Road Test

2012 Honda Civic

Canada's best selling-car for 13 years plays to its strengths

AT A GLANCE
PRICE
$19,490 base. $2,069 as tested.
FUEL CONSUMPTION
NR Canada (L/100 km): 7.0 city. 5.0 highway. 6.0 combined.
POWERTRAIN
1.8-litre SOHC four; 140-hp, 128 lb. ft. of torque
Pros & CONS
  • Fuel economy comparable to a hybrid
  • Composed in the curves
  • Improved value
  • Fuel economy comparable to a hybrid
  • Composed in the curves
  • Improved value

When Honda introduced, the ninth generation Civic last spring it boasted all-new sheet metal, extensive interior revisions new or updated engines and transmissions, a lower price and a 12% improvement in fuel efficiency. Such progress would be remarkable by most standards. But the harping began almost immediately. The media chastised Honda for playing it safe, for not making a dramatic change.

The resultant tempest in a tea pot reverberated all the way back to Japan where the decision was made to rush into production some more obvious visual changes ASAP for the 2013 or 2014 model, much sooner than would have otherwise been the case. Wait a second. Is that much change necessary? Or is it just that the automotive media, myself included, is looking too hard for something to criticize in an era when vehicle quality has reached such high levels? Does the average consumer care about these changes, especially those beneath the skin?

I would argue they do not and the sales charts back that up. The Honda Civic has been the best selling car in Canada for 13 consecutive years. Obviously Canadian consumers think a great deal of this vehicle. For a period last year that position was threatened by the Hyundai Elantra. But there were three distinct factors contributing to that situation: 1) The Elantra is a very good car 2) Favourable exchange rates allow Hyundai to load cars with content while keeping prices down and 3) the tragic earthquake and tsunami in Japan devastated Honda’s supply chain and ability to build cars – Civics were in short supply the latter half of the year.

Despite this the Civic finished atop the charts for yet another year. With supply no longer normal January 2012 numbvers showed Civic sales uio production and no longer an issue, Honda resumed its place atop the charts. January 2012 sales were up 144%. Obviously Canadians are not too upset over the evolutionary redesign. Does this mean Honda can rest on its laurels? Heck no, the Elantra and a whole bunch of others are hot on its heels with excellent product. The king of any hill is always a primary target.

I’ve just spent a week with a 2012 Honda Civic. It is easy to see why Canadians, have such a love affair with this car. The ninth generation of this compact has a new, but only slightly different look. The drivetrain is silky smooth and numerous minor changes have resulted in a 12% improvement in fuel consumption. In short everything there was to like about the old Civic has been improved – but only slightly – because it was already that good.

Prices start at a very competitive $14,990. My EX tester came in at $20,690 with automatic transmission

OUTSIDE/INSIDE

The new design is strongly evocative of the outgoing model. There are now small windows at the base of the A-Pillar and the mirrors moved back unto the door for better up-close visibility. The wheelbase has been shortened by 30-mm but there is actually more room inside.

The two-tier instrument panel remains with a digital speedometer mounted high so you can monitor it without taking your eyes off the road, and the remainder of the instruments at a lower level. The Civic does lack soft-touch surfaces, the entire dash, center console and other places you touch or rest your arms are covered in high quality, but hard plastic. The perfectly flat floor remains making sliding from one side of the rear seat to the other a breeze. Two fit comfortably back there, three is a squeeze.

MECHANICALS

The made-in-Canada Civic comes in two and four-door models with a trio of power sources: a 140-HP, 1.8-litre four; 201-HP 2.4-litre four for the Si and a hybrid with a larger engine and new battery pack. The four-door is available in DX, LX and EX trim levels and the coupe adds a high performance Si variation with 22% more power than last year.

I drove an EX with the 1.8-litre engine and here again was an example of Honda’s incessant concern over detail. Instead of developing a replacement for a perfectly good engine, the engineers squeezed more efficiency out of the existing one. Many internal components were treated to surface treatments and other changes to reduce friction. While power output remains the same, fuel efficiency goes up a whopping 12%. Some of this can be credited to a taller fifth gear resulting in lower revs at highway speeds. The downside is that with only five gears the spread is such that the engine is frequently out of the meat of the power band and the next lower gear puts it at the top of that band. A six speed would be a help – and more even better.

The engine is silky smooth and quiet at all but sustained wide open throttle. here is a prominent ECON button to the left of the steering wheel. It modifies several parameters, dulling the drive-by-wire throttle response, shifting at lower engine speeds and reducing air conditioner pump speed. The result is about 5-7% better fuel efficiency but a very sluggish automobile.

In addition to the ECON button, the Civic plays a tutorial role, helping to point out fuel efficient driving practices. Colored panels on either side of the speedometer glow green when you are behaving and blue when you are not. An five-inch information panel to the right of the speedometer can be cycled through ha variety of read-outs.

ON THE ROAD

The Civic is surprisingly quiet for a car in this price range, neither engine, wind nor road noise of any quantity make their way into the cabin. The Civic has always been known for its nimbleness and little has changed in that department and the ride remains supple thanks to a combination of MacPherson struts up front and a complex and expensive multi-link set up at the rear.

Changes to the 2012 Civic are more evolutionary than revolutionary, but that is not necessarily a bad thing because the predecessor was so good.

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