On the Road

Out on the road, the new Civic rides like a Honda, damping out the worst of the road's imperfections but ensuring you always know the pavement's condition. It's more refined — again, incrementally — than the still-satisfying 2011 model, buoyed by a quieter cabin. I'd have to drive it back-to-back against its main competitors to quantify any differences; the 2012 is neither exceptionally quiet nor noisy. Though you do hear the engine, at least it's a smooth one. The car does a good job of blocking the whooshing noise of tires on wet pavement, which typically comes from the rear wheels.

In terms of handling, the electric power steering is well-weighted and nicely executed overall. Unfortunately, the roads were wet 100 percent of the time I drove the various Civics, so the roadholding limits will remain a mystery until Honda gets us a test car at Cars.com HQ. I got a feel for the dynamics, though, and they're good: The front-wheel-drive weight bias and associated understeer are there, but the balance is decent nevertheless. The slick surfaces revealed an exceptionally adept electronic stability system that manages to intervene subtly enough that it keeps anything dramatic from occurring — without seeming overly intrusive in the process. Nicely done. Honda says the electric steering works in conjunction with the stability system; nothing felt conspicuous to me. It just worked.

The Civic has more body roll than I'd expect, though, and nowhere is it more surprising than in the sporty Si, a coupe version of which I tossed around an autocross course. The shifting weight doesn't help the car's grip when making quick directional changes. I watched the cars going around the course, and the body roll was equally clear from the outside. It's out of character for a performance version, and what's most disappointing is it's unnecessary. Many cars, including some competing models, have proved that a comfortable ride, body control and athletic handling can come in one affordable package.

The Si's suspension is tuned differently from the standard setup, but perhaps not enough. Though the suspensions differ a bit between the regular sedan and coupe due to the different wheelbases, those two feel similar to drive.

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