Instead of logically calling this new addition to the range a Civic 3-Door, Honda's current focus is on driving down the average age of UK Civic customers so their thinking is to use S or Type S titles to imply Sport.

Civic Type S or Civic 3-door

British built at Honda's Swindon manufacturing alongside the five door models the new Civic 3-door or to give it its proper titles, Civic S, Civic Type S and Civic Type S GT, goes on sale in the UK in January with the options of a 1.8-litre petrol engine or a 2.2-litre diesel unit. Prices will range from £14,000 up to £19,800 for a fully specified variant.

Instead of logically calling this new addition to the range a Civic 3-Door, Honda's current focus is on driving down the average age of UK Civic customers so their thinking is to use S or Type S titles to imply Sport. The new models may look sporty with their three-door design but in fact this is not yet their proper sports version of the Civic, we will still have to wait a little longer for their new Civic Type R to appear. Confusing I know but logic does no always apply when designers and marketers start naming their creations.

The base model Civic S hardly rates a mention in Honda's press material as so few of them will be sold. All the focus is on the Type S and Type S GT versions, although they all have the same two engine options and consequently the same performance.

In fairness the new Civic in its five door form with its radical and bold styling has already driven down the average age of the UK owners from 61 to 54 years, even 51 years of age for diesel models. The number of 35 to 50 years olds buying Civics is increasing all the time. The Civic three-door additions will accelerate this growth says Honda UK.

That is good news for British workers at Honda in Swindon as it will grow total Civic sales in Europe to 100,000 units a year of which 35,000 will be sold in the UK. Already this year with just the new five-door models on offer, Civic's UK sales have reached 30,000 units and this equates to a 30% rise over the previous range. So the radical styling has worked and new younger converts as well as traditional older Civic buyers like what they see.

In 2007 Honda UK says it will sell in the region of 12,000 Civic 3-Door models of which 4,500 will be the petrol Type S, 5,000 will be the yet to be announced petrol Type R and 2,500 will be the diesel Type S. So the overall Civic sales split next year is expected to be one-third three-door models, two-thirds five-door versions.

The Civic in its sports three-door guise is exactly the same in length, 4,276mm, as the five-door models but the rear track has been widened by 20mm. The front doors are longer to facilitate access to the rear seats and there is a more pronounced kick-up to the rear window line. The front and rear bumpers are lower and there are side sill skirts to complete the sporting wedge look. With the 60-40 fold flat rear seats there is between 485 and 1,352 litres of luggage space. Rear passenger room is the same as the Civic five door models, not the biggest in the C-segment but adequate.

As the base S version is only listed as a price entry model for fleet sale purposes I will concentrate on the specifications of the Type S and Type S GT variants.

The Civic Type S is well equipped and well priced at £15,250 for the best selling 1.8 i-VTEC petrol model and £16,550 for the 2.2 i-CTDI diesel version, a steep £1,300 for the privilege of opting for a diesel engine. Both units produce 140PS, both petrol and diesel cars have the same 127mph top speed with the diesel engine, according to official figures, returning 11.5mpg more at 54.3mpg than its petrol counterpart. Both petrol and diesel models have a slick 6-speed manual transmission. If you want an auto gearbox then only petrol models can be had with this facility.

If you feel the added specification of the Type S GT is worthwhile then the petrol models start at £16,250 and the diesel versions at £17,550. I must point out again there is no difference in performance between S, Type S and Type S GT models, only specification. All have anti-lock braking, electronic power steering and vehicle stability assist. The base S models have steel wheels, no air conditioning and less interior steel sports trim.

The Type S grade of specification includes automatic air conditioning, 17-inch alloy wheels, stereo radio/CD unit, curtain airbags, alloy pedals and footrest, leather steering wheel, an intermediate boot load shelf, upgraded speakers, remote audio controls and glovebox cooler.

The Type S GT grade adds a panoramic glass sunroof, cruise control, dual zone climate control, fog lights, alarm, automatic lights and wipers and power folding door mirrors.

Inside the Type S and S GT models you will find all the hints of a real sports hatchback but whilst the front seats are different from the Civic five-door models with more support, they are not true sports seats. The excellent two-tier dashboard with its cockpit style instrument layout is carried over from the five door models and very good it looks as well.

As the petrol models are going to be the best sellers, although the demand for diesel power in this C-segment has increased from 8% to 27%, for the media first test drive event I tried a Type S GT 1.8 i-VTEC petrol model. I wouldn't normally go for this GT variant as I think the Type S 1.8 i-VTEC version is the best buy. The high revving petrol engine is just that bit more refined than the 2.2 i-CDTI diesel unit in this particular Honda model. In the new Swindon built Honda CR-V on/off roader, which we cannot write about until November, the same diesel unit works much better than the petrol engine - it is horses for courses.

The petrol engine is willing and free revving but requires frequent use of the gearbox unless you are cruising on motorways. The maximum torque at 174Nm is produced at a high 4,300rpm so the engine speed has to be kept high to get the best response from this car. During the test drive over a combination of roads the Civic three-door returned a reasonable 34.8mpg, much less than the quoted 42.8mpg official figures.

The three-door Civic handles well with plenty of grip leading to the usual front wheel drive understeer if pushed really hard. The steering response is fast and accurate but with the lowered sports suspension the ride is harder than the five-door models. The Civic can become quite choppy over poorer road surfaces but some will feel it enhances the sports aspect of the car.

I got the overall impression that the performance and driveability of this Civic is a mid-term solution. It is sharper to look at and drive than Civic five door models but it comes nowhere close to what the future Type R should be. Shall we say it's a 'warm' hatchback rather than a sporty one?

MILESTONES. Honda Civic Type S GT 1.8 i-VTEC manual. Price £17,650.
Engine:1.8-litre, SOHC, petrol, 140PS, 174Nm at 4,300rpm.
Transmission: 6-speed manual, front wheel drive.
Performance:127mph, 0-62mph8.9 seconds, 42.8mpg (34.8mpg actual), CO2 156g/km.
VED: Band D, VED £125.
Insurance group: 9E.
For: Styling, interior design, build quality, high equipment level and desirability.
Against: Future Type R version should give the performance to go with the looks, choppy ride, just misses the point of S for Sport.

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