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Honda Civic

Date: 28 August 2006

Category: Lower medium
Prices: £12,542-£17,947
Key rival: VW Golf

Take a moment to marvel at the Honda Civic's cost per mile. At 24.6 pence the Civic is streets ahead of its rivals.

Honda has achieved this with a package that makes total costs sense.

To start with the manufacturer only plans to sell a relative handful of the hatchbacks. This means demand will be high and depreciation low. This is coupled to a low price and good specification which further helps demand and cuts depreciation.

Honda Civic spec

But it's the 1.8-litre petrol engine that really scores points. At 140PS the unit is unusually powerful for its capacity and means it goes head-to head with 2.0-litre rivals.

And because four-cylinder petrol engines are Honda engineers' specialist subject the 1.8 is not only powerful but also frugal with a combined figure of 44.1mpg - almost 5mpg better than a 2.0-litre Focus, it's nearest rival. So the fuel figure is low and so too is the CO2 output at 152g/km or 17% tax.

In fact, user-choosers should be aware that the break-even point, in terms of tax versus fuel costs, for buying the diesel version of the Civic is 6200 miles. In other words a 22% tax payer would have to cover at least 6200 personal miles per year to outweigh the higher tax burden of the diesel.

A 40% taxpayer would have to cover more than 11,000 miles to make the diesel a better bet.

So the Civic's a five-star car then? Unfortunately not quite. While the car is practical and roomy inside and looks great both inside and out, there are some flaws.

The largest of these stems from the car's styling at the rear. Honda makes the bold claim that the upper part of the rear screen needs no wiper because it's "curved design makes water run off naturally". This is true, but only above about 30mph and while water's running down the rear screen visibility is impaired.

And because there's no rear wash-wipe dirt builds up and also decreases rear vision. On top of this, the rear spoiler which splits the rear screen in two also neatly rests just the right height for blocking your view of more distant motorway traffic.

While we're on the subject of vision, the A-pillars are also on the thick side (to hold a curtain airbag) but they too decrease the driver's visibility.

For rear seat passengers the doors open incredibly wide to allow easy access, which is useful for those fitting baby seats, but when adults are in the rear the sloping rear roof-line gives a claustrophobic feel.

The only other negative on our test car was a tricky gearchange from second to third.

These points are all we could find wrong with the car. And they wouldn't stop us placing it at the top of any group ranking or recommending one to any fleet customer, they just mean the Civic narrowly misses out on a coveted fifth star.