First Drive: 2013 Honda Civic

It isn’t too often that a car company admits to having whiffed a redesign, but that’s what Honda has done with the Civic. When the all-new, 2012 model made its debut, Honda was stung by the reception its new baby received, and soon promised a quick fix — that would arrive for the very next model year. Honda would take a do-over, if you will.

So here we have the Civic’s mid-cycle update, arriving not at the usual three-year mark, but after only a year and a half. The changes include exterior styling, interior materials, chassis tuning, and standard equipment.

What, me worry?

With the 2012 redesign, it was as if Honda had become complacent. The Civic was a perennial bestseller, so why mess with success? Both mechanically and design-wise, the new car seemed barely changed. Unfortunately for Honda, the new Civic arrived into a U.S. small-car market that is in the midst of the most upheaval in decades. Small is no longer synonymous with cheap. The sophistication of compacts has soared, along with their equipment levels. The 2013 redo acknowledges that reality. We recently had an opportunity to take a quick spin in a 2013 EX sedan.

Jane is less plain

The minute the new Civic pulled up, it was immediately different-looking — more Accord-like. A redesigned front and rear, and new wheels, move the Civic a bit along the continuum from plain to fancy. The front bumper no longer presents a monolithic plastic face to the world, but now features an inset section dressed up with a chrome bar. The new grille is where the Accord resemblance comes in; it looks more expensive, and there’s even a new hood with creases pressed into the sheetmetal. The rear of the car is similarly dressed up, with a more intricate rear bumper, a new trunk lid, and new taillights accented with a full-width chrome strip that emphasizes the car’s width.

The interior is less dour, thanks mostly to new materials. The Civic’s two-tiered dash remains, but the upper section is now black (rather than gray), and is covered in a soft-touch material that extends onto the upper door panels. This section is also re-grained and gets (somewhat unconvincing) faux stitching. The main part of the dash used to be a sea of gray plastic but now is trimmed out in a dark, brushed-metal-looking trim. The air vents, some switches, and the upholstery have all been tweaked for a less bargain-bin appearance. None of the changes are major but the sum total is a much more pleasant-looking interior that puts the Civic back up on par with the other offerings in this class.

Mechanical ministrations

The Civic was also criticized for losing the fun-to-drive quality that had long characterized even mass-market Hondas. The 2013 version goes some ways toward addressing that. After softening the suspension with the 2012 model, Honda has firmed it up again for 2013. The actual percentages vary from 3 percent to 37 percent among the different components — springs, bushings, anti-roll bars — and they affect both the front and the rear. That’s significant, and the new car does indeed feel fairly well tied down, and yet it’s not punishing over bumps. Honda also pulled a reverse with the steering, quickening the ratio after slowing it previously. The difference, though, is only 7 percent, and that’s not really enough to make much of an impression. The system remains electrically assisted — over-assisted, at least from an enthusiast’s standpoint. Structural reinforcements, primarily in the front end, are designed to ensure that the Civic achieves a “good” rating in the difficult new IIHS slight-offset barrier crash test.

The Civic powertrains are untouched. The mainstay engine is a 1.8-liter and the automatic is only a five-speed. With 140 hp and 128 pound-feet of torque, acceleration is leisurely, even by compact sedan standards; fuel economy (28 mpg city, 39 mpg highway, with the automatic) is unchanged. Although the engine is unchanged, Honda has gone to greater lengths to isolate the driver from it (and from other sources of noise), with increased sound deadening and acoustic glass for the front doors and the windshield.

DX departs

The stripper DX is gone, and with it goes the skinflint’s ability to buy a Civic with crank windows and no air conditioning. With the DX no longer in the picture, all Civics have a five-inch screen to the right of the digital speedometer, and Honda is making better use of it by adding a standard rearview camera to all models. Also newly standard across the board are Bluetooth, Honda Link with text-to-speech capability, Pandora internet radio, and a sliding center armrest. The Hybrid additionally gets forward collision warning and lane departure warning at no cost.

Money matters

With the departure of the price-leader DX, Civic starting prices rise from $15,606 (for the 2012 DX coupe) to $17,965 (for the 2013 LX coupe). The LX sedan is $18,165. But on a model-to-model comparison, all 2013 Civics are only $160 more than their 2012 equivalent. Considering the addition of the backup camera alone, that makes the 2013 Civic a better value. And it’s a better value that no longer feels cheap.

2013 Honda Civic
On sale:
Now (LX and EX sedans)
Base price: $20,815 (EX sedan)

Engine: 1.8-liter I-4
Power: 140 hp @ 6500 rpm
Torque: 128 lb-ft @ 4300 rpm

Transmission: 5-speed automatic

Drive: Front-wheel

Fuel mileage: 28/39 mpg (city/highway)

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Buying Guide
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2013 Honda Accord

MSRP $25,405 EX (Auto) Sedan

0-60 MPH:

7.6 SECS

Real MPG:

21 City / 36 Hwy

Horse Power:

185 @ 6200