Honda Civic hatchback

£18,360 - £24,560

When the original Honda Civic arrived over 40 years ago, it was one of the first Japanese cars to be taken seriously in Europe and America. Efficient engines, strong build quality and generous equipment meant the Civic quickly became popular with buyers. These traditions have continued through to the latest ninth-generation Civic, which is a reliable, well equipped and stylish family hatchback. Longstanding rivals like the Ford Focus, Volkswagen Golf and Vauxhall Astra mean this is a competitive class, while newer cars like the Hyundai i30, Kia Cee’d, SEAT Leon and Skoda Octavia are also excellent alternatives.

While the Civic may not be a default choice for many buyers, it makes a good case for itself: that hard-won reputation for reliability, together with a stylish interior and distinctive good looks mean the Civic stands out from the crowd and it remains popular with customers.

Civic buyers have a choice of one diesel and two petrol engines, and we recommend the smooth and quiet 1.6-litre diesel. It returns an impressive 78.5mpg and is road-tax-exempt thanks to low CO2 emissions, yet it's more than capable of keeping pace with traffic, thanks to a 0-62mph time of 10.5 seconds. The diesel Civic is also liable for low 16% Benefit-in-Kind (BiK) tax, making at an attractive choice for company-car drivers.

The 1.4 and 1.8-litre petrol engines make less sense: they’re significantly less efficient and more expensive to tax than the diesel, thanks to relatively high CO2 emissions. While the 1.8-litre petrol is slightly quicker on paper than the diesel, this doesn’t translate to a greater sense of speed in real-world driving.

While the Civic has a modern, stylish interior to go with its angular exterior looks, on the road it's not as sharp to drive as the Focus or Golf. Both of those cars have more accurate steering, while the Civic's soft suspension contributes further to a slightly uninspiring driving experience – although it feels safe and secure on the road.

Compared to the Focus, as well as other rivals like the Astra and i30, the Civic seems expensive. In fact, even the classy Golf has a lower starting price. Honda makes up for this somewhat with generous equipment: all Civics come with climate control, LED daytime running lights, alloy wheels, DAB digital radio, Bluetooth phone connectivity and electric windows. If you specify Honda's reasonably priced sat-nav system, you’ll have all the kit you should need.

If you’re after sportier looks, the Civic Sport trim adds an aggressive bodykit and rear spoiler, large black alloy wheels and tinted electric windows. It certainly looks the part – and it's significantly cheaper than the high-performance Type R (which we've reviewed separately) – although its performance is respectable rather than astounding. It represents the entry point into the Civic range, though, so buyers won't feel short-changed if they go for this model.

In terms of safety, the Civic makes a good case for itself thanks to a five-star result in Euro NCAP crash-tests. Honda fits the usual complement of airbags, as well as traction control, stability control and anti-lock brakes, plus a tyre-pressure warning system and ISOFIX child-seat mounts. An autonomous active city braking system – which applies the brakes automatically if it senses a potential low-speed collision – adds further reassurance.

The Civic should also be reliable: while Honda as a brand fared only average in our 2015 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey, the Civic's 41st position (out of 200 cars) indicates it's a dependable car, with owners praising its practicality and running costs.