant, with a waiting list stretching for up to 3 months! Ira was first behind the wheel as everyone flagged off from the hotel to the Salvacion Viewdeck over 31 kilometers away. According to Honda, this would be the best route to test the Civic’s agility, stability and steering response through a series of mountainous zigzags roads long bends and narrow straights.
As a passenger on the first leg of the Civic drive, the first think you realize is eerie quietness of the engine. Honda powerplants, though known for their high revving nature were critiqued for their droning sound on idle. Not so with all-new 1.8-liter inline-4. It was stunningly quiet, that once or twice, Randy had to check if the engine was actually running at all! Once the convoy got out of the city, the real fun started. Jude Morte (Rev Magazine) and Charles Buban (Philippine Daily Inquirer) charged away in the other 1.8S. Ira followed closely behind, pushing speeds in excess of 120 km/h. Even so, you’d never feel any noise or vibration inside the cabin. Even tire and road noise (previous Honda woes) were quelled. NVH insulation was spot on. Soon the roads got twisty and rough; and again the Civic showed its mettle with excellent bump absorption. Though relying on the previous Civic’s MacPherson Strut / Double Wishbone suspension set-up, various changes were made to make the car more compliant and comfy on the long haul. After the first leg, everyone agreed that the suspension people deserve a salary raise for their work on this one.
When the photo shoots at the Viewdeck were done, it was time for the author to assume the role of driver in the next 26 kilometers on the way to the Wharf. This leg entailed testing for pulling power and responsiveness in a series of uphill and downhill bends as well as patches of long straights. The moment the group rolled out, everyone jabbed on the right pedal and set the digital speedometer rocketing. On hard acceleration, all 140 horses were singing to the delightful tune of 6,300 rpm redline. The Civic simply gobbled up the straights like they weren’t there and it responded almost telepathically to the driver’s commands. Though not equipped with a paddle shift (only available on the 2.0S-L), the transmission remained a great ally in overtaking maneuvers, even if you decide to tackle three 10-wheelers at the same time. On saner speeds, the new transmission is devoid of shift shock and can take on a very smooth personality.
Once the party reached the bending roads, the Civic’s small diameter steering wheel (reminiscent of the S2000 sportscar) was a great partner to the responsive suspension. The car took directional changes pretty well, exhibiting good control and stability. Never once did it feel nervous. It seems that twisty mountain roads, as is turtle pace Manila traffic, are the Civic’s playground. Everyone was also glad that the “axle hop” problem of the previous model was eradicated. Inside, everyone was simply having a good time. Ira and Randy were enjoying the Civic’s supportive seats with excellent side bolstering (good for sideway hijinks) as well as the impressive audio system (Stereo/CD/MP3 with a center-console mounted Aux-In jack). The Aux-In was a particular joy, as finally a manufacturer placed the input jack near the driver’s reach with a closeable console pocket. There’s no need to fumble across to the glove box to change a track or two on your iPod in this car.
After about two hours of driving, the 4 Honda Civics finally made it to its final destination: Honda Bay Wharf. From here, the journalists will make their way by boat to their accommodations at Dos Palmas Arreceffi. After an almost disastrous start, everyone felt happy and content after driving the Civic. Everyone had nothing but praise—and this opinion held even after a couple of beers (which means it’s sincere). Even before the Civic reached the Philippines, it was already generating a lot of buzz elsewhere. After driving and spending some time with it, the rumors are definitely true. The Honda Civic is one car that’s set to rewrite the rules by which others follow. This is the benchmark in its class, and this one just raised the bar ten fold.
By Ulysses Ang | Photos by Ulysses Ang