Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Test Drive - 2004 Honda Civic 1.7cdti (EP3 chassis)

This a very (very) old post that has been cooking for over 2 years.

There is a reason for this. Firs I tested the car using the standard Michelin energy tires... having driven the Type-r version my immediate impression was: this thing is all over the place! that high roof must really pull the chassis beyond it's limits.
Then, my first recommendation was: change the tires. Go for some proper rubber engineered to grip instead of fuel saving, and then I recommended the Toyo T1-R's I also recommended to increase the 195,60,R15 to a much more sensible 205,55,R15 with reinforced sidewalls to prevent tire wall smash.

The transformation was obvious... having decent road holding from the tires, the chassis actually comes to live and presents all it's magnificent design. Sure it was a bit too high but the stiffness on the tires and the grip was enough to force the chassis into full dynamics (not sure however of it's behavior if you have a transition from good tarmac into a less holding surface).

This was good news but I was out of time and so I had to leave the test... unfinished.

This last 2 months however presented themselves with an opportunity to clock some 10.000Kms on the same car. It was time to to through every type of pavement, road, condition... and check the car properly.

What a surprise. Not a good or a bad surprise but rather a mix.
Chassis wise the car is brilliant... one of the best FWD chassis, period! Grippy and very composed, the lift-off over-steer is controlled with ease and allows for some spectacular drifts...not just for show! Once you've mastered the dynamics of the car, you can keep a very fast pace on any b road. Sure you will kill the front tires fast like any FWD car, but the experience will be involving and with slim to none under-steer.
Turn in is precise and very willingly (surprisingly instantaneous).

Torque-steer however is bad news. I can clearly understand why Honda, having opted for a lower quality, inferior and ultimately cheaper rear suspension design for the new versions of the civic, decided into an improved front suspension design as it was would render anything beyond 150bhp and 200nm/torque problematic. Especially with the worse rear design, the front end would really need to be a charm.

Allow the car to slide a bit further than 20 degrees and you'll feel that the torque for the front wheels will work against you while you steer back when the car starts recovering... unpleasant and eventually dangerous in extreme circumstances. How to sort this out in your own car? kill the rubber bushings and fit some good, hard, polyurethane ones...also buy a bump-steer kit from spoon...now that you are at it, fit a set of coilovers.
That is the single most weird thing about the car. And having a heavy (really heavy) diesel engine, this is more perceptible.

The Diesel engine... not bad for a 1.7 common rail with an old design. The Isuzu unit is robust and bullet proof, but is is very heavy and since it is a diesel, response is something unheard of. So that is the ONE THING that spoils the package. Had this been a RWD it would kill the chassis competence completely (much like the BMW 1 series).

Appart form that it will cruise at 120km/h at 5lts/km (no AC)... and will average 6.2lt/Km in the 10.000km I've tested with mixed city and highway , with AC (with some highway stretches going beyond the 200km/h apparent limit).

The weight of the engine is very perceptible on speed-bumps. The front of the car easily digs into the ground while coping to deal with the front end weight and still remain "decent" in comfort settings.

It is comfortable enough for long trips (over 700km in a row)...clearly not as comfortable as my V70 T5 volvo, but if you compare chassis efficiency and joy vs ride comfort, this will eclipse the volvo anyway... it will eclipse most cars actually.

So this is a good car. Pitty the engine is diesel, so a 1.8i would be better... a lot better... pitty it is so high, to the sports version is the one to go for... and of course, if you manage to source the type-r 2.0 than there is no looking back,

Comparing it with the recent chassis, the EP3 is the last great Civic to have. So unless you are 70 years old and only drive on motorways, ignore ANY civic beyond the Type-R EP3... and that includes the new "shemale" turbo type-r.