It doesn’t wow you with a bold new design, or with best-in-class mpg claims. And that’s disappointing at first. But the new 2012 Honda Civic is, in every way, an improvement over its predecessor – arguably the best buy in the compact car segment for several decades running.
1. The new 2012 Civic retains the same 140-hp 1.8L 4-cyl and 5-speed automatic transmission.
2. Fuel economy is up to 28/39-mpg, making the Civic second only to the Elantra in fuel economy, although an ECON button should help further improve that number.
3. The Civic is first to get Honda’s new i-MID in-dash LCD screen with steering wheel controls to operate everything from vehicle and trip info, to multimedia devices and Bluetooth.
4. Along with the Coupe and Sedan, Honda offers a 44-mpg average Civic Hybrid, a high-performance Si with a larger and more powerful engine, plus a 41-mpg why HF model and a Natural Gas-powered version.
5. The 2012 Civic Coupe starts from $15,605 with Sedan models from $15,805.
From a design perspective, it’s about trend-setting as a suburban town house, simply evolving into a mildly different shape. It is, however, unmistakably a Civic and that’s part of the reason why we aren’t seeing any bold new design direction from Honda. Like how there is brand recognition to the name, there’s also branding relating to what a Civic looks like and while it might not be terribly exciting, the 2012 model is easily recognizable as the latest in a long line of solid Civic products. And in case you’re wondering just how important a brand that is; Honda sells more Civics each year in the U.S. than Volkswagen, Chrysler or Mazda sell cars. Put bluntly, as a segment leader, Honda has more to loose through a dramatic design change than it does to win.
Don’t be fooled either; automakers aren’t just building attractive compacts because they want to, but because they have to, in an attempt to get customers to leave segment staples like the Civic and try something new. With less-than inspired designs like this, they may be on to something. Then again, Hondas have a tendency of aging well.
The Coupe model benefits from the restyle more significantly with a longer and sleeker profile, giving the car a more premium look. When it comes to the Si Coupe, however, it’s far too timid, especially considering the young male target audience.
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Driving feel is another evolutionary trait of the Civic. It’s certainly no leap forward, but rather a gradual improvement. A new electric power steering system is spot-on as we’d expect from Honda, without any of the on-center numbness many of the competitors suffer from.
With exterior dimensions that are the same as last year’s model, the Civic actually gets a shorter wheelbase. Honda credits this for more agile handling, although the difference is too minute to make any real difference. It is good, however, and a serious track test would be required to distinguish it from the Ford Focus or Hyundai Elantra – the latter of which we were able to compare on the auto-cross and thought the two equal mostly equal, although Honda’s traction control system is less-invasive, particularly when it comes to re-applying power after a low-traction situation such as an emergency manouver.
Being one of the few compact cars with a fully independent suspension front and rear, the Civic retains its ability to corner in the real world when the road surface isn’t a glass-smooth parking lot. Another improvement in this area, as well as in both performance and fuel economy, is a reduction in weight, with models dropping anywhere from 20 to 58 lbs.
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A shorter wheelbase would normally indicate less interior room. That, however, is not the case, with Honda engineers somehow managing to increase rear seat legroom by 1.6-inches. Reasonably good before, it’s actually suitable for the legs of 6-foot adults now, although we could use a little extra headroom. Cargo room hasn’t been compromised due to the added space either and has actually grown, slightly, from 12.0 cu-ft to 12.5 cu-ft – although that’s still well short of many in the segment.
The other usual down side to a decrease wheelbase is downgraded ride quality. That hasn’t happened here, as it’s comparably smooth to its predecessor, while added sound deadening, improved aerodynamics and hushed machanicals make for a quieter ride.
Apart from some design tweaks and the use of organic-looking materials for the dash, the new Civic seems mostly unchanged inside, but there are some surprises. Turn on the car and you’ll immediately be struck by a new 5-inch Intelligent Multi-Information Display, or i-MID for short. It doesn’t have the high-gloss look of the MyFord Touch system, but it is standard on all but the base DX models while MyFord Touch comes on the $22,270 Titanium trim Focus.
Using two 5-way controllers on the steering wheel the driver can scroll through display screens for things like vehicle and trip information, as well as operate the numerous media types (be it Satellite Radio or an MP3 player) and operate Bluetooth. The i-MID system comes standard on mid-level LX models and up.
Those who like to personalize their Civic can load up a picture on the display screen, which will even show items like Album art when synced with your iPhone. And if you order the optional navigation, the screen will display give turn-by-turn instructions. Of note, Honda has made the switch from a DVD based nav system to a new Satellite navigation system for 2012.
The i-MID and Honda’s progressive two-level dash keep things looking modern, however, the simplistic HVAC controls and shifter are already in danger of looking out-dated. The new steering wheel is smaller than before and now features tilt and telescopic adjustment standard on all models.
Other additions to the cabin include an Eco Assist feature and an ECON button, which both relate to that pesky issue of fuel economy.
The Civic, as you may have heard, is not the leader in fuel economy. That title belongs to the Hyundai Elantra. Sure there have been a lot of big claims from other automakers as well, but those have all been for high-efficiency models that cost thousands more than the regular car. The Civic is rated at 28/39-mpg, which is one mpg short of the Elantra in each category, but well ahead of everyone else in the industry. The gain compared to last year’s model is 12 percent in the city and 8 percent on the highway.
The use of a 6-speed automatic transmission would easily have put Honda in the fuel economy lead, but for now, whether for cost, packaging of the fact that they just don’t have to (yet) the car retains its old 5-speed unit. We’re torn between berating Honda for the lack of an extra gear and marveling at the engineering feat of delivering such good fuel economy with less-advanced equipment.
The Eco Assist feature, appearing for the first time in a non-hybrid Honda, will coach you to drive more efficiently with gauge lights that will change from blue to green when you start driving with an environmentally responsible attitude. What’s more important is the green ECON button (standard) to the left of the steering wheel that will ensure you’re saving gas (and the environment) by making the throttle less sensitive, changing the transmission settings and altering the climate control. The EPA doesn’t take this feature into account when doing its official numbers, but if it did that fuel economy crown might actually belong to Honda – something the Civic’s chief engineer insisted upon at the launch.
The engine itself is a reworked version of the 1.8-liter i-VTEC powerplant found in last year’s model. Horsepower and torque are unchanged at 140-hp and 128 lb-ft, although more of the torque is available lower down in the rpm range.
If added fuel economy is what you’re after, Honda will offer three other fuel efficient models, with requisite price increases. A natural gas-powered Civic will arrive soon and Honda is also offering an HF derivative on the standard sedan with aerodynamic improvements that will lead to a 41-mpg highway rating. For the record that’s 1-mpg more than the Focus SFE and 4-mpg better than the Cruze Eco with an automatic transmission.
Still need more fuel economy? Try the new Civic Hybrid, which comes with a 44-mpg average thanks in part to a larger 1.5-liter engine and new lithium-ion battery pack.
At the opposite end of the Civic spectrum, performance enthusiasts can pick the Civic Si with 201-hp and a larger torque-infused engine, in either sedan or coupe form. Then there’s the regular Coupe or Sedan which come available in four trim levels: DX, LX, EX and EX-L (leather).
With some many different versions to choose from, Honda is hoping to appeal to a broad spectrum of shoppers, with a Civic to meet the wants and needs of almost every demographic.
In the all-important safety area, all Civic models get 6-airbags while Vehicle Stability Assist with traction control is now standard. Honda says it expects to achieve the best possible crash ratings in every category and test.
We wouldn’t be surprised to see less glowing reviews of the new Civic from some other outlets, because the Civic does fail to deliver the same wow factor that other automakers are by completely transforming their compact rivals. The reason for that, however, is that it was already so good. Yes it’s not the fuel economy leader (although the difference is negligible) and the design isn’t perhaps what some had hopped for (us included), but it’s not like Honda has gone and sold its soul to the accountants like VW did with the new Jetta.
The ‘sound bites’ don’t tell the whole story with this car and a serious examination of it alongside what’s offered is likely to still bring the Civic out on top for most buyers, especially when you considering the brand’s reputation for quality, reliability and durability, meaning that your 2012 Honda Civic could very well be serving you faithfully in 2027.