There are enough versions of the revamped, roomier, fuel-stingy 2012 Civic coupe and sedan to satisfy many small-car buyers, but most Civics have little personality. Some rivals are more fun to drive.
That’s a step backward, at least as far as driving enthusiasts are concerned. At one time, the front-wheel-drive Civic was a lively Japanese car with a European feel. It was a kick to drive. Most of the new ninth-generation models feel generic. On the other hand, they’re very accomplished and deliver high fuel economy — not to mention good resale value.
But only the latest $22,205-$22,405 Civic Si is really fun. It’s a hotrod with its larger 2.4-liter (up from 2-liter), slightly more powerful 201-horsepower four-cylinder engine, “sport-minded” six-speed manual transmission and stiffer suspension.
All regular Civics are more comfortable mainstream models for the masses and will account for most sales. They have an advanced, quiet 1.8 liter, 140-horsepower four-cylinder. More refined for 2012, that engine is no weakling. It was in the higher-line Civic EX-L model I tested and provided lively performance and decent 65-75 mph passing times
Other than the Si, which comes only with a six-speed manual transmission, Other Civics are offered with a five-speed manual or five-speed automatic or continuously variable (CVT) automatic transmissions. Honda says you won’t miss a sixth gear with the manual or five-speed automatic, but how could I tell?
The $21,955 EX-L sedan (a step up from the $20,505 EX sedan ) comes only with the efficient five-speed automatic, which has an easily used manual shift feature. I suspect most EX-L buyers would order the automatic — even if a manual were available. The EX-L delivers an estimated 28 mpg in the city and 39 mpg on highways.
Extra equipment, of course, increases prices. A navigation system and XM satellite radio caused the EX-L I drove to sticker at $23,455.
The lowest-cost 2012 Civic is the manual-transmission $15,805 DX. The five-speed automatic bumps it to $16,605.
Besides various trim levels of the conventional 1.8 Civic sedan and coupe, Honda offers—are you ready? — the HF (estimated 41 mpg on highways), a Hybrid model (estimated 44 mpg both city and highway) and a Natural-Gas model.
The most expensive Civic is the Hybrid sedan with leather upholstery, navigation system and XM satellite radio, along with a CVT automatic. It costs $26,750.
The nicely painted EX-L felt solid and had good fits and finishes, inside and out. All Civics have an advanced safety system and long list of standard safety equipment, including side curtain air bags.
The steering is quick, but too light at low speeds. The smoothed-out ride is supple, and there is less noise, vibration and harshness, compared to the 2011 model.
Handling is sure, as is brake feel, which has a brake-assist feature. There’s virtually no torque steer, despite the front-wheel drive. Vehicle stability control with traction control are standard for DX, LX and EX/EX-L models.
Front doors open wide for easy entry and exit, although rear doors have narrower openings. Front seats feel rather stiff, but have good upper shoulder support in curves. There’s more room for 2012, and even the center of the rear seat is soft enough to make the Civic sedan a comfortable five-seater for adults. A fold-down center rear armrest contains dual cupholders.
A tilt/telescopic steering column helps drivers of various sizes get more comfortable. Controls work smoothly, although some are too small, and power driver window controls are well-placed on the door.
But Honda tries too hard to make the dashboard look modern. It’s a two-tier affair with excessive gadgetry. The dazzling array of digital gauges can be occasionally confusing. Some will be happier with conventional large gauges.
A new “Multi-Information-Display” on LX-and-above models provides a platform for integration of vehicle information and compatible personal electronics with a driver-oriented 5-inch color LCD display and steering wheel controls.
All Civics, except the Si, get “Eco Assist” technology, which enhances efficient vehicle operation at the touch of a dashboard button, while providing visual feedback to promote or confirm an efficient driving style. But it made the car feel a little sluggish, and I soon switched it off.
There are a good number of small storage areas, and front cupholders are positioned to prevent spills.
Styling? Well, the car looks sleek enough, with clean, flowing lines. But it doesn’t stand out from the increasingly slick small-car crowd. On the other hand, some small cars that stand out have distinctive oddball designs that aren’t for a mass audience.
The trunk has a low, wide opening and is impressively roomy. Rear seatbacks have release controls in the trunk, and they sit flat when pushed forward. However, the pass-through area between the trunk and rear-seat area is just moderately large.
The trunk has old-fashioned gooseneck hinges, and the hood is held up with a prop rod instead of hydraulic hinges—showing Honda is saving some bucks to help keep prices down.
The Civic has been around for nearly 40 years and continually has grown in size and comfort. It should continue to be among the top-selling small cars.
Dan Jedlicka has been an automotive journalist for more than 40 years. To read more of his new and vintage car reviews, visit: www.danjedlicka.com.