Honda’s designers clearly did not receive the memo that says the good old four-door saloon has to be a sober, serious and sedate car.

Sleek and sporty with sexy lines is what project leader Mitsuru Kariya’s team came up with when they developed the distinctive new Civic four-door.

The hatchback version of the Civic is an acknowledged head-turner, but I think the elegant saloon with its pronounced wheel arches and sculpted intakes looks even better.

It’s a pretty practical proposition too, with a spacious, well-finished, five-seat cabin and a sizeable boot with a sensibly wide opening to allow easy luggage loading.

From the driver’s point of view, the even better news is that the Civic four-door is an absolute cracker on the road, neatly combining sharp handling, a refined comfortable ride and a properly engaging driving experience.

Lower, wider and longer than its predecessor, with a lower driving position, the car delivers what is promised by the sporting exterior design.

The engine line-up is a straight choice between a three-cylinder 1.0-litre turbocharged petrol and the 1.6-litre, four-cylinder turbodiesel in the car driven here.

Diesel power continues to be vilified, but the simple truth is that this modern power unit delivers a tempting combination of impressively high fuel consumption and seriously low emissions. Its 120 horsepower also provides plenty of punch delivered through a slick, six-speed manual gearbox. A nine-speed automatic is also available.

Sleek looks and sporty performance are backed up by a package of safety systems, fitted as standard across the range.

Known as Honda Sensing, the safety systems use camera and radar technology to constantly monitor the surroundings and operate everything from automatic braking and lane departure warning, to traffic sign recognition and adaptive cruise control.

The car is also fitted with brake hold when temporarily stopped – for example, at traffic lights or busy junctions – as well as push-button start and an auto-dimming rear-view mirror.

The mid-range SR specification test car also came with rain-sensing wipers, front and rear parking sensors, dual-zone climate control and power folding door mirrors.

Technology inside the car is also first-rate, with a seven-inch colour touchscreen that controls the infotainment, hands-free phone and climate control and also acts as a display for the reversing camera.

A new instrument display uses a seven-inch colour screen housing a large digital rev counter and digital speedometer readout.

Thumb pad controls on the left spoke of the steering wheel allow you to scroll through various modes and settings such as searching for contacts or music tracks, while separate buttons control the telephone.

A second thumb pad on the right spoke operates the adaptive cruise control and lane keeping assist system settings. The car also allows smartphones to be fully connected through Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

In a nutshell, the Civic four-door with its sharp styling is a remarkably practical five-seater with more than a dash of character to set it apart from the crowd.

Auto facts

Model: Honda Civic 4dr 1.6i-DTEC SR

Price: £22,590

Insurance group: 19 (1-50)

Fuel consumption (combined): 83.1mpg

Top speed: 125mph

Length: 464.8cm/182.5in

Width: 207.5cm/81.4in

Luggage capacity: 18.3 cu ft

Fuel tank capacity: 10.1 gallons/46 litres

CO2 emissions: 91 g/km

Warranty: Three years/ 90,000 miles