This preview of the 9th Generation Honda Civic very nearly did not happen. There were two possible endings – the car ending up in the river with its wheels rolling in the air, or the car ending inside the other FB Civic in front. Both of which would have had me flown home in a box or a very black bag. The Civic opened up a third possibility.

Let me set the scene. It was a long and straight road in Thailand that blurred into the horizon. The river, equally straight and long, was on the left of the two-lane, well-paved road. “You can go faster now,” said my Thai guide. I needed no encouragement.

I pushed the accelerator closer to the floor. The five-speed automatic kicked down a gear, smoothly I might add, and the 2.0 litre engine roared and picked up speed. At this point, I would have summoned all of the 153 hp and 190 Nm of torque available, and would have been well deep into the VTEC’s second stage. Speed was building up all too easy.

This engine has one cam less, making it an SOHC, to cut emissions and improve economy. In spite of this ‘handicap’, the new engine is still able to generate an equal amount of horses and torque – 160 km/h melted into 170 km/h and seconds later, I had reached the second century. The road continued to blur into the horizon.

Feedback from the steering told me the car was even footed and stable, as if it was a speed skater locked in her rhythm. Then, a bend in the road, a right-hander. Not a sharp one and it was a not long one either. I lifted my foot off the floor, slowly settling the car into a gentler speed. In retrospect, there was nothing gentle about going into a corner at 150 km/h.

Yet, I grabbed the corner by the collar. I had done the same with the corners that I had passed. Through it all, the Civic remained anchored to the tarmac, the car obediently pointing and going to where I wanted it to go. There were hints of understeer, but it quickly diminished. There were, too, telltale signs of yaw but even those were quickly brought under control. This car was surprisingly accomplished.

The Civic has Motion Adaptive EPS, which combines VSA with the electronic power steering. Essentially, the car will automatically apply brakes on the appropriate side and make the necessary adjustments to the steering wheel to keep its nose out of trouble. For example, in an oversteer, the car will brake on the outer wheels to point the nose into the corner; understeer and the car will brake on the inner wheels while suppressing torque.

In both cases, the steering will gently apply the appropriate counter-steer; you won’t notice it happening. It also works to help correct the car’s steering when the wheels on one side lose traction because the road is slippery on the other side. In a nutshell, the Motion Adaptive EPS will help keep the car honest.

It’s not just that; the chassis had plenty of involvement. First off, the car uses more high-tensile steel to keep the weight down. The beneficial side-effect increases the body’s static and dynamic rigidity by 10%.

Honda has also increased the suspension stroke and compliance bush capacity, and reduced damper sliding friction on the front MacPherson struts. In a time where torsion beam dominates the back, the Civic slips on multi-link rears. Honda has also meddled with the rear suspension to increase suspension stroke and rear bump rubber capacity, and reduced damper sliding friction.

SNAFU. I was halfway around the corner, foot already on the power when I saw a set of traffic lights, all coloured red. A line of cars was already forming up front.

Feet off the accelerator and on the middle pedal. Not hard, because that would have thrown the car off balance, but nevertheless urgent. The Civic slowed urgently, the wheels never locking up. The nose dipped, signifying that the weight balanced had transferred up front. In this particular right-hander, any car would have looked the other way and headed straight into the river.

The Civic, however, kept itself honest and obedient. No doubt there were billions of numbers being crunched to move into the direction I wanted it to at speeds that were quickly diminishing, but I stopped without drama.

Without a doubt, this Civic’s handling is leaps and bounds better than the Civics that had gone before; not counting the Type-R of course. So why does the Civic not look the part?

Honda has found itself in a peculiar position; it is of its own doing. You see, when it launched the 8th Generation Civic, its body shape was a galaxy away than the 7th Generation. It looked sportier, had a dashboard that was borrowed from science fiction and the interior oozed with quality. Even today, the 8th Generation is still considered to be one of the best-looking Civics.

Which leaves the 9th Generation Civic in a rut. To be completely honest, the new one is not photogenic. It does not invoke a desirable emotion, even when it wears the Modulo kit.

But it looks better in the metal; only just. I can see why – everything has been squared and angled off. Accidental? Honda wanted something more futuristic in style. It seems to be looking to embody the Civic’s unique mono-form framework with grace and style, and evoke energy in its streamlined silhouette. Improved aerodynamics is the goal. The front bumper, especially, is designed to guide air into the engine to increase the cooling effect. I am yet to warm up to the design though.

Impressions are better on the inside. The new Civic retains the two-tier dashboard that wraps around the driver, clearly delineating you from the passenger. I’m not too fond of the dark grey on beige colour scheme; should’ve stayed with FD’s colour palette.

In any case, you’ll have an RPM meter dominating the monocle and above it is a digital speedometer. The speedo has been slightly reworked to include the change of colour from green to blue. Yes, the new Civic gets an ECO button, which when pressed, will let you know how well you’re treating Mother Nature.

The speedo gets a new neighbor. At the centre of the dashboard now lives the i-MID, or intelligent Multi Information Display. The display is a five-inch colour LCD and it remains legible under the sun. It tells the fuel consumption, audio details and system menu that you can fiddle with via the buttons on the steering.

There will be three variants when the Civic arrives on our side of the fence – the 1.8L, 2.0L and the 2.0L Navi. The midrange 2.0L will get powered-seats for the driver, headlamp auto-off timer, smart entry, push-start button, cruise control and side SRS airbags. The top-of-the-range 2.0L Navi will get an extra touchscreen LCD, satellite navigation, reverse camera and the ability to pair with your phone. But since the car isn’t here yet, Honda is playing the specification cards close to its chest.

As for its total weight, Honda said that it has cut the fat off some parts. The EPS weighs 1.3 kg less, the thin-walled fuel tank is 0.7 kg lighter, the front sub-weight subtracts 1.7 kg and the silencer is reduced by 0.5 kg. Add that to the lightness of the high-tensile steel frame and you’ll have a vehicle that is 7% lighter than the one it replaces.

I ended my drive with the 1.8L. No two ways about it, this car was slower than the 2.0 litre variant. Don’t get me wrong; its power delivery was respectable. The 1.8 mill produces 130 hp at 6,500 rpm and 174 Nm at 4,300 rpm. And the engine is mated to the same five-speed automatic found in the other variants. Not that it mattered, because I found myself smacked dead centre in traffic.

When the road finally opened, the 1.8 litre Civic moved along nice and smooth. It retained all the handling characteristics of its older sibling, the exterior noises muted by sound absorption materials, and the seats had enough padding to be comfortable. It is clear that the 1.8 litre Honda Civic is good enough for everyday situations. If you can allow its shape to grow on you, this is a car that would be easy to live with. As for me, I’d go for the 2.0.

The Civic will be launched soon. Final details on the power and specifications will be made known then. I look forward to how Honda has packaged the Civic for Malaysia.