THERE was a time when the Honda Civic was a difficult car to pigeon-hole, it being something between a sporty hatchback and family car.

In its new guise it is still rather sporty, but with the demise of Honda’s Accord it now needs to provide more for family needs.

Benefiting from the largest single model global development programme in the company’s history, the tenth-generation Civic is not only the sportiest ever but sets new benchmarks for the compact class in terms of dynamic performance, fuel efficiency, spaciousness, safety and interior quality.

And key to its success will be a new engine which takes the ubiquitous three-cylinder unit so popular these days to a level not seen since Ford brought its Ecoboost unit to market. Matched with new CVT automatic transmission, it provides a fun drive with excellent fuel economy and plenty of room for those family duties.

The five-door hatchback is wider, longer and lower than any of its predecessors, with short overhangs, an aggressive face, pronounced wheel-arches and sculpted front and rear intakes that hint at the Civic’s sporting character.

Inside, there’s a simple, uncluttered layout, new technologies, exceptional refinement and high-grade materials, together with second-generation Honda infotainment and connectivity system that incorporates Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration.

The new Civic debuts two all-new VTEC turbo petrol engines – 1.0 litre and 1.5 litre – but it is the lower-powered unit that is the star here. I predict that the smaller unit will leave many examples of its big brother standing on the forecourt.

Other highlights are a new suspension set-up for better handling and ride comfort, a significantly more rigid structure, all-new rear multi-link suspension and a 16 kg weight loss. Selected top-grade models also feature an advanced four-point adaptive damper system that allows the driver to select damping force from two modes according to driving conditions

Attention has also been paid to feedback from the electric power steering to achieve instantaneous response and delicious smoothness, and a sense of secure predictability.

This is the first model in Europe to offer Honda’s 1.0 litre three-cylinder and 1.5 litre four-cylinder petrol turbocharged engines, with both engines available with either a newly-designed six-speed manual transmission or a bespoke CVT automatic.

Having tried out both engines, I would recommend the smaller unit, which not only provides 14mpg better economy but has the guts to feel comfortable in any environment. It is a remarkable engine.

Both powerplants have been designed to develop the power and torque of much larger engines. As a result, the new pair of VTEC turbo engines achieve engaging driveability, but you have to question the need to opt for the 1.5-litre version.

The three-cylinder 1.0 litre unit delivers a significant improvement in everyday driveability – thanks to greater torque at low and mid-range engine speeds – as well as fuel efficiency, over the 1.8 litre VTEC engine of the previous generation Civic.

The efficiency and acceleration of the 1.0-litre unit with CVT even exceeds that of the previous 1.8 litre five-speed automatic Civic.

Continuing the model’s reputation for practicality and unrivalled passenger and cargo space, Honda has also used high quality materials, a simple and sophisticated design theme and new digital instrument binnacle display to provide a fresh, premium interior ambience.

Aided in part by the longer, wider platform and longer wheelbase (up 30 mm over the previous Civic), front seat and rear seat occupants benefit from greater visibility.

The all-new interior is designed to offer the most comfortable and sophisticated cabin in the compact class and gives the all-new Civic a thoroughly modern, sleek and simple aesthetic to complement the sharply sculpted exterior..

The passive safety features on the all-new Civic are complemented by a suite of active safety and driver assist technologies, which – in a first for Honda – is installed on all grades.

The 1.0-litre hatchback model is available in four grades: S, Comfort, Elegance and Executive.