2012 Honda Civic expert review

The Honda Civic was once a default purchase in the compact segment. There were other cars, but the Civic just felt more complete, more mature than any of the other choices.


It's not anymore.


The compact car world has evolved much too fast for the Civic to hold that particular premium. The Ford Focus and Hyundai Sonata are more stylish, the Chevy Cruze is more practical, and there are a host of other small hot wheels breathing down Honda's tailpipe. But the 2012 Civic, redesigned to provide more room and a better interior, remains one of the most civil of choices.


And the Civic excels in choices, providing a full complement of cars, including regular gas-powered models in both coupe and sedan versions, a higher-mileage HF and two-mode hybrid models, an iconic sporty Si model and even one that runs on natural gas. Old Country Buffet doesn't have this many entree choices, and certainly no other carmaker does.


All of those choices, however, make it more difficult to review.
Fortunately, my test vehicle was the 2012 Civic EX sedan — a middle-of-the-road Civic — with a sales price of $20,505. A base model DX sedan starts at $15,805, and a hybrid sedan, loaded up with everything from leather, navigation and satellite radio, tips the piggy bank at $26,750.


The redesign may be conservative but so is this carmaker, which hasn't blown anyone away with a futuristic design since the last Civic. Sure, I would have loved to have seen more creases on the body panels, a turbocharged engine that achieved 50 mpg and some ingenious piece of technology that drove the Civic and folded my laundry at the same time, but that's the thing about expectations: If we always reached them, we'd only expect more.


Bigger, better inside

First, there are the interior improvements. For the most part, Honda has done a good job here. The new Civic is bigger inside than the previous generation — adding 3.7 cubic feet. The additional space was used wisely, but providing more than an inch of shoulder room, a measurement more important than maximum legroom.


More importantly, Honda changed out the instrument panel, laying it out in two tiers. The higher tier, close to the base of the windshield, includes the digital speedometer and a small display area with key driver information. Below that, behind the steering wheel, is the blue lit tachometer. The layout lets you keep your eyes on the road a little longer. There's also a nicely placed navigation system screen, though the buttons on that are along each side were very small.


There were two areas in particular that I didn't care for. First, the way the dash becomes a flat table-like structure on the passenger's side. For such a big area, there's a lot going on with different grains of plastic. Many dashes are like this because of steep windshields, but the Civic feels like it exaggerates this and makes the interior feel dated.


The second thing I didn't like was the cloth seats. While the seats were comfortable, the material felt second rate compared to what you'll find in competitors such as the Focus and Elantra.


Those two complaints aside, the Civic comes complete and remains a familiar friend. This friend comes with all of the proven technology you'd expect in a 2012 model: Bluetooth connectivity, a USB port and more steering wheel controls than you know what to do with.


There's also plenty of storage space, with the sedan offering 12.5 cubic feet of space. That's another half cubic foot of space and can easily carry a week's worth of groceries for most families. If you need to toss in a couple golf bags, the second-row seats fold down with the pull of a lever and provide a lot more space.


There's also an Eco button on the dash that will adjust some features in the car to help you save even a little more fuel. (It does this by modifying your throttle inputs so less fuel is used at take off and the shifting points on the transmission change to focus solely on saving fuel.) For people who like to drive small cars hard, don't touch this button.


Good performance

Overall, the performance of the Civic is pretty good, though it never inspired me to drive faster or tear up some asphalt.


The EX just feels like the workingman's sedan, not the race car driver's (that's what the Si model is for). The 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine puts out 140 horsepower and 128 pound-feet of torque with a number of refinements added to the engine. The pickup is good and the Civic cruises along the highway quite nicely.


The ride was surprisingly quiet and the electric power rack-and-pinion steering was smooth through sharp cornering and on city streets. The steering system also includes Motion Adaptive system to help nudge the wheel in the right direction when driving too fast through too tight a corner. It's an ingenious system that will help a driver avoid both understeer and oversteer.


The five-speed transmission was a surprise, leaving the Civic one gear short of the competition (though it offers comparable gas mileage).


My EX test model gets an EPA fuel economy estimate of 28 mpg city and 39 mpg highway. I managed 36 mpg in a good mix of driving, without using the eco button but for a few times.


New, but familiar

Honda also reworked the exterior, though the car maintains its familiar wedge-like shape with a rounded roof line. All of the curves are designed to let the Civic slip through the air with as little drag as possible. There are also more aero features under the car, giving it a flat bottom, so air flows by there.


There are a few creases on the Civic, such as the A line that runs from the front fender through the body colored door handles all the way back to the tail lights. The face, which includes a three-bar grille and headlights tucked under the front of the hood, looks more serious than the previous generation. Maybe it's a little more determined.


Really, the new Civic hits all of the right marks and follows Honda's game plan, which includes radical redesigns every other generation. This generation is an improved Civic, but not one that captures a driver's imagination as much as some of the other compact cars introduced.


So meet the new Civic, a lot like the old Civic, but better. And that's not a bad place to be.

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