It was made very clear at the 2009 Dubai International Motor Show that not all Honda Civics are created equal. A quick game of word association will probably cause me to call out "Students!" or "Grandmothers!", if someone shouted "Honda Civic!" at me. But cars like the aggressive Civic Type R, clearly a hot hatch to be reckoned with, and the souped-up Civic Mugen, as unveiled in Dubai last month, weren't driven by many students at my alma mater in Australia (although the car parks of UAE universities may be a different story -), and I cannot imagine my grandmother wrestling with the six-speed manual gearbox and stiff racing seats of the Type R.
But the basic, run-of-the-mill Honda Civic is the sort of car I can imagine my grandmother or indeed a sensible, budget-conscious student driving. After all, my grandmother has just downsized from a gigantic Holden Commodore (Chevy Lumina to everyone in the UAE) to a Civic-like Holden Astra, and this was very wise of her. It is. Just. So. Sensible. The neutral interior has all the ambience of a government office and the exterior lines are solid, safe and completely inoffensive.
Now that the claustrophobic City is the baby car of the Honda line-up, it is apparent that the recent generations of Civics have a slightly more commanding presence on the road - although I really only noticed the solid lines about a week after I'd returned the Civic, and I was driving behind one in the Al Wahda Mall car park. But while I was driving the Civic, I had no idea if the car had any real road presence or not. It's like realising a dress is unflattering only after a brutally honest friend stands behind you and tells you.
In the case of the Civic, though, it is important to bear in mind that this is not a car aimed at those who want to make a major style statement with their car. It is quite simply a good, well-built, solid, reliable machine. Look at it through the prism of reliability and value for money, it ticks all the boxes. I had the dubious pleasure of testing the Civic over a few rainy days. When I drove my Pajero, a car that doesn't mind getting its feet wet, to the Dubai Honda dealership, I was muttering to myself that I did not want to drive a small-to-mid-sized saloon in the annual deluge. Now, I like being right and often wonder when the rest of the world will tire of being wrong, but I was very relieved to be proven wrong when the Civic proved to be an very able swimmer.
With excellent wipers - it's not really a big deal out here but in Sydney, my surprisingly rainy home city, a source of irritation is a set of wipers with three speeds, two of which are usually too slow for a heavy downpour, and a fast speed that creates more noise than visibility. The skills the Civic showed in the wet will also prove handy when the weather here is fine but the behaviour of other drivers mean you require a car that won't flake out on you.
The ventilated brakes were sharp and sure and, when the surface got slippery, I didn't once get that blood-freezing feeling that I was going to lose control. Which was more than I could say for the Pajero en route to Dubai in the rain. Its glue-like road hugging abilities are largely down to VSA, or Vehicle Stability Assist, which prevents oversteer and understeer in conditions better suited to Torvill and Dean (or during a sandstorm, which is more likely in the UAE) by intuitively braking the wheels and reducing engine power if it senses the car might skid.
The 1.8L i-VTEC engine, which varies the valve timing depending on driving conditions, had plenty of motorway power, it was quiet even at high speeds and the Civic is miserly on fuel for those who care about chronic consumption. The five-speed automatic transmission is smooth and usually finds the right gear, which is a rarity in automatic gearboxes on small cars. The only quibble is that, like big brother Accord, the selections on the gear selector are extremely close together and it is easy to accidentally put the car into one of the lower gears when you just want it in Drive. The option for sequential manual gear changes with paddle shifters, such as those on the surprise package that is the Honda Jazz, would be a solid addition to this model.
The Civic brochure urges the potential driver to "turn the key to excitement". That may be drawing a slightly long bow. In fairness, I did drive a Bugatti in the same week, which actually has a key that does unlock a whole load of excitement. But a key to reliability, great value and surviving the annual rainfall without aquaplaning into the next emirate is no bad thing either. email@example.com