Honda sells around 20,000 Civics each month, second only to their Accord. Since its introduction in 1973, Honda has sold 8.8 million Civics just in the United States alone. With those numbers, the Civic is critical to Honda’s bottom line, and, for 2012, Honda has completely redesigned the ninth-generation Civic.
The Civic enjoys a reputation for being a fun-to-drive compact that is inexpensive, fuel efficient, reliable and durable. The sixth-generation version was perhaps one of the most popular cars for tuners. It was an amazing platform that could do whatever you please. The same car could get 40 mpg or, with some bolt-on parts and an easy engine swap, could race with Porsches and BMWs.
The seventh-generation Civic was not very well received by the enthusiasts mainly due to its suspension design, which many saw as going backwards. The next version received a sexy makeover and an improved suspension. Honda made sure to let the enthusiasts know that they were listening by bringing back the Civic Si. For now, we wanted to test the most popular one, a four-door model with an automatic transmission. We ended up with a Civic EX-L, which is full of premium features.
The newest Civic was developed to improve overall refinement and fuel economy. There are five different Civic models, each with its own personality. Those models include the sporty Si, the well equipped regular sedan, the efficient HF, the Civic Hybrid and the natural-gas-powered Civic CNG.
The exterior styling of the Civic is more aerodynamic than the old car, but it’s hard to tell the difference, unless you put the two cars side by side. The old four-door had one of the best looking taillights, but they’re gone.
Inside, there is more room than before. Although the 2012 sedan is externally the same width and length, it has gained 3.7 cubic feet of interior volume. It also has more shoulder room and hip room. The 2012 Civic is no longer a small car and it has enough room in the back seat for three people, with lots of legroom for the rear passengers.
The trunk is also amazing and has more room than the old car as well. You wonder how it is possible, but Honda made more passenger and cargo room in the same amount of space. If you need more than 12.5 cubic feet, you can fold the rear seats and get even more. The leather seats in our EX-L felt great, although they were a little slippery and did not provide much lateral support.
The dash layout also raised questions for feeling and looking cheap. Although everything was solid and there were nothing wrong, it just lacked the richness of some of the newer competition. One thing that we really liked about the interior was the side window design which allows you to drive up to freeway speeds with the window down with little buffeting.
Under the hood of the EX-L is a 1.8 liter SOHC all aluminum four-cylinder. The 1.8-liter engine only puts out 140 horsepower, but it’s designed more for efficiency than high performance. In fact the whole car is designed with efficiency in mind. With a total weight of only about 2,700 pounds, the Civic does not have to move a lot of weight around.
Inside, you can see more evidence of the Honda engineers’ obsession with fuel economy. As in the previous Civic, the dash is in two tiers. There is a large fuel economy gauge and next to it is a multi-purpose screen that can show your trip distance, average fuel economy and miles to empty. Next to the digital speedometer are two color bars that change color depending on your throttle position. Then there is the ECON button located on the dash that tunes the car for maximum fuel economy. With all of this engineering, our EX-L with the five speed automatic transmission was rated at 28 mpg in the city and 39 mpg on the highway. We averaged about 30 mpg.
Driving the Civic in ECON mode is absolutely boring. It feels very sluggish and slow to respond. Climbing minor hills on the freeway feels like a huge hurdle and just wants to put you to sleep. Turning off the ECON mode is better, but the car still isn’t for driving enthusiasts. It’s too bad, because the older Civics were very playful cars even in their base trim. The new Civic has lost some of that playfulness and is more mature. When the road turns twisty, the Civic does not feel frisky and attacking corners becomes a chore.
The competition is getting tougher. The Hyundai Elantra produces more power, gives better fuel economy and is less expensive. But the Civic has more room and based on history will retain its value better. In the real world those differences are very minor and it will come down to which feels better. The Civic is a proven player and feels as tight as a rusted bolt and provides a better driving experience.