Cabin Quality

If interior quality is the new battleground in the compact car class, the 2012 Civic brings to the fight some fresh new forces and a stable of reliable troops, but also some battle-weary veterans that probably ought to retire.

The cloth seats' contemporary fabric improves on the previous generation's; the optional leather is of high quality, but the bunchy "gathered" look is a polarizing design. Compared with a few competitors, some interior surfaces look rather plain. The Civic continues Honda's approach of combining a variety of textures and styles. In my opinion, they don't always go together well. If nothing else, when there are many different textures and materials, there's a good chance you'll object to at least one of them. My least favorites are the sparkly gray plastic on the dashboard and the aluminum-colored door handles. I also noticed conventional feltlike ceiling fabric, a step backward considering that the earlier generation featured a higher-quality woven headliner, which is becoming more popular across the market.

The highlights include the steering wheel and the colorful displays that subtly change color based on how efficiently you're driving, a feature from the Insight and CR-Z hybrids. If you don't like high-mounted instrument panels, you'll be no happier with this Civic than with the previous generation. It relegates the arguably superfluous tachometer to the conventional position and puts the other stuff high, above the steering wheel. I'm a fan.

All trim levels except the DX introduce Honda's entry to the multifunction controller phenomenon with a feature called i-MID: intelligent Multi Information Display. I like some aspects of this approach, not the least of which is it doesn't have the words "touch," "you" or "my" in the name. It comprises a 5-inch color LCD screen next to the speedometer and a few buttons on the steering wheel's left spoke that let you select from menus, etc.

It's not the most versatile of controllers, but at first blush it appears that it needn't be. The menus and functions are relatively simple. The screen displays album art from an attached iPod, a relatively recent enhancement in onboard electronics. The upper display duplicates navigation prompts, but the option relies mainly on a trusty touch-screen, within easy reach on the center of the dashboard. I'll take this division of duties over any multifunction controller on the market. The nav relies on FM-frequency traffic information, which requires no subscription.

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