REVIEW: 2021 Honda Civic 1.5TC-P facelift – RM135k

For a model that is as successful as the 10th-generation Honda Civic, it sure is surprising for a successor to come around so quickly. After nearly six seemingly short years, the Civic FC will soon be bowing out, probably taking with it the fanfare and hype that has defined its fiery presence.

Yes, its overly sporty, rakish fastback design may have put a number of people off, but there’s no arguing that the FC set the bar high, much to the dismay of its more matured, but not necessarily bad-looking successor. Nevertheless, the FC remains alluringly handsome to this day, and the 2020 update brought much-needed improvements to the perennial fan favourite.

But in the face of even stiffer competition, does the ageing Civic still have the ability to sway buyers away from fresh new rivals like the Mazda 3, Toyota Corolla, and flashy new compact SUVs? On the merit of looks alone, sure, but being good looking only wins you half the battle. So, what has changed?

Not much, really

Up front, the Civic gets a brand new bumper, with the black trim pieces now seamlessly integrated into the lower intake. The positioning of the LED reflector fog lamps remain unchanged, and besides the gloss black radiator grille on the top 1.5 TC-P, the fascia is plainly carried over. Nothing wrong with that, we think.

Honda has a reasonably good track record with offering some really nice factory-fitted wheels, and the dual-tone diamond-cut 18-inch alloys here do a very good job at making the sedan appear even more athletic. Plus, it rides on wider 235/40 profile Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tyres, which is a big upgrade from the 17-inch/Continental MC5 combo from before.

Considering the variety of gorgeous factory wheels Honda has to offer, perhaps the company ought to make some of those available via its genuine accessories range. After all, Honda customers would love to have some additional options, even more so if they can be had without voiding warranty.

There is a new boot spoiler with built-in third brake lights for the top variant as well, but the two cheaper models can have this fitted should they opt for the RM4,868 Modulo package. Another small update is a slim strip of chrome right along the bottom edge of the rear bumper.

Same interior, but made slightly better

One of the biggest drawbacks with the pre-facelift 1.5 TC-P model was the touchscreen-based blower adjuster for the air-conditioning system. This has been rectified, thankfully, with the inclusion of two additional physical buttons right below the seven-inch infotainment display. The 1.8 S and 1.5 TC were spared from this travesty from the get-go by having a physical dial, but at the expense of dual-zone climate control.

The plastic buttons on the steering wheel also seem to be made from higher quality composites, while the capacitive volume control pad gets replaced with the more foolproof two-button type. Button tactility feels primitive and cheap compared to the likes of the Toyota Corolla and Mazda 3, but at least the digital instrumentation still looks acceptably modern.

The infotainment display, on the other hand, continues to look like a tablet from the previous decade. The user interface is uninspiringly basic, but it’s functionally better now thanks to new physical buttons and a volume knob. Touch response is good, and text are legible even at speed. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (wired only) are standard across the board, as are dual USB port, HDMI connection and eight average-sounding speakers.

Minor gripes here are the lack of auto up-down rear windows, vanity lights, and a slow 1.0 Ampere USB charger within the centre armrest. To give credit where it’s due, the storage area is still unbeatable in the segment, with bonuses including a 60:40 split folding rear bench, rear air vents, spacious rear quarters, and a cavernous 519-litre boot space. We should add that it’s also still the most spacious car in its class.

So, what is it like to drive?

REVIEW: 2021 Honda Civic 1.5TC-P facelift – RM135k

In short, very familiar. The L15B7 1.5 litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine (direct injection) remains unchanged from before, developing 173 PS at 5,500 rpm and 220 Nm of torque from 1,700 to 5,500 rpm. Those numbers are comparable to naturally-aspirated 2.0 litre mills, but the downsized mill comes with several key advantages.

It weighs less, for one, making the nose feel light and quick to steer. The Civic is rather darty for a C-segment sedan, but purists will find the steering somewhat muted. Still, weekend excursions along your favourite B-roads will yield some form of enjoyment, but know that the Earth Dreams CVT is not meant to be wrung hard over an extended period of time. It overheats, believe me you.

The Civic played a crucial role in bringing turbocharged engines to the mainstream, and the fact still rings somewhat true to this day. Most upgraders will be new to forced induction tech, and they will be pleased with the performance of this “puny” 1.5 litre lump.

REVIEW: 2021 Honda Civic 1.5TC-P facelift – RM135k

How bout a nice engine cover next time, Honda?

It’s sprightly for the most part, eagerly lunging forward when the turbo spools into action. Boost is well sustained, with signs of atrophy only cropping up well past the century marker. Honestly, the CVT does dial back the fun factor, but only the keenest of drivers would consider it a deal-breaker.

For the majority of casual drivers, it’s more than good enough. There’s gobs of low-end torque, and the car actually gets up to speed reasonably quickly. It also feels quicker than the official 0-100 km/h sprint time (8.2 seconds) suggests, but that might be due to sensory confusion caused by the loud CVT drone at full pelt. Yeah, that bit can be unpleasant.

As for ride and handling, the Civic is still a solid all-rounder. Ride is supple without being too wallowy, though fitment of the larger wheels and lower profile tyres do produce a noticeably firmer rebound profile. Some absorbency is lost with those Pilot Sport 4 rubbers, but the increase in grip level is well worth the trade. Nice move, Honda.

Honda Sensing is a welcome upgrade

REVIEW: 2021 Honda Civic 1.5TC-P facelift – RM135k

The biggest update the Civic received for its midlife refresh is Honda Sensing. Useful and potentially life-saving features such as adaptive cruise control with low speed follow and autonomous emergency braking are included in the kit, and they operate fairly competently when engaged.

We experienced no anomalies throughout our testing, and when they worked, they worked excellently without feeling too intrusive. The auto high beam assist did feel a tad mediocre, but otherwise, we think this system and the 18-inch wheels make up for the odd RM10k premium over the pre-facelift TC-P model.

So yeah, that is pretty much it. No major tweaks have been made in the areas of insulation, chassis and suspension, because these have been exhaustively tweaked to suit Malaysian preferences prior to the FC’s blockbuster 2016 debut.

But is it worth picking one up now that the 11th-gen model is lurking around the corner? Well, if you really like how the FC looks, sure, no harm right there. The final batches of cars are typically fuss-free anyway, with niggling QC issues presumably sorted over the years. By that logic, the Civic FC should be in its peak form. And if you manage to snag one at a steep discount, that’s a win for you.

GALLERY: 2020 Honda Civic 1.5 TC-P in Modern Steel Metallic