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Honda Civic Aero Deck

SEE ALSO: Honda Buyer's Guide

Nicholas Frankl

European Corrspondent

The best roads in Scotland, Gleneagles, one of the world's finest hotels and what do they give you to estate car.

Honda those devilishly clever engine people are, they tell me, the largest transport provider on the planet! Well, if that's true, you know who to blame the next time you're stuck in a traffic jam. However, they are also the most frenzied engine makers around today - supplying ordinary people with quite brilliant engines. The new Civic Aero Deck is no exception. This British built estate (the 3rd model to come out of the Swindon factory in Wales) is aimed at the Astra and Escort buyer with need for extra boot space, but the same type of VW Golf style they have become accustomed to.

During a three hour drive (which was supposed to take up to four hours) the 1.8 litre 170bhp VTI hot hatch - or should I say hot estate - provided me with a truly great drive. Pulling cleanly from as low as 1,000 revs in fifth right up to 6,000, where the power begins to show, and through to an impossibly high and very enjoyable 8,500 limit the car felt stable and secure. Assisted by excellent brakes with good feel and ABS, which despite the spirited driving never came into action, a compliant and communicative chassis, and slick - if a little imprecise gearbox, I was never left wanting.

Given this is not a sports car, but a item of transport that Granny could drive and be fooled into thinking she was in far more meagre equipment. The little Honda cruised happily at over 110mph during which time I quietly discussed the beauty of the surrounding countryside with my Scottish passenger and enjoyed the rear roof mounted speakers.

Launched on April 1 - no joke - the Civic will be available in three engine types. 1.5i manual, 1.6 auto, 1.6 ES (which has more bits) and the 1.8VTI which comes with almost every conceivable option as standard. Try AC, ABS, dual air bags, LSD, Leather seats, elec windows, mirrors, sunroof, fog lamps and 15ins alloys- all for 17,295.

However if I was in the niche estate market, with a wife and 2.4 children or just a large dog, I would certainly insist upon stiffer tyres- the standard Bridgestone Expedia 185/55's were just too soft and did not instil confidence when tanking on, especially on turn in.

Honda UK are aiming to sell around 4,000 Aero Decks in 1998 a third of which they expect to be VTI's. Significantly this is the first model designed, built and sold exclusively in Europe-so sorry USA and Japan you'll have to wait for the launch of the SSM roadster or some other "R Type" there are no doubt cooking up as we speak.

The VTI will I am sure find some happy homes, although it should be noted that if your idea of driving is never exceeding 5,000 revs then you are wasting your time and should save the money and buy a pony and cart. Yes, of course all the old Honda virtues are carried through, the cheapy plastic on the side of the door trims- just how much would it cost to improve them? The A' typical dash layout which is very finger friendly but rather reminds me of driving an old Rover and the general sterilised aesthetics. This all said, it is a very competent car and certainly leads the pack in the sector. It will certainly give Ford and Vauxhall something to think about - at least until Ford give us the Escort replacement.

Honda Civic Aero Deck
1.8 litre       16v
133mph  top speed
0-60mph 8.8secs (feels faster)
32mpg   combined. (more like 20mpg if you thrash it)
17,295 - On sale across Europe April 1st.