HERE’S a car that proves size doesn’t matter.

Would you believe that under the bonnet of this Honda Civic is a mere one-litre petrol engine, and a feisty one at that.

Not so long ago you would want at least a 1.6 litre to carry a family hatchback. Not anymore. The world is demanding a smaller carbon footprint from the good old internal combustion engine and car companies are doing their best to comply.

Small three-cylinder engines with big horse power are nothing new, Ford and Peugeot have been leading the way and Honda’s 127bhp offering is up there with the best.

Three cylinder engines always give good pick up from low revs and while you get the familiar clatter as the revs build the level of refinement has improved hugely. This Honda tiddler also suffers a small amount of turbo lag and it is worth noting the low 5,500rpm red line to avoid bouncing off the limit but most of the time it delights rather than disappoints.

Honda came out fighting with dramatic styling for the 2006 Civic but the bold lines of the 10th generation model go a whole lot further.

It is lower and longer with a shape so racy even the basic model would not look out of place on the starting grid of the British Touring Car championship. Interestingly my seventy odd year old neighbour who had a couple of the previous Civic doesn’t like the new shape – ‘I wouldn’t want to try getting out of that, it’s so low’ – yet his 17 year old grandson says it looks fantastic.

Another huge fan is my wife who didn’t want the car to go back.

She picked up on a couple of pleasing features like the pair of full grip handles to pull down the tailgate, the usual cut out method is not so good for heavy tailgates and can break a nail apparently. Topping that is the new style boot cover. They are generally heavy and awkward so Honda has come up with an ingenious side pull roller blind system. It is brilliant. Boot space is an excellent 478 litres.

She also picked up on the overly firm seats and excessive road noise but still wants one.

One casualty of the lower body is the lift up back seat cushions which provided floor to ceiling storage, perfect for tall objects. They had to go because the petrol tank, mounted centrally in the old model, has been moved back to the conventional position under the back seat.

This Civic is a car where sporty looks don’t flatter to deceive. It has multi link rear suspension, the same system that has given the Volkswagen Golf amazing handling, and the Honda is right on its tail missing out only because the ride is a bit harsher than the VW, but I’m not complaining.

My test car was the staple, no special sporting tweaks, yet it handled like a seasoned hot hatch, begging to be pushed and fearless through sweeping bends and tight twists and turns.

But what a shame the six speed gearbox was a bit sloppy through the gate.

As is the way with Honda you don’t have to spec up for safety and every model gets collision mitigation braking, lane departure warning, traffic sign recognition and adaptive cruise control.

The top level EX brings in electronic parking brake with hold function, leather trim, sunroof, rear camera with all round sensors, auto dipping headlights and heated front seats.

Navigation comes in at SR level and is selected through a seven inch touch screen which handles most of the functions although the heating temperature is controlled by a couple of knobs in the central console.

When it comes to engine choice the 1-litre is not the best even though performance is remarkable given its size. I averaged 41mpg from a week of more short than long trips so nothing outstanding. My pick is still be the 1.5 litre VTEC turbo while the big economy will come from the 1.6 diesel.

Fast facts

Civic EX 6sp manual

£23,620 (starts £18,895)

1.0litre VTEC turbo 127bhp

0-62mph 11.2secs; 125mph

55.4mpg combined

Emissions 117g/km

First year road tax £165

Insurance group 15