The new Honda Civic has generated a lot of attention and discourse even before the first cars have reached customers. Launched in Malaysia yesterday, the 11th-generation FE has big shoes to fill, replacing the FC that remains popular with families and boy racers alike.

A lot of the comments from keyboard warriors stem from the car’s more “mature” looks, but there are plenty of other questions regarding its upgraded engine and transmission, chassis and safety kit – and what’s with the Civic’s “odd-numbered generation curse?” We put all those questions to the new Civic’s large project leader Tomoyuki Yamagami (as well as his translator, Honda Malaysia executive coordinator Yujiro Sugino) and this is what he had to say.

Q: The design of the new Honda Civic has generated a lot of comments. Some applaud the more mature look, while others say it looks a little boring. What was the design direction of the new car, and was the response something that you were expecting?

Tomoyuki Yamagami: We understand that there are very subjective opinions on design, and knowing that, looking at our global customer base, we tried to pursue what is very essential to the customer’s values. Rather than trying to add busy decorations or make it too luxurious, we minimised [the use of] any extra lines and optimised the proportions so that it will be accepted by a wide base of customers globally.

Q: The new Civic has a longer wheelbase than before, which tends to make a car less eager to turn and susceptible to understeer. What’s the rationale behind this increase?

TY: First of all, the Civic, being a global model, has been tested repetitively in Europe where high stability is necessary. Where the body structure was concerned, stability was one of the main reasons we decided to increase the wheelbase. In crosswinds and when the body turns, the driver can actually feel the improvement in stability. As for your concern regarding understeer, we used devices such as Agile Handling Assist and improved steering rigidity so we can balance stability with handling.

Q: Were there any changes to the suspension tuning?

TY: In terms of the detailed adjustments on alignment and steering, yes we have implemented, but the most important part we believe is the body structure, which influences the dynamics the most. Improving body structure rigidity was the main portion we focused on. Also, we applied more adhesive material to improve the body rigidity to improve dynamic performance. In addition to that, the steering rigidity has also improved and we have widened the rear tread so that better stability is realised.

Q: What were your benchmarks when it came to ride and handling? Did you only compare the new Civic to other C-segment models or were there larger or more expensive cars involved as well?

TY: There were a couple of competitors that we looked at. Within the C-segment there were the Toyota Corolla and Mazda 3; as for the benchmark for the ride we also looked at the Audi A3 and A4, which are perceived as higher-segment [vehicles], as well as the Volkswagen Golf.

In terms of what we pursued, we have really focused on improving the ride. In that sense, yes, we have looked at upper-segment models and we believe that is why we are getting a good response from the countries we have already launched the car in.

Q: The new Civic comes with hemmed wheel arches, which eliminate the inside lip of the fenders. Could you explain the benefits of such a process?

TY:Two main points that we can highlight on the benefits, one is design and the other is dynamics. In terms of the design, a big space between the tyre and the wheelhouse is not ideal. By applying this hem, we could minimise this space. We were also able to widen the rear tread, so that the rear tyres can be pushed further out, improving dynamics.

Q: In Malaysia, the Civic gets more power than in other regional markets like Thailand, matching the United States and Japan. Is there a reason for this?

TY: In terms of the output, the difference comes from the fuel – namely, Thailand uses E85 fuel compared to the regular petrol used in Malaysia.

Q: Where have the gains in horsepower and torque come from?

TY: The higher output has been realised mainly through the change in the turbocharger hardware, which actually not only contributes to horsepower and torque but also the turbocharger response and driving feel. We also changed the oil pan and crankshaft to improve NVH, especially at low speeds in the city where [the engine is at] a lower rpm and there are higher loads placed on the engine.

We’ve looked into how we can minimise the vibration of the materials. It’s not that we changed the materials themselves but the design. We have thickened the diameter [of the crankshaft] and improved the rigidity [of the oil pan] to minimise NVH.

Honda has also optimised the turbocharger piping to reduce pressure loss and integrated a 4-2 exhaust manifold to the cylinder head. The exhaust side also gains Variable Valve Timing and Electronic Lift Control, meaning that the engine now actually earns its VTEC Turbo name.

Q: Why has Honda dropped the 1.8 litre naturally-aspirated i-VTEC engine for the new Civic? It’s great that the VTEC Turbo mill is standard across the range, but it will also drive the price up – not such a good thing in price-sensitive markets like Malaysia.

TY: Moving forward towards the future, considering the environmental restrictions globally, we have decided that we should focus on the development of the 1.5 litre VTEC Turbo and put all our resources into this engine, as the 1.8 litre NA engine is a little bit old.

Q: Honda has announced that the e:HEV hybrid model will be revealed sometime this year. What can we expect from the Civic version?

Yujiro Sugino: In terms of the hybrid, as Honda Malaysia we are expanding our hybrid lineup and volume, but in terms of the actual introduction timing, we cannot confirm at this point. Obviously, Civic is one of the models we are looking at, but [we can’t say for sure] whether or not we will [bring it in] and what timing it will be launched.

Q: We’ve tested the new Civic on track and found the CVT to be much more responsive than before, especially when using the paddle shifters. What were the specific changes you have made to the transmission?

TY: Thank you very much for your feedback, we appreciate your comment as we put a lot of emphasis on improving the response, not just with the turbo engine as explained earlier but also in terms of the transmission feel; we’ve actually put a lot of focus and emphasis on it.

In terms of the measures we’ve taken, they are mostly software changes, but we’ve done a lot of testing on actual roads in the US, Germany and the UK and we’ve done a lot of adjustments with the prototypes. This is why we’ve managed to achieve what has been realised right now.

One more thing to add is that with the new Civic, the car is able to [detect] if it’s driving on the circuit and it will adjust itself so that cornering will be optimised. With the teaser drive being done at the Sepang Circuit, I think it was easier to feel that the vehicle itself was optimised for the way it was being driven.

Q: How is it able to detect if it’s on a circuit?

TY: In terms of the mechanics, it utilises the ABS sensors in the wheels. After one or two corners on the circuit, it will be detect with the ABS sensors and the braking [force] that it is on track and will optimise the [CVT] settings.

Q: Compared to the Civic sold in the US and Japan, the cars sold in the ASEAN region lack Traffic Jam Assist (TJA). Was there a specific technical issue that prevented this and can we expect the system to be implemented in the future?

TY: This was decided based on regional customer preferences as well as the traffic conditions and [road] infrastructure. There will be areas we will need to look into moving forward, so we won’t deny the possibility of applying it to the AO [Asia and Oceania] region, but we have decided to apply it in certain areas [first].

Technically, in terms of hardware, [it’s the same everywhere]; the difference is the software. [TJA] is largely impacted by the drivability in [traffic] conditions in certain regions. We will continue to monitor the situation and if we actually see the necessity to apply [TJA], we can make the change.

A quick clarification – TJA is an extension of the Lane Keep Assist System (LKAS), enabling the car to be centred in its own lane at lower speeds; currently, LKAS only operates above 72 km/h. As before, the Civic maintains the Low Speed Follow function for the Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC), allowing it to come to a complete stop on its own.

Q: Why does Honda persist in offering the LaneWatch camera for the ASEAN region, rather than the blind spot monitor used in other markets?

TY: Globally, there are regions where the blind spot indicator is applied, but for the AO region and also Malaysia, we applied LaneWatch. This is due to the market conditions, infrastructure conditions and the fact that motorcycles are often used in the AO regions, which LaneWatch captures easier.

Q: Over the past two decades, the Civic has been on an up-and-down trend with each successive generation in terms of sales and public reception. The slightly underwhelming seventh-generation ES was followed by the fan-favourite FD, which was then replaced by the FB that was compromised by the global recession. A course correction was made with that car’s successor, the FC, which remains popular to this day. Are you worried that the new FE will follow this trend?

TY: There have always been changes surrounding our global market, and this not only applies to the Civic. I’m not really sure there’s a model that has consistently succeeded throughout each generation. There’s also the fact that there are a lot of factors that impact actual sales and customer perception.

It’s difficult to comment, but as a development team we acknowledge and have heard the customer’s voice from all regions over the course of the development. We understand there were ups and downs but we are confident that we are delivering the best [product] with this 11th-generation model.

The actual verdict will probably only be given five or ten years after launch. But at this point we are very confident.

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