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The wait for the new Honda Civic is over. After what can only be described as a disastrous year for Japan in 2011, the ninth generation Civic hits our shores.

Civic is Honda's most important car and has sold over 20 million to date, with around 42,500 examples sold in Ireland.

The five-door car is longer and wider and clearly an evolution from the last generation's shape - but all the body panels are new! The front end is striking and the car's strongest asset. It's a clear improvement on the radical face of the eighth generation - a car that was much loved by Irish journalists. The side-on view is sleek and coupé-like. At the back is the 'like-it-or-loathe-it' rear end. The aerodynamic-influenced design, however, means the boot is huge.

Inside, the cabin is one of the best in terms of flexibility, especially in the rear. Access to the rear seats is excellent, with wide opening doors. The split seat bases ('magic-seats') can fold up to reveal an abundance of 'floor-to-roof' cargo space. Headroom is adequate for those under 5'10". Up front, the split dashboard first seen in the last Civic continues with improved materials and layout. My mid-spec 'ES' test car (SE / ES & EX) had more backlit buttons and controls than the Starship Enterprise. The chunky steering wheel is classy and there are a lot more soft touch materials used. The boot is huge and has a hidden wheel well space for luggage. Civic comes with conventional tyres (not runflats), and, as I write, Honda's Irish importer has yet to confirm a spare wheel for our market. For now, the Civic just comes with a standard compressor repair kit.

Under the bonnet from launch there are two petrol options (1.4 and 1.8-litre that will account for circa 20% of sales) and one 2.2-litre diesel. The star engine is the 2.2 diesel, which is brilliant. On the face of it, the i-DTEC version is pricey, starting at €25,820. But you get a lot of standard equipment and class-leading power, namely 150bhp. Loads of torque also means the tax band 'A' diesel has hot hatch performance when provoked. An 'Econ' mode button and auto stop/start feature will help sensible drivers deliver impressive fuel consumption. A new 1.6 diesel (120bhp & 99g/CO2) is coming next year from Honda and it promises to be a value proposition.

On the road the ride is improved, but rough Irish back roads can prove harsh, despite fluid-filled dampers. On main routes the diesel Civic is effortless to cruise in. The 2.2-litre engine (350nm) gives big car performance that means you are never aware of being in a compact family car.

As I write, without a confirmed spare wheel as standard or a 'Run Flat' tyre option, it is hard to recommend this car to a family needing transport that won't leave them stuck should they get a puncture. Repair kits are useless in the real world, where so many punctures are caused by potholes and rim pinches. Civic, in every other sense, is well worth a closer look. I suppose buyers could source their own spare wheel - or even fit run flat tyres themselves - but they are not cheap at circa €1,000 a set (and they are only recommended in cars that have a 'tyre pressure monitor system').

Michael Sheridan