The current compact market is at the top of its game with innovative, aggressive car companies producing an amazing selection of affordable sedans and coupes. With nearly nine million vehicles sold since 1972, the Honda Civic has become the icon of the segment and each new generation has brought forth cutting edge designs and innovations. With this kind of competition at play, we anticipated that the ninth generation Honda Civic would be a head turner, or a technological marvel. We expected to be WOWed by the latest Civic, but our initial reaction was “nice.”
Honda designers and engineers took safe route when creating the 2012 model – there’s no revolutionary styling changes, no groundbreaking fuel saving enhancements and no ground thumping performance upgrades. As a result, the Civic has been criticized by press and by consumers to the point that Honda has apologized. The company’s global research and development chief said they had taken their eyes off the competition and the customer. Sales of the Civic have fallen despite a market up swing and they were running 13.8 percent off the 2010 figures as of November 2011. In early December, America Honda Executive Vice President John Mendel said the company might give the Civic an early midcycle restyling.
The 2012 Honda Civic, it’s still one of the best cars in the category; it’s just that the competition is gaining quickly and dramatically and the new model wasn’t Honda’s best effort.
For 2012, the Civic styling is a bit more streamline with what they call an “expressive “mono-form” exterior. The interior is clean looking with a redesign of the innovative two-tiered instrumental panel with a digital speedometer, gauges and new “intelligent” Multi-Information Display (i-MID) mounted under a broad visor that extends over about half the dash just below the windshield. A large tachometer and other display elements are housed in a traditional position behind the steering wheel. The combination of the two levels is one of the easiest instrument panels to see at a glance.
Controllers for the i-MID are mounted on the face of the new steering wheel, making for easy, intuitive control. The audio and climate controls are conveniently mounted high on the center stack facing toward the driver to create cockpit style layout for the driver. The switches are well designed and easy to use but they look plastic on models without the Navi option and lack the soft touch materials.
The new five-passenger interior is roomy and comfortable and we like the abundance of available storage spaces. There seemed to be more than a normal amount of noise on the rough surface roads.
The Civic family includes six models: the Civic Si Coupe and Sedan performance models; the economical HF, Hybrid and Natural Gas models and the Civic Sedan and Civic Coupe. The Sedan and coupe come in four trim levels.
All models, except the Si and Hybrid are powered by a sophisticated 140-horsepower, 1.8-liter i-VTEC four-cylinder engine. The engine produces an 8.8- second 0 to 60 mph time and fuel economy ranges from 27-29 mpg city and 38-41 mpg highway depending on the version.
The Hybrid has a 110-hp 1.5-liter i-VTEC SOHC I-4 engine with Integrated Motor Assist, which produces EPA numbers of 44/44 mpg. The Si models have the 201-hp 2.4-liter i-VTEC DOHC I-4 engine, which is rated at 22/31 mpg. The Si makes 0 to 60 mph runs in only 6.4 seconds.
All versions, except for the Si, have an ECO-Assist economy driving coach. When activated by a button on the dash ECO-Assist displays how drive energy is being used and advises the driver with blue and green “coaching bars” that illuminate on either side of the speedometer. Blue bars indicate you are driving inefficiently, while green bars say you are being efficient.
The Si has a six-speed manual transmission, the Hybrid a Continuously Variable Transmission and all other models either a five-speed manual or five speed automatic.
Sedan prices range from $16,575, including the destination charge, for the DX sedan with manual transmission to $23,175 for the Si. With the only available options, navigation and XM Satellite Radio, the most expensive Si sedan is $25,175. Hybrid prices range from $26,720 to $27,920. The natural gas powered GX is $26,260. Coupes range from $16,375 to $24,975.
All Honda models, including the Civic, are engineered with Honda’s exclusive Advance Compatibility Engineering. In the event of a head-on collision, the system is engineered to transfer the energy away from the passenger compartment. It’s used in conjunction with all the other Honda safety equipment including airbags, Vehicle Stability Assist and various braking aids.
We drove the Si coupe and HF Sedan. The Si is notable for its solid body and taunt suspension that produces a very stiff, somewhat rough, ride, but the handling is outstanding for a front-wheel drive car. The engine redline was dropped down from 8,000 rpms to 7,000 rpms in the new Si and a new sequential rev-limit indicator was added. Mounted in the upper level of the instrument panel, to the left of the speedometer, the indicator shows when the VTEC shifts from low- to high-rpm cam profiles and the car gets an extra surge of power. Using this in conjunction with the rev-limiter indicator the driver can more easily judge the performance “sweet spot” to maximize performance in each gear. The Si is still one of the most fun to drive sporty cars in the segment.
The HF isn’t nearly as exciting as the Si, but it’s a solid, comfortable car that’s designed to produce high levels of fuel economy without having to pay extra for a hybrid or diesel.
The Honda Civic remains one of the most dependable, affordable and comfortable cars in the affordable compact segment, but it could still use more curb and boulevard appeal. It will be interesting to see what they do with the midcycle redesign.