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Street Fighter is known among gamers for its legacy and iconography. Edmond Honda is one of the hugely successful gaming franchise’s most enduring characters and something I thought of when testing Honda’s latest sedan.
In the lore of all things Japanese and automotive, Honda has always been different. Its founder was not a mild corporatist. He was an inspired and eccentric engineering genius. And it shows in the diverse portfolio of what Honda does: cars, motorcycles, generator sets, outboard motors and even aircraft.
But for the last few years, Honda has struggled in South Africa. The metaphorical Street Fighter characterisation has become real. Once considered the premium Japanese compact car brand, Honda has struggled to defend its market share from a resurgent Suzuki, the Koreans and a flood of Chinese brands.
Honda’s comeback sedan?
Product selection and evolution haven’t helped. Honda’s legacy in South Africa was built on compact sedans, a car configuration with very little demand in the contemporary market. Transitioning to crossovers and SUVs, has not been easy for Honda.
A week with the brand’s 11th-generation Civic provided context. I experienced the peak of Honda’s sedan offering in the guise of Accord. Although Honda’s largest sedan is no longer available in South Africa, the Accord was a verifiable alternative to Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz. But can the latest Civic 1.5 RS, pay homage to that Accord heritage?
A legacy worth protecting
The appearance is nothing extraordinary. Tasteful darkened alloy wheels sit on either side of a long wheelbase. At the rear, there is a subtle boot spoiler. Nothing spectacular, but in a world of garish grille designs and pastiche styling lines, the latest Civic 1.5 RS has presence without being pompous.
Inside, it’s a reminder of everything great about Honda. The cabin architecture, UX logic, and build quality are ridiculously good. This car reminds one of those early 1990s Honda Ballades, sold locally through Mercedes-Benz dealers, which spoke volumes of their quality.
The seats blend leather and suede, offering the best balance between durability, scuff-proofing and passenger support. In theory, full leather seats are wonderful, but when you are cornering at speed, they’ll allow you to slide around, which isn’t ideal. Honda’s seats are terrifically comfy and grippy, with the dual-material choice combining leather and suede.
Typical Honda cabin logic
Comfort and convenience features tally wireless Smartphone charging, a 9-inch infotainment touchscreen and 12-speaker Bose sound system to relay your favourite podcast or playlist.
It’s not the most sophisticated interior, but everything is intuitively where it should be. From the shape and position of that CVT transmission’s selector to the HVAC system’s dials.
Wildly comfy to drive over long distances
Beyond the wireless charging pad, Honda knows that passengers also want to keep their device battery levels powered-up. To that end, there are four USB ports, two in the front, and two serving rear passengers.
And then there’s the little issue of Civic 1.5 RS’s footrest. I’ve suffered from running-induced ankle issues for years and had surgery on both. That means my left ankle is particularly sensitive to ergonomically flawed footrests, many of which exist.
Honda’s latest sedan has a perfectly sized and positioned footrest. It’s a minor detail to many, but for anyone with legacy ankle or lower limb injuries, this Honda is one of the best long-distance cruisers you’ll drive.
Quick and confident
Powering the Civic 1.5 RS, is Honda’s compact turbopetrol engine, boosting 131kW and 240Nm. It’s not outrageously powerful, but it is adequately responsive.
The driving experience is a reminder of what all South African market Hondas once were: agile, responsive, and confidence-inspiring. It has reasonable fuel economy, too, with the CVT transmission mitigating boost surges and throttle demand. I averaged 7.8l/100km during a weekend’s test driving.
Ride comfort isn’t compromised, despite the lowish profile Michelin Pilot Sport tyres. Steering is quick and because Honda’s Civic 1.5 RS is a sedan, instead of a crossover or SUV, its lower centre of gravity delivers excellent lateral stability. Again, it’s everything that Honda’s Ballade once represented for South African car buyers. And then there’s the huge boot, too, at 495-litres.
Street Fighter returns
Honda is a much smaller brand in South Africa than it once was. But the latest Civic, is evidence of everything true to the purpose of Soichiro Honda.
Civic 1.5 RS is just wonderfully competent at everything it does, without being compromised or overdesigned. Honda needs a Street Fighter, to regain its brand equity. And this Civic 1.5 RS, is exactly that. Think of it as the Emond Honda of mid-sized sedans.