The Honda Civic RS might just be the pick of the range, but it still has a few compromises.
Who says hot hatches need to have all the fun? The 2020 Honda Civic RS hatch turns the temperature down from the full-tilt Civic Type R, and offers something that makes as much sense as it does an impact, in a practical and sporty package.
And, controversial opinion alert, I think it looks even better than its range-topping sibling!
Priced from $33,540 before options and on-road costs, a $700 premium over the sedan, the RS hatch is available in your choice of seven colours that attract no additional cost. The striking Phoenix Orange on our car is exclusive to the RS, and when combined with blackout trim and unique gunmetal-grey 18-inch alloy wheels, it really looks the part.
The gloss-black lower skirts and rear spoiler give the RS an aggressive look, and I’m a big fan of the little ‘spats’ in front of the rear wheels. The rear diffuser and central twin exhaust don’t hurt either.
Inside, the Civic continues to offer plenty of style and tech with heated, leather-appointed seats. These are treated to red-contrast stitching; a theme that continues around the cabin and results in a very sporty vibe. You also score drilled-alloy pedals, dual-zone climate control and parking sensors at the front and rear.
Other materials feel a bit bland in places, with plenty of hard, scratchy plastic trim elements. It does feel well built, however, and we’ve noted very little feedback from owners complaining about the quality of the Civic.
Rear passengers receive a folding centre armrest as part of the 60:40-split seats. There are three child-seat anchor points and two ISOFIX mounting points for child seats.
Leg room here is good and makes the most of the hatch’s 2700mm wheelbase. The sloping roof line of the hatch can limit head room for taller occupants, though.
The liftback itself can be a bit heavy, but there is a 340L boot with a space-saver tyre under the floor.
Every sporty hatch needs good tunes, so there is a 452-watt premium sound system with 12 speakers and a subwoofer. The 7.0-inch touchscreen supports DAB radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and offers a rear-view, top-down and Honda’s cool ‘cyclist check’ left LaneWatch camera, too.
The Honda Sensing driver-assistance package is also standard, and includes adaptive cruise control, forward-collision warning, autonomous emergency braking, lane-departure warning and lane-keeping assistant.
There’s also a road-departure mitigation system that detects if the car has left the road (without indicating) and will gently apply the brakes and steer it back into the lane. This is the most crucial for Australian drivers, where single-vehicle accidents account for the highest number of traffic incidents.
The RS also has an automatic high-beam system for the LED headlamps, which even works well in dimly lit areas around town.
Under the bonnet is a 1.5-litre turbocharged petrol engine with 127kW and 220Nm. In true Honda fashion, power peaks high in the rev range at 5500rpm, but the full band of torque is available once the turbo spools up from 1700–5500rpm.
The RS is front-wheel drive and uses a CVT transmission, which has paddle shifters to allow you to ‘jump’ through simulated ratio steps on the CVT. There is a Sport mode that drags out time between ‘changes’, but it doesn’t really add any sportiness to the experience. Use the paddles if you want a bit more engagement.
It tends to be a little jerky when settling into ratios if left in automatic and naturally sounds quite abrasive, especially under heavy acceleration. Worth noting, too, that if you leave it in Sport and settle at a touring speed, it doesn’t always relax the transmission and you buzz along at 3000rpm. Not ideal.
Get past this, and the Civic’s 1.5 turbo gets along really well, managing a mix of urban running and highway touring speeds with ease.
While the car can take 91RON fuel, we’d probably stick to a minimum of 95 to keep things running smoothly. Honda claims a combined cycle of 6.4L/100km, and we were pretty close at 6.8L/100km.
On the move, the RS feels sporty, the steering, in particular, has a nice weight to it, while still being communicative. The big wheels will thump over potholes, but tend to handle most day-to-day driving well enough.
However, it is pretty noisy. At highway speeds, I had to raise my voice considerably to speak with a passenger in the rear. The noise is a combination of wind and tyre roar, and possibly due to the more open cabin of the hatch, it seemed much louder than the Civic sedan I drove recently.
It’s not that noticeable around town, but we would recommend a bit of a highway drive if you are test-driving a Civic before purchase.
The 2020 Honda Civic RS hatch has a five-star ANCAP rating (tested in 2017), and is offered with a five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty. Service intervals are every 12 months or 10,000km, and will cost you a minimum of $297 for each of the first seven visits to the dealer, with additional costs for things like brake fluid ($58), cabin filter ($45), engine air cleaner ($55) and transmission fluid ($172), each with its own schedule.
Range-wise, the RS might just be the best way to buy a Civic, and although I personally prefer the sedan over the hatch, the sporty-yet-not specification has the looks and the kit to pull off some solid urban style.