2012 Honda Civic Expert Review:Autoblog
Have you ever stood around, nervously checking your wristwatch as a friend or significant other cycled through their entire wardrobe trying to find the perfect outfit? If your experience were anything like ours, they probably started with a perfectly acceptable look and finished with an ensemble almost exactly the same as the first one, albeit painstakingly composed of entirely different pieces of clothing. Most people would never notice the difference without the subtle changes being pointed out to them. The 2012 Honda Civic sedan's new duds are kind of like that.
Honda stylists have taken great pains to tug and pull at virtually every bit of clothing their new Civic is wearing. In spite of this, the car looks largely the same as its eighth-generation predecessor, a model that first bowed in 2005. This, despite the fact that the wheelbase has been cropped from 106.3 inches to 105.1 (you'd be hard-pressed to notice unless you had a tape measure handy), a change that helps make it the shortest car in its class.
This all-new-yet-same-as-it-ever-was judgment isn't really the slight it might seem – the 2006 Civic was a groundbreaking design, and its slippery form and delicate features have worn well over the years. At the very least, this new model is still unlikely to be confused for anything else on the road. Honda has determinedly avoided the trend toward oversized headlamps and gaping air intakes, and has similarly shied away from the big-pillar look in favor of improved visibility and cockpit airiness. Even still, we can't help but feel this new Civic has gone a bit conservative – particularly in the rear, where distinctive eagle's head taillamps have given way to more traditional fixtures.
Much the same can be said for the interior, which is actually all-new but looks largely the same as the 2011 model. That means drivers are greeted by an evolution of the Civic's love/hate two-tier dashboard that puts the front-and-center digital speedometer on a different plane than the analog rev counter and secondary gauges. It's still a configuration that takes a few moments to get used to, but all gauges are easy to read, even in bright sunlight.
The digital speedo is flanked on the right by a crisp new five-inch Multi-Information Display (i-MID) that displays everything from stereo information to Bluetooth status and trip computer functions with pleasingly high-resolution graphics. You can even set your own wallpaper background. (Side note: Although our EX test subject didn't arrive with GPS, we've driven other models so equipped and the new i-MID's resolution makes the aging main navigation screen look decidedly yestertech).
The Civic's center stack is canted dramatically toward the driver and dominated by the audio controls with an easy layout and Playskool-sized buttons. The head-unit is a bit odd in that it doesn't have its own display – you have to look up and over at i-Mid for information. We got used to this after memorizing the button configuration on the stereo, but would still prefer a station/track readout on the unit itself. All other controls, including those for climate and such are a model of simplicity.
Despite having a shorter wheelbase (all other major exterior measurements are identical to last year's model), the Civic still feels quite roomy on the inside. In fact, Honda says that interior space is up by 3.7 cubic feet, primarily in the form of added shoulder room up front along with increased hip room front and rear. Seating position is typically Honda, which is to say sportier than the norm, low to the floor and legs out. Outward visibility is peerless thanks to the expansive, minivan-like windshield and new, slimmer A-pillars. Hard plastics abound and feel somewhat cheaper than the departing model, but at least they are well textured, with many pieces covered in an interesting mulberry-paper-like surfacing. The new steering wheel is also a winner, with a pleasing size and feel-good new multi-function buttons. Despite the cropped wheelbase, rear legroom is still up there with the very best in its class, although hip- and headroom are somewhat less generous.
Cargo space is up, too, to a still-modest 12.5 cubic-feet (up .5 cubes), though we were dismayed to find no external release on the trunk (necessitating the use of the floor-mounted driver's opener or the key fob), along with no liner or interior grab handle – you'll have to grab sharp metal if you want to avoid getting your hand dirty on the decklid.
Interestingly, Honda has chosen to eschew the latest round of multispeed gearboxes and engine tricks like direct-injection or forced induction in favor of preserving the Civic's lighter-than-average weight and less-costly measures like aero refinements (smooth underbelly, aero fences ahead of the wheels, low drag mirrors, etc.) to deliver class-competitive performance numbers. In our EX model, that means the 1.8-liter SOHC four-cylinder returns with few modifications, producing 140 horsepower at 6,300 rpm and 128 pound-feet of torque at 4,300 rpm routed through a conventional five-speed automatic. As hinted at with those power figures, the 1.8 is still a free-revving piece whose wheelhouse is still located largely in its upper registers. Our internal accelerometer suggests a 0-60 time in the low nine-second range, which is right in the heart of the class.
Use of high-strength steel in the ninth-generation Civic's chassis has increased to 55 percent (up five percent). That change at once once improves rigidity by 10 percent and lowers body weight by seven percent (EX models like ours check in at 2,765 pounds). Thanks in part to the Civic's light weight, EPA fuel economy estimates check in at 28 miles per gallon in the city, 39 on the highway. In predominantly highway driving, our still-green EX (just over 2,700 clicks on the odometer) returned a respectable 32.9 mpg.
Prices for the 2012 Civic start at $16,575 for a basic, row-your-own DX ($15,805 plus $770 delivery), putting it shoulder-to-shoulder with sedans like the Mazda3 and Ford Focus. Opt for the $21,275 (including destination charges) automatic-only EX like our tester and you'll be treated to a power moonroof, hands-free calling, alloy wheels, and a six-speaker audio system with Bluetooth audio among other features.
If you're wondering why we've left discussion of the Civic's driving dynamics until the very end, it's because it's an unremarkable steer, veering more toward a 'set it and forget it' commuter mindset than something that's likely to be of interest to auto aficionados (who would be better off pursuing the sporty Si model anyhow). It's certainly a refined drive, but one would think that a shorter wheelbase and modestly lower weight (between 20 and 58 pounds lighter depending on model) would lead to a friskier-handling car – indeed, Honda claims it to be so – but we found this 2012 Civic to be a humdrum performer that neither encourages or rewards enthusiastic driving.
Chief among the culprits for the white-goods driving experience is the new electronic power steering unit, which includes a slower ratio for less energetic turn-in, along with a more compliant suspension that delivers improved ride quality at the expense of informing the driver. The brakes (upgraded to rear discs on our EX) are unerringly quiet, but we noticed some fade when driving only modestly hard on what few twisty roads Southeastern Michigan has to offer. To be fair, we suspect that the 2012 Civic's absolute limits meet or exceed those of its predecessor in most areas, but it simply doesn't feel as engaging as the outgoing car, and much less than competitors like the Mazda or Ford.
In a remarkable-for-us move, we turned on – and left on – the Civic's green Econ button after messing about with it off for a bit, as we decided we'd rather benefit from the improved fuel economy offered by the miser mode's more deliberate throttle tuning, remapped shift schedule and parsimonious climate control operation. It simply wasn't worth trying to eke out the sliver of additional driving satisfaction promised by the normal mode.
Let's be clear: We're not here to suggest that Honda's careful maturation of the Civic is a mistake – we think the majority of small car buyers will appreciate its improved composure and refinement, and we applaud Honda's engineers for not packing on the pounds. But you're reading this review on Autoblog, and this suggests that you're probably more interested in driving dynamics than the average bear. On this front, the Civic's newfound maturity has come at the expense of liveliness found in both its previous iterations and some of its competitors. Unfortunately, nothing about this new Civic, from its design to its interior appointments to its fuel economy and pricing, has stepped up in exchange to help it stand out from the competition.
Like that indecisive companion desperately trying to find just the right outfit, the 2012 Civic would probably have been a more entertaining date had it just stuck with what it was wearing initially.
New Car Test Drive
All-new version evolves to meet varied expectations.
It's been a bestseller for decades, more than 8.8 million sold in the U.S. since its 1973 introduction, and the latest redesign is aimed at making the Honda Civic the absolute number one player among an increasingly capable crop of compact cars.
The all-new 2012 Honda Civic is the ninth generation of the Civic, and it has a long, distinguished record of engineering innovation. As has been the case in previous iterations, there's some of that in the 2012 Civic models, too, aimed at giving it the broadest possible reach in its market segment.
On the other hand, it's not really the gee-whiz breakthrough that's distinguished some previous generations, particularly in terms of engine innovation. Though to be fair, Honda has imbued some models with a little more thrust while simultaneously raising fuel economy ratings right across the board.
Perhaps more important, the latest Civic will be available in its broadest-ever array of models: The DX, LX, and EX sedans and coupes come with a 140-horsepower 1.8-liter engine expected to get 28 mpg in the city, 39 mpg on the highway when equipped with the 5-speed automatic transmission.
The Civic Hybrid continues, with efficiency improvements for 2012. Although Honda has a specific hybrid model, the Insight, the Hybrid returns to the Civic lineup with increased power in its integrated electric booster motor and deeper electric power reserves in a new lithium-ion battery pack.
For those who don't wish to pay the hybrid premium, there's the 2012 Civic HF, with exceptional fuel stinginess from a regular internal combustion power train designed for thrift. Fuel economy is up in standard Civics, too.
The Civic Si returns as the high output member of the lineup, offered once again in coupe and sedan body styles. With the demise of the S2000 sports car, it's the only high-performance car in Honda's lineup. The 2012 Civic Si features a new engine, a smidgen of additional horsepower, and substantially more torque. The 2.4-liter DOHC 16-valve four-cylinder is rated at 201 hp and 170 lb-ft of torque. The added torque makes the Si easier to drive around town without constant downshifting, significant because a 6-speed manual is the only transmission offered.
Though completely redesigned, the 2012 Civic looks similar to the previous-generation version. Its exterior dimensions are about the same, though the wheelbase is slightly shorter.
The cabin is attractive with quality materials and nicely designed seats with lots of adjustment and a new driver's information display. The available 160-watt audio system sounds very good and Bluetooth is available for hands-free cellphone use.
Underway, the 2012 Civic is creamy smooth and exceptionally quiet. The brakes are easy to modulate for smooth stops in everyday driving and will stop the car quickly when called upon. Handling is average, so the standard models do not rate high on the fun meter.
The 2012 Honda Civic comes in six models. The Civic DX, LX, EX, and EX-L are available in coupe and sedan versions and come with a 140-horsepower 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine.
Civic DX Sedan ($15,805) and DX Coupe ($15,605) come with cloth upholstery, manually adjusted driver seat, power windows, tilt/telescope steering column, 12-volt power outlet, rear window defroster, fold-down rear seatback, i-MID driver information display with Turn-By-Turn Directions, clock, dual trip meters, two-speed intermittent wipers, black outside mirrors and door handles. The DX comes with a 5-speed manual or 5-speed automatic ($800).
Civic LX Sedan ($17,855) and LX Coupe ($17,655) upgrade with air conditioning, 160-watt AM/FM/CD audio with four speakers, USB audio interface, MP3 auxiliary jack, speed-sensitive volume, auto-up/down driver's window, power locks with auto-lock feature, remote trunk release, illuminated window and lock controls, cruise control, illuminated steering wheel controls, customizable settings, map lights, floor mats, body-colored mirrors and door handles. The 5-speed manual is standard, but the 5-speed automatic is available for the LX Sedan ($18,655) and LX Coupe ($18,455).
Civic EX Sedan ($20,505) comes standard with the 5-speed automatic. The Civic EX Coupe offers a choice of 5-speed manual ($19,705) or automatic ($20,505). Civic EX includes six-speaker audio system, Bluetooth, 60/40 split rear seat, upgraded rear-seat accommodations, one-touch power moonroof with tilt feature. The EX Sedan and EX Coupe are available with Navi and XM radio ($22,005).
Civic EX-L ($21,955) Coupe and Sedan upgrade to leather-trimmed interior and heated front seats. The Civic EX-L is also available with Navi and XM Radio ($23,455).
Civic HF ($19,455) sedan is designed for maximum fuel efficiency with specially tuned 1.8-liter engine and 5-speed automatic. Civic GX sedan runs natural gas and comes with the 5-speed automatic.
Civic Hybrid ($24,050) sedan is available with Navi and XM Radio ($25,550) or Leather ($25,250) or both ($26,750).
Civic Si Sedan ($22,405) and Coupe ($22,205) feature a high-performance 2.4-liter engine and 6-speed manual. Navi and XM Radio are available for the Si Sedan ($23,905) and Si Coupe ($23,705).
Given a budget and a mission, no designer is likely to leave well enough alone, and that's true of the new 2012 Civic lineup.
But this is a more of a challenge than one might think. The eighth-generation Civic has been successful throughout its six-plus years, and its sleek lines still look good.
On the other hand, success notwithstanding, no automotive design lasts indefinitely. So the design leader has to find a way to retain the successful elements and still imbue the product with a sense of newness.
The new cars sport redesigned fascias, updated rear ends, and new character lines, but the basic shape, which lead designer Toshiyuki Okumoto calls a 'one motion form,' has the same flowing aero look. Although the wheelbase is slightly shorter, body dimensions are essentially identical, and it takes a practiced eye to tell new from old at a glance.
Although the sheetmetal is basically all new, Honda didn't take any chances here. Whether this will be a plus over the long service life of the design remains to be seen.
The distinction between Civic generation eight and nine isn't as dramatic as the change from seven to eight, when the slick aero shape first emerged. Honda has chosen to spread its development budget over refinements and a broader model range.
Quality materials, attractive design, and colorful instrument lighting give the Civic interiors a look that's a notch or two above compact norms. The seats are well shaped, nicely bolstered (by family sedan standards), widely adjustable, with a probability of all-day drive comfort and very good upholstery wear characteristics.
Though the instrument display has been invigorated with new colored backlighting, it will look familiar to those who have had some experience with the generation eight layout. The bi-plane look continues in the new car, with important info repeated at the top of the dash, allowing the driver to scan with minimum visual redirection.
Forward sightlines, always the driver's first line of defense, were good in the previous generation, but even better here. We appreciated the thinner windshield pillars and mini-window set in the angle where the windshield pillar intersects the car's hood. A lot of new cars have thick A-pillars that can obstruct the driver's view of pedestrians and other vehicles, but not here.
The biggest change inside the car, though is the new I-MID, or Intelligent Multi-Information Display. A toggle on the left-hand steering wheel spoke allows the driver to sift through a wide variety of vehicle info, and the optional satellite navigation system includes a voice recognition function.
Other electronic elements include Bluetooth hands-free phone capability and a very good 160-watt audio system.
All of this, of course, is in addition to the more common comfort/convenience features we've come to expect: power everything, including a moonroof; cruise control; a tilt/telescope leather-wrapped steering wheel; a 12-volt outlet; and a 60/40 split-folding rear seatback that expands cargo capacity.
Drawn from Honda's official national press preview, which consisted of a single afternoon with very little seat time on busy roads devoid of any real challenge, plus a few runs on an autocross course laid out on a football stadium parking lot, our dynamic impressions are necessarily limited.
However, while limited, they're also generally positive, within the context of the normal mission parameters of a small family sedan. The latest Civic delivers creamy ride quality, with exceptionally low interior noise levels.
Braking seems reasonably powerful with the four-wheel-disc system that comes with the EX trim level, and the pedal feel makes for easy modulation.
Handling response can be classified as contemporary, neither sporty nor sluggish, although the electric power steering leaves something to be desired in terms of what it tells the driver about what the front wheels are doing.
On the other hand, while the Civic sedan may lack something in terms of driver involvement, and its fun to drive factor is difficult to detect, it is absolutely and totally predictable, no surprises, no false moves. There's considerable body roll in hard cornering, the tradeoff for excellent ride quality. But the overall level of all-around dynamic competence is hard to fault.
The Civic DX, LX, EX, and EX-L come with a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine, single overhead cam rated at 140 horsepower and 128 lb-ft of torque. Fuel economy figures were not official but are expected to be about 28 mpg in the city/39 mpg on the highway. Honda recommends regular unleaded gas.
The Civic HF is equipped with a specially tuned version of the same engine with the same power ratings but with slightly higher fuel economy, expected to be 29/41 mpg city/highway.
The Civic GX runs on natural gas using a specially prepared 1.8-liter SOHC 16-valve four-cylinder rated at 110 hp and 106 lb-ft of torque.
The Civic Hybrid pairs a 1.5-liter SOHC 16-valve four-cylinder engine rated at 110 hp and 127 lb-ft of torque with a 23-hp electric motor assist. Fuel economy is expected to be about 44/44 mpg.
The sporty Civic Si features a 2.4-liter DOHC 16-valve four-cylinder rated at 201 hp and 170 lb-ft of torque. Fuel economy is expected to be 22/31 mpg city/highway.
The 2012 Honda Civics are completely redesigned and have solid credentials in all the right categories for cars in this class: good looks, high quality, a great durability record, a first rate comfort quotient, high marks for safety features, competitive fuel economy, and excellent value. Has the dazzle factor diminished? Maybe. But given all the other virtues, that may not matter.
Honda Civic DX Sedan ($15,805), LX ($17,855), HF ($19,455), EX ($20,505), EX-L Navi ($23,455), Si Sedan ($22,405); Hybrid ($24,050); Civic DX Coupe ($15,605), LX ($17,655), EX ($19,705), EX-L Navi ($23,455), Si Coupe ($22,205).
Options As Tested
Honda Civic EX Sedan with navigation ($22,005).
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