First Drive

2012 Honda Civic is an evolution

Ninth-generation Civic aims to continue 13-year Canadian best-seller status

2012 Honda Civic EX sedan - Front

WASHINGTON, DC –

The new Civic becomes the second of four all-new or significantly redesigned models, which account for 80% of Honda Canada sales, to be introduced in a 12-month span. It started with the Odyssey in fall 2010, continues with the 2012 Civic and an all-new CR-V, to be followed by a redesigned Pilot.

Honda no longer offers this Civic sedan in Japan or Europe, but because it is so popular and it is built in plants in Canada and the U.S. it is being continued here.

The heavily revised 2012 Civic was slow to roll off the Alliston, ON, assembly line due to supply shortages caused by the tragedy in Japan, so customers initially had to wait for specific model/trim/color combinations.

But the wait will prove worth it. Honda has kept everything that made the current Civic so wildly popular, given it a mild physical makeover, added more features and lowered the price, ensuring it retains its value in a rapidly-growing field of brand new competitors from GM, Ford and Hyundai

The 2012 Civic is available in four distinct models: Sedan, coupe, Hybrid and Si and in sedan and coupe body styles. The platform, engine, transmission and suspension are all carried over from the eighth generation version, But each has been subtly altered in the continued quest for improvement. Three centimetres have been cut from the wheelbase, but the car’s length and width are unchanged.

The 2012 wears all-new sheet metal, but nobody will mistake it for anything other than a Civic. Similarly, the instrument panel retains the same dual-layer layout introduced in the previous generation, albeit heavily revised.

Interior changes include a new instrument panel, seats and additional shoulder and rear-seat legroom. The A-pillars have been moved further from the driver and made 9% thinner. On all but the minimal-volume base DX, the Civic comes with a multi-function steering wheel controlling a variety of functions displayed on Honda’s first 5-inch colour LCD screen. The combination is called i-MID.

A hands-free phone system is also included on upper trim levels. A navigation system is also available with the main screen on the center console and turn-by-turn info on the i-MID screen

Also new, carried over from the Hybrid is ECO Assist. A green button to the left of the steering wheel activates numerous changes to the throttle and transmission to maximize fuel economy. Lights flanking the speedometer go from blue to green with orange used as a coaching tool to guide the driver in the search for minimal fuel use.

On all models, ABS and "motion-adaptive" ESC are standard equipment, the latter utilizes an algorithm exclusive to Honda to help mitigate oversteer and understeer and cope with braking on surfaces where the wheels may be on different surfaces on each side. Also on the safety front, a new front seat design lowers the risk of whiplash.

Part of the fuel economy gains is attributable to lower weight. The use of high strength steel, lighter steering and exhaust systems and a new fuel tank has resulted in a 7% reduction. Aerodynamics also plays a role with the adoption of a flat floor and work on front and rear lower valances.

The handling and steering have both been improved with changes to the steering gear ratio, the way the steering rack is mounted and optimization of weight balance front-to-rear. There is more suspension travel, friction in the shock absorbers and bushing compliance for additional comfort on nasty surfaces.

The engine and five-speed automatic transmission in the coupe and conventional sedan have been artfully tweaked to provide a 12% improvement in fuel economy. The 1.8-litre four-cylinder continues to develop 140 hp but the 128 lb-ft of torque is available lower in the rev range. Changes include a new catalyst, pistons, oil, ports, cylinder head and plugs. The five-speed automatic gets different clutches, pressure control unit, oil, and block.

Both coupe and sedan come in DX, LX, EX AND EX-L trim levels. Base price for the DX is $14,950, down $2,000 and including $600 in extra equipment. The LX starts at $17,490, a reduction of $2,090 despite the addition of $1,500 in equipment. The EX, at $19,490 has been given $1,300 in added features but the price drops $2,290. The EX-L is $24,390, $490 less with $2,600 in new features and the price of the Si drops by $890 despite $2,700 in added equipment.

The Hybrid sedan gets a new engine, more powerful electric motor, a new lithium-ion battery pack and improved aerodynamics. Its 1.5-litre engine has a new ECU, more torque and less internal friction. The lithium-ion battery pack produces 20-kw of power, up from 15, and weighs 10 kg less. There is a new hybrid AC compressor and the efficiency of the CVT transmission and brake regeneration system have been improved. All this results in a 4.4 litre/100 km city rating and 4.2 on the highway - the most fuel-efficient four-door sedan available in North America.

The Hybrid is the only Civic sold in Canada that is produced in Japan.

The series flagship Si gets a serious dose of steroids becoming the most powerful Civic yet. The new 2.4-litre four belts out 201 hp and 170 lb-ft of torque. Black exterior trim, special sport seats with red trim, audio upgrade, unique 17-in alloy wheels and a deep-throated exhaust set the Si apart. The only transmission available is a six-speed manual with a short-throw shifter. A limited slip differential and unique suspension settings complete the package.

The price of the 2012 Si drops by $890 to $25,990 despite $2,700 in added equipment.

Canadians love the Civic More than 1.6-million have been sold here and more than 65% of Civic buyers go on to purchase another Honda. The company expects a 10% increase in sales for the compact segment by 2013. It says the biggest buyer group for the Civic is 47-65 year olds and there is a second bulge in the 17-34-age range.

The last time oil prices went up, there was economic uncertainty and unrest in the Middle East, small car sales took off. It's happening again and that bodes well for Honda and the new Civic.

Canadians love the Honda Civic. It has been the best selling car in the country for 13 consecutive years, as tis is written and looks a sure bet to make it 14 in 2011. Honda Canada is determined to keep it that way with the arrival of the new 2012 Civic, the ninth generation of Honda’s best seller, in spite of a raft of new competitors,.

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