NOT THAT long ago Honda’s television commercials were about the only good reason for watching commercial television. I remember one in particular. It was brilliant. Set to Andy Williams’s song The Impossible Dream, it showed a chap tearing about New Zealand, among other places, on a selection of fabulous machines from the company’s illustrious past.
And it really was illustrious. On the racetrack Honda was powering Ayrton Senna to Formula One glory. In the sand dunes of southern California surfer dudes were doing spectacular jumps on Honda quad bikes. Out at sea Honda’s marine engines were stomping on the opposition. And that’s before we got to the company’s motorcycles. About which I know nothing. But I bet those who do know about them can find several Honda racing bikes that make them go all dewy-eyed and nostalgic.
The average Honda customer was a symphony of arthritis and beige. His other car was a mobility scooter.
On the road it was much the same story. There was the, er . . . Fireblade, was it? That was seminal, I think. And there was a vast range of epic cars. There were VTEC engines that turned at 9,000rpm, staggering little two-seaters, funky little coupés, a car that ran on hydrogen and even a supercar — the NSX — that had a spine-tingling induction roar to rival anything you might hear on the plains of the Serengeti. The message was clear. Honda was youthful. Honda was exuberant. Honda was fun.
And yet the average customer was none of those things. The average Honda customer was a symphony of arthritis and beige. His other car was a mobility scooter. He bought a Jazz or a Civic simply so he had something to wash on a Saturday morning.
Honda was desperately trying to woo a younger audience. It wanted twentysomethings. It wanted the in crowd. But its cars were bought exclusively by people who needed somewhere to sit while the Grim Reaper sharpened his scythe. Look in any lay-by on a sunny day: the old couple eating their sandwiches in silence. They’re in a Honda, aren’t they?
Or take the staff car park at your local B&Q. It looks like a Civic owners’ club meeting. My mum drove Audis and Volkswagens all her life but at the age of 70 was drawn by an unknown force to the Jazz. Honda was spending billions to attract the hip. And all it was getting was hip replacements.
So now it has given up. There is no funky coupé, there is no screaming two-seater and while there are plans for a new NSX, they never seem to come to fruition. The last I heard, a prototype was at the side of the Nürburgring, on fire.
Next year Honda will return to F1, but you sense it is only doing this because it is attracted by the hybrid-drive technology and the new-found quietness. Honda is now the most boring car maker in the world.
Which is why I greeted the arrival of the Civic diesel estate with a sneer and a light retch. I’m only 54. Bring it back in 30 years, I thought, resolving to leave it on the drive until someone came to take it away again.
So now it has given up. There is no funky coupé, there is no screaming two-seater and while there are plans for a new NSX, they never seem to come to fruition.
Sadly, though, there’s a problem with my Mercedes. It hasn’t had an MoT test recently, which means it can’t be taxed, and I don’t want to be busted for that. Not after my recent adventures. So, with a weary heart I climbed into the Honda and . . . went to a lay-by for a picnic.
First things first. It looks stupid. You get the sense that the designer simply didn’t know when to stop styling it. So he kept on going, adding another swoop here and another detail there, until the result looked like a mad doodle in a schoolboy’s maths book. I’m surprised it doesn’t have guns. And lasers.
It’s much the same story on the inside. Honda has put all the important information in a pod above the steering wheel so you can see it through the bottom of your bifocals. But then someone obviously thought, “No. Hang on. We should have some conventional instrument pods as well.” So you get a whole dial just to tell you the engine’s temperature. Why? It’s made by Honda. It’ll be normal. Extra-normal. Always.
It’s all very fussy in the cabin, and there’s an Econ button that seems to do nothing at all. And a sat nav system with voice guidance that cannot be turned off, no matter how big a hammer you use.
I pretty much hated it on a cellular level. But then I noticed something. It was extremely comfortable. Its ability to dismiss speed humps and potholes as irrelevances was incredible. Most cars these days have suspension that’s set up to tackle the Nürburgring, and I cannot tell you how joyous it was to find one that had been designed to tackle more everyday obstacles such as manhole covers and roads repaired by people on the minimum wage.
There was a Sport button on my car that made the vehicle less comfortable, but God alone knows why you would ever want to push it. Maybe you could ask next weekend, when it’s time for you to go and see Him.
Feeling slightly old, I then stopped to do some shopping and I discovered that the boot was a bit bigger than Lincolnshire. And underneath the floor was another boot that was about the same size as a grave. Fearful that I was turning into Frank Page, a recently departed former host of Top Gear who loved to talk about boot space, I decided to hate the engine.
Honda was the last main manufacturer to start fitting its cars with diesel power units. This means it has less experience with the technology — and it shows. The 1.6-litre turbo in my car was rough and wobbly on tickover. And coarse thereafter. But, that said, it was very economical. And I was easily able to keep up with the traffic, except for the maniacs in their German cars who should be doing national service instead of tearing about . . .
Price? Well, it’s not cheap to buy and, being a Honda, it won’t be cheap to service either. But as I said — or did I? — the fuel economy is good and the resale value will be excellent. This will make life easier for your children when they sell the car after you’ve died.
I was easily able to keep up with the traffic, except for the maniacs in their German cars who should be doing national service instead of tearing about . . .
As you may have gathered, I didn’t like the Civic Tourer. And yet you really do have the devil’s own job faulting it. It is beautifully made. It is spectacularly spacious. And if comfort is high on your list of priorities, you can’t do better unless you buy a Rolls-Royce Phantom.
So it seems Honda has stopped pushing against a door that’s shut and is now making cars tailored for people who want to buy them. Old people. It has even, I see, added a new ending to its Andy Williams television commercial. Now the hero doesn’t end up in a hot-air balloon. He goes home by way of an eco-jet, a hybrid car, a hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle and some kind of petrol-sipping scooter.
Honda, then, has become a mature company. And the diesel Civic Tourer is a mature car. Not my cup of tea at all.
Clarkson’s verdict ★★★☆☆
The old person in front is driving a Honda
Honda Civic Tourer EX Plus specifications
- Price: £27,460
- Release date: On sale now
- Engine: 1597cc, 4 cylinders
- Power/Torque: 118bhp @ 4000rpm / 221 lb ft @ 2000rpm
- Transmission: 6-speed manual
- Performance: 0-62mph: 10.5sec
- Top speed: 121mph
- Fuel: 72.4mpg
- CO2: 103g/km
- Road Tax Band: B
Honda believes it is back on track, however. Click here to read our exclusive interview with Phil Crossman, Honda UK managing director.