Power Holds the Line

The standard drivetrain changes for 2012 are minimal, at least on paper. The engine is a 1.8-liter four-cylinder, and both five-speed manual and automatic transmissions are offered. The Si gets the biggest bump, with a switch from a 2.0-liter four-cylinder to a 2.4-liter (technically 2.35-liter) that mates to a six-speed manual.

The specs show but one change for the regular engine — a 200-rpm climb in the horsepower's peak to 6,500 rpm — but Honda engineers say they played with the torque distribution to raise the oomph at lower revs. All the same, the peak torque spec is unchanged at 128 pounds-feet at 4,300 rpm. If there's a difference in acceleration, it's not palpable. The gear ratios remain the same for both transmissions as well. At least the model hasn't gotten substantially heavier, as most do when redesigned. The sedan is even a bit lighter than the 2011.

Though I'd prefer a six-speed manual, I can't blame Honda for staying with the five. Demand for manuals continues to decrease, especially as automatics become as efficient or more so. The 2012 Civic is an example. It now gets an EPA-estimated 28/39 mpg city/highway versus the manual's 28/36 mpg. The HF trim level — akin to the Cruze Eco and Focus with SFE — rates 29/41 mpg. Though pricing isn't available as this review is being produced, Honda's frequent use of the word "value" suggests it will be more affordable than the competitors mentioned above.

It's harder to understand why the automatic hasn't gained a gear. Honda notes that it achieves its performance targets with five speeds. While I'm not one to assume more is better — especially because some six-speeds are balky and hesitant — it's hard to imagine that Honda couldn't exceed its targets and show up its competitors with another forward gear. How would that not be better? This onetime leader in fuel economy is now playing catch-up across its product line.

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