2013 Honda Civic

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2012 Honda Civic: Review

This 2012 review is representative of model years 2012 to 2014.
By James Tate of MSN Autos
Rating: 9.0

Bottom Line:

An all-new ninth-generation Civic takes a bow for 2012, but differences from the previous model appear minimal. Still, the update only improves the popular compact car.
Pros:
  • Larger, punchier engine on the Si
  • Usable, intuitive interior
  • Fuel-efficiency improved overall
Cons:
  • Mechanical changes aren’t significant
  • Nearly identical exterior to last Civic
  • Still no return of the hatchback

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.

Model Lineup
The new Civic doesn't stray far from its roots. It's a front-wheel-drive compact car with an emphasis on efficiency and fun, and it is available in either sedan or coupe body styles. It comes in all the variants we already know: the commuter Civic Sedan and Civic Coupe, offered in a bare-bones DX, midlevel LX and top EX and EX-L trims; a Civic Hybrid; and a Civic Natural Gas, now available nationwide.

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
All trims of the standard Civic pack the same refreshed 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine. Its single-overhead cam and 16 valves are controlled by Honda's i-VTEC system, which helps it produce 140 horsepower at 6300 rpm and 128 lb-ft of torque at 4300 rpm. The engine can be mated to either manual or automatic transmissions, both with five forward gears. When combined with the automatic, the Civic is good for an estimated 28 mpg city/39 mpg highway. In the Civic Natural Gas, this same engine produces an impressive 110 horsepower and 106 lb-ft of torque.

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.

Inner Space
With a dual-level instrument panel like its predecessor, the Civic's cabin is thoroughly modern, well-thought-out and functional. All Civic variants seat five passengers; front-seat design varies by trim. The DX is truly minimalist, forsaking even radio and air conditioning. The higher trims make up for this, however, with an automatic climate-control system in the Hybrid and a 360-watt, 7-speaker audio system in the Si, EX and EX-L coupes. Various extras abound in the higher-end Civics, including XM radio, a USB interface and Bluetooth functionality for both phone and music.

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
We were able to sample most of the new Civic lineup at a recent Honda-sponsored ride and drive, and we were impressed. All variants possessed a solid feel and predictable road manners and were enjoyable to drive — even the Hybrid. Honda is one of the few manufacturers able to make electric power-steering systems with genuine feedback and feel, and we appreciated every minute of it. All Civics now include a motion-adaptive steering system that can't be disabled, but we found it unobtrusive and well-designed, much like the new stability-control system.

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?
With its accessible starting price and competitive specs, the Civic will continue to appeal to the masses. The lively Si still brings a lot of bang for the buck, although it's no secret that Honda has lost some love from performance enthusiasts in recent years because of the now-total lack of sports cars from the company that once revolutionized them with its NSX.

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.

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BB06 - 4/18/2014 11:55:07 AM