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Wheels of the Week: I rode a rocket pretending
to be a car

The Honda Civic RS was a startling experience, both for the driver and other motorists, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

When is a car not really a car? Obviously, when it performs in ways one does not expect from a car. Less obviously, when it appears to bend time and space.

That may sound like an exaggeration but is the most appropriate way to describe and experience that is startling to both the driver and other motorists.

As a sporty compact sedan car, the Honda Civic RS, part of the 11th Generation Civic line-up, is not expected to accelerate at speeds that invite comparison with rocket-ship G-forces. The difference is that the driver of the RS barely feels the acceleration, so comfortable is the cockpit, so smooth is the automatic gearing up, and so effortlessly does it hold the road.

All this while sailing – weaving is a weak description for the experience – between cars whose drivers think they are sharing the road. In reality, they are merely providing a backdrop for the show being put on by the RS. As they disappear in the rear-view mirror, it is as if they have been left behind not only in space, but also time.

How is this possible?

For one thing, the RS in the model name does not stand for “rally sport”, as is usually the case, but for “road sailing”.

It lives up to this claim thanks to a surprisingly responsive 1.5L DOHC VTEC Turbo engine, delivering a robust 131 kW and 240 Nm of torque. The smooth acceleration comes courtesy of CVT (continuously variable transmission), a type of automatic transmission that can change seamlessly through an infinite number of effective gear ratios, allowing for a smooth, step-less transition between gears.

Front-wheel drive helps, ensuring responsive handling, while a McPherson Strut front suspension and multi-link rear suspension balance the ride. Let’s not forget the pilot’s, errr, driver’s seat. Leather-suede combination upholstery adds a touch of luxury, and allows for 8-way power adjustment, along with heating, providing tremendous comfort while sailing in one’s own dimension. The only sad note here is that the passenger seat is manual, with a mere 4-way adjustment. So don’t expect the driver and passenger to experience the same alternative dimension.

However, an electric sunroof, heated passenger seat, and dual-zone automatic air conditioning go a long way towards consolation.

Fuel consumption is advertised at 6.2 l/100km, bit we never came close. During my multi-dimensional piloting on Johannesburg city roads, it leaped to 9.5km/100km, while Sheryl’s more responsible driving on the highways of the North West province brought the average down to 8.2l/100km. That still delivered great mileage from the 47-liter fuel tank capacity.

The boot offers a sumptuous 495 liters of luggage space, which forgives many consumption sins.

But let’s go back to the beginning. No, not the beginning of time: the design of the Civic RS draws inspiration from previous generations, but it’s not stuck in the past. It has a fresh look, with gloss black painted exterior features, from the side mirrors and shark fin antenna to outer door handles and rear spoiler. 18” matte black alloy wheels give it both a sporty and sophisticated presence on the road. The thumbs-up from numerous other motorists – when they were able to draw alongside, that is – spoke more than words about its appeal.

The interior, too, declares sophistication with a sporty edge. Red ambient lighting sets a dynamic tone, and sports pedals add to an athletic feel. The dash, designed to reduce visual distractions, features metal honeycomb mesh concealing the air vents – a neat trick that keeps the design clean and uncluttered.

The tech is gorgeous, with one unfortunate nod to the past:  a 9-inch infotainment system allows wireless Apple CarPlay but demands a USB cable for Android Auto. What is this? 2015?

That said, the advanced HMI (for Human Machine Interface) Display Audio system is exceptionally user-friendly once connected, allowing easy access to enabled apps. A 12-speaker Bose sound system offers a rich audio experience that further removes one from the traffic noise as you shift dimensions.

Here, too, the pilot is the first to experience the future, with a 10.2-inch interactive LCD instrument cluster. Controls on the steering wheel allow scrolling through music playlists, navigation directions, Honda Sensing functions and that quaint old tradition: answering phone calls.

The Honda Sensing suite of technologies includes Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC), Collision Mitigation Braking System (CMBS), Lane Keeping Assist System (LKAS), Road Departure Mitigation (RDM), and Auto High-Beam (AHB). These systems work seamlessly together, although the LKAS tends to be over-aggressive when it doesn’t recognise the variable lane-stye of South Africa’s under-construction and under-destruction roads.

The cost of the car starts at a cost of R725,000, or R8,999 per month, a bargain for what one gets, in any dimension.

* Arthur Goldstuck is CEO of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on social media on @art2gee.

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