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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