2012 Honda Civic: Review
By James Tate of MSN Autos
Here's an interesting bit of trivia: If the Civic were a stand-alone brand, it would be the 12th-largest automaker in the United States, ahead of full-line manufacturers such as Volkswagen, Chrysler and Mazda, and ahead of all luxury brands. That's quite a feat.
The compact's popularity stems from its reputation for exceptional fit and finish, reliability and efficiency, which is why Honda sold 260,218 of them in 2010 alone.
Messing with such a successful formula is risky. So it's not surprising that the "all new" 2012 Civic looks as if it is little more than a subtle update of its predecessor. However, the changes Honda has made are so smartly and elegantly done that the result is better in every way than the outgoing model.
The question is whether the modifications are significant enough to be recognized by Civic fans and further the car on its winning ways.
New for the 2012 lineup is the Civic HF, designed for even higher efficiency and value. Largely based on the LX trim, the HF sedan achieves an estimated 41 mpg highway, primarily due to improved aerodynamics and rolling resistance.
Music to the hearts of enthusiasts, meanwhile, is news of the updated, sporty Si Civic, also available in both coupe and sedan form. The Si packs a new, larger engine under its hood and all the obligatory performance bits.
Under the Hood
The Civic Hybrid's new engine is the latest in Honda's IMA technology, and the system includes a new lithium-Ion battery pack that's smaller, lighter and more powerful than the model it replaces. The 4-cylinder gas engine has increased in size to 1.5 liters and, in conjunction with the electric motor, produces 110 horsepower at 5500 rpm and a 127 lb-ft spread of torque from 1000 to 3500 rpm — a minor change in peak numbers, but now available at a lower rpm in both cases.
The Si now packs an all-aluminum 2.4-liter powerplant, which churns out 201 horsepower at 7000 rpm, making it the largest, most powerful Civic engine offered in the U.S. market to date. Thanks to the increased displacement, the new engine's torque is up significantly from the previous model, with a peak of 170 lb-ft occurring at a much lower 4400 rpm. This engine is mated exclusively to a short-throw, 6-speed manual transmission with a helical-type limited-slip differential.
The control center for the new Civic is the latest intelligent Multi-Information Display, a 5-inch, full-color LCD screen that provides everything from vehicle maintenance status to audio information. The new satellite navigation system remains optional, now using a flash-memory system instead of the previous DVD-based unit. Detailed maps, directions and subscription-free traffic are all part of the package.
All said, it can't be overstated how refreshingly conceived the cabin is. The buttons, knobs, displays and controls are right where you'd expect them to be and perform exactly as you'd think they would — simply and intuitively — a rarity in today's complicated cars.
On the Road
In the Hybrid, we found it easy to achieve or exceed the estimated combined city/highway fuel-economy figure of 44 mpg. Additionally, as long as Eco mode is turned off, the Hybrid isn't painfully slow and, relatively speaking, is fairly fun to drive. Brake feel was decent for a hybrid as well, and featured the same brake-assist function now seen in the rest of the lineup.
Our test of the new Si was slightly biased in that it occurred on an autocross course. The lively compact was right at home and felt simply fantastic. The silky-smooth 2.4-liter engine is a godsend in the new Si; it made for genuine excitement and produces a tremendous sound. Don't get us wrong; we loved Honda's classically gutless high-rpm screamer engines as much as the next guy. But they're just not really usable on a daily basis. Most people don't live on a racetrack, and it can get a little tiring buzzing around at high rpms like an attention-starved street racer just to keep up with traffic. In the face of more user-friendly power from the competition, this new engine is exactly what the doctor ordered, and brings the Si right back into the game.
Honda also rolled out some of the competition from Toyota and Hyundai for comparison, and while the Hyundai Elantra is nice-looking, neither it nor the Toyota Corolla even came close in the performance department; the 2012 Civic handily bested both of them in nearly every regard.
However, when compared with the 2011 Civic sedan, we had a hard time detecting a difference from behind the wheel — an unexpected result from a brand-new generation. Luckily, the new Si and Hybrid offer more tangible gains over their predecessors.
Right for You?
Despite Honda's monumental market dominance with the Civic, there's no shortage of competition. The grin-inducing Volkswagen GTI continues to be the obvious alternative to the sporty Si, while nearly every manufacturer now offers its version of the simple, economical compact car.
Those who value Honda's honest commitment to reliability, efficiency and quality will certainly continue to find themselves right at home in the new Civic. For what it is, the new car is practically flawless and better than its predecessor without any trade-offs. Even so, the tame update and somewhat staid cosmetics will likely leave a sour taste for some.