• Dec 1st 2008 at 8:02PM
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click above image for a high-res gallery of the Honda Civic i-CDTi

It's time for another in our ongoing series of reviews of high mileage cars that Americans can't buy at any price. This time around we have Honda Civic i-CDTi from our friends at Honeywell. You may recall from some previous reviews that Honeywell is a major manufacturer of turbochargers and they have a fleet of European diesel vehicles that they are using to promote their technology. You might look at the car pictured above and think to yourself, "That's not like any Civic I've ever seen." Unless you're one of our European readers, you'd probably be right. As hatchbacks comprised an ever smaller share of US Civic sales through the '90s and into the early part of this decade Honda, decided to stop offering that body style in the US.

Meanwhile, over in Europe, the latest three- and five-door hatchback Civics have evolved into something that almost looks more like a space capsule than a car. Under the hood, this Civic has a powerplant that's also unavailable to Americans, a 2.2L turbodiesel four. This is Honda's previous-generation diesel engine, not the newer i-DTEC engine that was shown at the 2008 Detroit Auto Show. Follow the jump to find out what it's like to live with a Civic with low end torque.

Photos Copyright ©2008 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.

Earlier this year, the company launched a redesigned diesel engine called the i-DTEC with a newly-developed NOx after-treatment system. That engine debuted in the 2009 European Honda Accord which is sold in North America as the Acura TSX. The TSX diesel had been expected to debut in the US in spring 2009, but that plan has recently been thrown into doubt for reasons that aren't entirely clear. Whether we will ever get a diesel Honda or Acura in the US now remains uncertain. Our European counterparts, on the other hand, have access to this futuristic-looking Civic.

Walking around this car for the first time, it's clear that triangles and other prisms are the dominant design theme here. At first glance it looks like a three-door hatch as there is no obvious rear door handle. A cut line is visible dropping from the rear corner of the window to the wheel arch, but the handle is hidden. A closer look reveals the handle camouflaged in the black plastic at the corner of the window. In some respects the the styling details of the Euro Civic bear a closer resemblance to the new Fit than the American Civic.

The character lines in the hood and the creases in the rear hatch are common to both hatchbacks. A full width pseudo light bar fills the gap between the headlights where the grill normally resides. At the back the top part of the hatch glass slopes well forward from a mid-level spoiler. A second slim piece of vertical glass sits below the spoiler. The triangle theme shows up in several places including the dual exhaust pipes and the front door handles.

The biggest resemblance between the Civics from opposite sides of the pond shows up on the inside. Like the US model, the Euro Civic has a double decker instrument cluster. The upper portion, visible above the steering wheel contains a digital speedometer flanked by rows of LEDs warning the driver that the engine is approaching red-line on the left and an economy gauge on the right. The tachometer in the main cluster has the blue glow emanating from the central information display that is common to most current Hondas and Acuras.

The rest of the interior again goes off in a different direction from the US car. Most of the dash surface is fairly plain and the number of controls and switches is kept to a minimum. The lever for selecting which of the six ratios to use in the manual transmission has a different look from a typical unit. Instead of the usual rubber or leather boot surrounding the lever, it sticks up out of what looks like a metal ball. The actual functionality is pretty much the same as any other recent Honda. Shifts are relatively short and precise and the clutch take-up is smooth and progressive.

The front seats are standard Honda/Acura fare which means they are comfortable and offer excellent lateral support. Compared to the US Civic, the back seat of the European hatch is not as roomy. In fact, it's less roomy than the Fit as well. The sloping rear glass cuts into head room back there while the door handles in the trailing corners of the rear windows combine with the rising belt line to limit visibility out of the rear compartment. The C-pillars are relatively thick for a Honda. Combined with that split rear glass and belt-line means rear visibility is unusually bad.

Of course the reason we were driving this car in the first place was what was under the hood. The diesel powerplant is unusual for a four-cylinder Honda engine in that it has plenty of low end torque. Honda fours are typically powerful for their size, smooth and free revving with very little twisting force at low revs. This diesel gets maxed out at only 4,500 rpm and pulls strongly everywhere from 1,500-4,500. That torque makes the Civic a real pleasure to drive around town and on twisty roads.

Thanks to a diesel particulate filter, it's also smoke and smell free. Unlike the newer i-DTEC, though, it won't pass US NOx standards and, while it's quieter than older diesels, it exhibits more clatter at idle than the latest examples like the Jetta TDI. The biggest reason people opt for diesel engines though is low fuel consumption. Here the Civic i-CDTi shone with a 44 mpg average over the week we had the car. That's 7 mpg more than we averaged with the Civic hybrid a few months back. That amounts to about 19 percent fewer gallons of fuel and about 16 percent lower carbon dioxide emissions.

As I write this, the national average price of ultra low sulfur diesel is $2.67 a gallon while regular gas is $1.89. Even with the extra efficiency of the diesel, over 12,000 miles of driving it will cost about about $120 per year more to operate this Civic compared to a gasoline version. Aside from the reduced CO2 emissions, another way to rationalize a diesel powerplanat in this example is to consider it a premium option. The diesel Civic offers better performance than the hybrid and for those partial to torque, the diesel is the way to go. That's part of why Honda has been planning to introduce its US diesels in the Acura brand first. Hopefully in the next few months we'll find out what Honda's plans are for diesel in the US market. For the time being it's all a moot point for American consumers since you can't buy this car anyway.

Photos Copyright ©2008 Sam Abuelsamid / Weblogs, Inc.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 8 Months Ago
      >> In order to meet the demand the oil companies could import refined diesel or increase diesel production (several years down the road due to the required new facilities), or whatever. Auto mfgr's are aware of this and are reluctant to make the step, particularly in today's economic environment.

      Give me a break, auto mfgr's have shown No Ability to predict gas and diesel prices.

      Give me a break "it cost's 30% more then gas" 30% of $2.00 is 60 cents. Yet, the price difference is now $1.20.

      This is the oil industry saying "screw your 50 mpg diesel's".

      • 6 Years Ago
      Nice post...! To find out more, please visit to DaveDeli
      • 6 Years Ago
      The UK program Fifth Gear had an excellent review of this exact model a couple of years ago. They gave it top marks - the review used to be available on line but may now take a bit of Googling to find.

      Re: "Interesting how, the oil companies are raising the price of diesel to stop demand for these high MPG cars."

      Sorry, but there is no conspiracy going on. Over the shorter term diesel is refined in fixed proportion to gasoline. Diesel consumption is steady in comparison with gasoline which spikes in the summer and declines in the fall. The pricing is affected in the short term by rising and falling inventories. The Montreal Gazette ran an interesting article on this topic recently:

      "Why gas prices don't reflect crude movements"
      "it has to do with inventories"
      • 6 Years Ago
      Brings back those happy thoughts from 2 years ago: the Diesel-Hybrid.

      Interesting how, the oil companies are raising the price of diesel to stop demand for these high MPG cars. The oil industry seems to be able to price it's product without any basis for the cost of production!
      They simply Wish diesel to be more expensive and, abracadabra, it is.

        • 8 Months Ago
        Diesel is influenced by different demand characteristics and processed using different methods.
        • 8 Months Ago
        light sweet crude is the best for making low sulfur diesel in decent quantities.

        Sour/low grade crude oil can be used to make gasoline, but is much harder to refine into low sulfur diesel with decent yields.

        Diesel fuel contains more energy so diesel engines can easily get better mpg, but it will likely cost more in the future because it requires higher grade crude.
        • 8 Months Ago
        It's absolutely true that diesel should not be $1.20 more per gallon than gasoline. And it won't be forever though it is right now.

        Diesel prices generally climb in the winter months due to increased demand for home heating oil which is very, very similar to diesel(also known as fuel oil). Combining that increase in demand with the massive drop-off in demand for gasoline and huge decreases in oil prices have conspired to decrease gasoline far more dramatically than diesel.

        On a similar note, while diesel shouldn't be as high as it is right now, gasoline also shouldn't be as low as it is right now either. At least not by recent standards. Comparing historical crude prices to historical gasoline prices, currently, gasoline prices are about 40cents lower than they were the past couple of times oil was this low.

        For instance, in Feb. 2007, crude was trading around $50 a barrel and the US avg. price of gasoline then was around $2.25/gal. That was the last time oil was this low. Next, let's look at Dec. 2005 when oil was also around $50 per barrel. Gasoline then was averaging about $2.20/gal. I'm using "about" since the prices are given weekly and I'm averaging them in my head to get a monthly figure.

        Either way, the prices we are seeing right now aren't supported by recent history during times when the crude prices were similar. Crude prices do make up about 75% of the cost of a gallon of gas so it's a very valid comparison. I personally think we will see gasoline price start to climb in the near future(next couple of months) even if oil is still trading at these lower levels. At the same time, I expect diesel prices to fall for the reasons stated above.

        As the winter months go on and as we move into spring, I think the prices will regulate and diesel will find itself much closer to gasoline pricewise. I expect it to get even closer than the 15% difference we saw during the high prices of the summer. Realistically, diesel may eventually get back to the point where it falls below the price of gasoline since it is cheaper to refine even despite the ULSD requirements. It's just taking a while for the refineries to more economically refine the ULSD after being used to the 500ppm variety they were producing before.
        • 8 Months Ago
        It's hard to believe it should cost an extra $1.20 per gallon. After all it's not made of gold.
        • 8 Months Ago
        There's no way diesel costs an extra $1.20.

        • 8 Months Ago
        It was my understanding that Diesel got more expensive because we now process it further into the sulfer free diesel. Diesel is not very popular here so all that extra processing equipment makes a small amount of the fuel we use. Thus supply/demand/production costs and valla you have more expensive diesel.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Diesel is produced in the U.S. by a parallel method alongside other cracking products. It is not just pulled off the same cracking towers that also produce gas, propane, etc. In the U.S. the process is unique and cannot be easily converted from gas to diesel or diesel to gas nor can sticking more crude in the bottom allow for more pulling off of diesel up the tower.

      Due to current diesel use in the U.S. (trucks, trains, industry, etc.) production is almost at 100% of capability, hence the higher price for diesel. Supply and demand - Econ 101. A large influx of diesel vehicles, whether produced w/in the U.S. or from elsewhere else will only serve to drive diesel prices higher since U.S. diesel production is almost maxed out.

      What will happen if mfgr's begin to import/build large numbers of diesel cars? An intelligence guess is an increase in diesel fuel price. In order to meet the demand the oil companies could import refined diesel or increase diesel production (several years down the road due to the required new facilities), or whatever. Auto mfgr's are aware of this and are reluctant to make the step, particularly in today's economic environment. They know the cost of diesel, at least in the short term, will significantly increase, making their cars less marketable.

      And please get a grip (I'm talking to you Mikellekim). The oil companies do not set the price of oil. Get over it once and for all. It's not directly set by middle eastern countries either. True, OPEC can reduce supply hoping the price will increase, but they do not directly set the price. They have bills to pay also and if the price gets too low, count on OPEC to significantly reduce production. The cost of oil is set on the spot market in Rotterdam on a second by second basis, 24/7. Traders, dealers, speculators, etc., all set the price in the same manner stock prices are set on Wall Street - i.e. bidding.

      Frankly we should be kissing the feet of the oil companies (and their very correct 9% net profit). They have managed to supply consumers uninterrupted product since the late 70's, while dealing with federal and state requirements (47 different blends, doubled for winter and summer), and the various types of fuels that oil gives us and all without a new refinery in 31 years.

      One more thing about diesel. Diesel fuel has about 30% more BTUs than gas. Interestingly it costs about 30% more and MPG is about 30% more - give or take, it's a moving target.
        • 8 Months Ago
        "Diesel fuel has about 30% more BTUs than gas. Interestingly it costs about 30% more and MPG is about 30% more - give or take"

        No, diesel has about 15% more BTUs per volume than gasoline.

        The diesel cycle itself is far more efficient than any Otto cycle, that's where a big chunk of the mpg increase comes from.

        Why else is everyone racing to perfect HCCI (burn gasoline like diesel)?
      • 8 Months Ago
      So, what's going to be your story when diesel comes back down to being roughly 15% more expensive than gasoline like it was during the summer??

      Unfortunately for you, gas and diesel prices are fluid and will not remain at the same levels in relation to each other forever. For proof look at the prices a few months back or even 5yrs ago etc.
      • 6 Years Ago
      I hate it when involvolution happens with cars.
        • 8 Months Ago
        I agree. I think the word Sam was looking for was evolved.

        And how do you go $1200 miles?

        Proofread, Sam.
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