When Consumer Reports announced in August 2011 that it was not putting the Honda Civic on its recommended list, the news reverberated through the automotive media, Honda headquarters and to every Honda executive who touched the development of the new Civic all the way back to Japan.

It was a first for the vaunted Civic, a car that has been the default purchase for generations of civil servants, teachers, social workers, college students, ministers, sisters of charity, swim coaches and Chinese food deliverers. The Civic has been one of the most consistently trusted vehicles for buyers who crave dogged reliability over flash and bling.

And then Consumer Reports spoke. Garments were rent. Resignations were requested. Maybe old hari kari swords were even dusted off, if only for dramatic effect. It was like the U.S. Olympic basketball team, made up of NBA players, losing to the Filipino team.

CR griped about the split two-tier dashboard, a loosely tuned suspension and vague steering, and unevenly textured plastic interior pieces. And it gave out its failing grade. Other outlets complained too, but it was CR denying admission to its recommended club that stuck out.

To Honda's credit, the company went to DEFCON 1, pulled a legion of engineers, designers and suppliers together to fix the damn thing.

And they did. Just sixteen months after the bomb dropped, Honda has bounced back with a Civic that has been to the automotive equivalent of a spa-sanitarium that also teaches nutrition, foreign languages and Zumba.

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The Basics

The Basics

MSRP: $17,965 - $26,465
Invoice Price: $16,707 - $25,095
As Tested: $21,605

Engine: 1.8 liter Dual-Overhead-Cam, 24-valve in-line four cylinder

Transmission: 5-speed automatic transmission

Performance: 0-60 in 9 seconds, 140 horsepower and 128 lbs-ft of torque

Fuel Economy: 28 mpg City, 36 mpg Highway, 32 mpg Combined

Seating: 5 people

Cargo: 12.5 cubic feet

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Exterior Design

Exterior Design

The basic shape and curves of the Civic are fine. After all, this is a car that, at its best, is supposed to reliably take both students and teachers back and forth to school with a minimum of time in the repair shop and a maximum of fuel economy. Still, the design SWAT team came in and added polished-chrome accents around the upper and lower grille and at the taillights. It's called "bright work," and well applied it can lift a dreary economy car into the class of an aspirational people mover.

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Interior

Interior

The Civic's cabin has been taken to a good tailor. Seats feel better and upholstery looks better. Stitching on the upper doors and dash is still fake, but its a better class of fake. The center stack has nicer accents. The upper instrument panel in the Civic's split-level dashboard houses a 5-inch LCD display with a standard backup camera.

The next Civic, we suspect will ditch the split level dash, but we think the gripes on this one are overdone. I only had the car for a week, and my eyes adjusted to the different levels just fine.

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Passenger And Cargo Space

Passenger And Cargo Space

The front seat is perfectly comfortable for this 2X size sweatshirt-wearing reviewer. Trunk capacity is competitive at 12.5 cubic feet, perfectly adequate for a week's worth of groceries with room to spare. Two golf bags fit nicely. Of course, Civic drivers play the public courses. Backseat, like any car in this class, is good for two people, though the manual says five. Legroom was perfectly adequate as I took a ride in the back whilst someone else drove.

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Performance And Driving Dynamics

Performance And Driving Dynamics

The panicked overhaul of the Civic allowed engineers to beef up the front chassis to handle a tougher crash test initiated by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which has caught some automakers off guard. The ride feels more rigid in a nice way. The rest of the changes involve bigger brakes, lighter wheels, upgraded springs and struts. Where the original Civic that came out in 2011 felt like the finance guys had been in charge, cutting every corner, this improved Civic feels like the car it should have been from the start. I commuted in the car for a week, and had nary a complaint. It was as rock steady as I remember by brother's late 70s Honda Civic being. My phone even mated flawlessly to the Bluetooth system.

It's quieter too. That's thanks to an acoustically laminated windshield and sound deadening material around the wheel wells. I hope those finance guys who cut all that good stuff out of the car a coupe of years ago have been beaten back to windowless offices forced to listen to an endless loop of Justin Bieber.

If I have one beef, its with the five speed transmission. It performed well, but one wonders if Honda could have crested the 40 mpg highway level with a six or eight speed tranny.

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Bottom Line

Bottom Line

I frankly thought Consumer Reports overreacted in 2011. But I'm glad the testers there did. It forced Honda to put back the niceties and qualities that make its customers come back again and again. All the changes and upgrades cost Honda about $500 per car. As the company sold off the last of the ugly duckings last year, it was discounting them 20 percent. This was a costly exercise for the company to go through. Hopefully, they learned from it. Now, the Civic is the Civic we all knew and loved. Glad you are back.

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